Friday, September 15, 2006

Whiteout in Harlem + Banksy Brings It in LA

The Unbearable Whiteness of Liberal Bloggerdom in Harlem

Thanks to Terrance (Republic of T)
More at Culture Kitchen.
And at Steve Gilliard's News Blog.
I can't forget Andrés.

Samo SAMO©

Banksy's Necessary Art
Guantanamo at DisneylandI have to give it to the semi-anonymous artist (or artists) known as Banksy; having sneaked paintings into major New York museums last year and dropped 500 doctored versions of celebucipher Paris Hilton's début CD in London record stores this summer, Banksy managed a week ago to place a blow-up doll, dressed like a Guantánamo Bay detainee inside the Big Thunder Mountain ride at Disneyland. The Guantánamo effigy sat undetected for 9o minutes--during which park visitors, including children, certainly saw it--before it was removed. (Banksy has previously spraypainted Guantánamo images on walls in Britain.) Now the artist(s) will is having a three-day show, "Barely Legal," which runs through Sunday in Los Angeles. The New York Times's Ed Wyatt covers the show, focusing more on the mystery of Banksy's identity than on the politically salient aspect of the artist's work, which insistently aims to reveal the hidden, brutal undersides of the triumphantly capitalist, conformist and hypercommodified Anglo-American societies by eluding the pervasive system of surveillance and turning the spectacle against itself. Wyatt does quote Banksy at one point: the artist distills the works' diverse aims into a sentence that bears repeating, especially as political art has itself become yet another object of easy commodification and consumption:

1.7 billion people have no access to clean drinking water. 20 billion people live below the poverty line. Every day hundreds of people are made to feel physically sick by morons at art shows telling them how bad the world is but never actually doing something about it. Anybody want a free glass of wine?



  1. I couldn't make out President Clinton in the picture, nor did I know that this picture was taken at blogging lunch in Harlem. I have seen this picture posted everywhere with no explanation until I saw Black PhD's explanation and started to surf from there.

    OK, it is white. We have established that. But after years of being the only black thing I saw in publishing (literally . . . talkin' 2 years of being the only black male working at DK Publishing in the entire country . . . but, there were some transient sisters I have to admitt)I know that any invitation to such an event will be taken as tokenism by somebody. And, having to be invited after this fiasco will really scream it. That is plain and simple. Will we be able to speak about things and contend in the ring of public discourse . . . sure, but by our shear abscence there is a message in our presence.

    So, I have to say that I am impartial.

    J. I am saying all this because I am afraid I am a bit cynical. I have dealt with the ultra - conservative double barrel scotch on the rocksSouthern gentry white folk; the Crackle Barrel, Crate and Barrel wanna be white folk; the Fox News/Bob Costas white folk; the Edwardian literary chic and Jackie O after party remix white folk; the hefty curly brown haired girl with an enlarged university sweat shirt, fuzzy animal house slipper and a can of diet coke white folk; the skinny boy, khaki pants, flip flop wearing white folk; the ex-patriot white folk; the dogged out hippie white folk; the racist Italian white folks in Queens; the denude of body hair Fire Island in July/ the Hamptons in August Marys; the family valueist white folk, the upper Westside Woody Allen white folk and their knock kneed Seinfeld cousins; plus Southern Methodist . . . it goes on and on.

    I am just not touched by this anymore and I wonder if I should be. There is something about this that is bad though, nefarious in fact, but mostly embarrassing. It is like being invited to a 4 o'clock tea in Harlem and being forced to sit through the discussion with a bar of ivory soap in your mouth. I mean how can we not be present, this meeting was held in Harlem! And, even though our abscence at events like this thrwarts political discourse's advance in this country, who's to say that the white folk in the picture are my type of white folks?

    But aside from the psychic firestorm such captioned pictures set off in me, being maybe one coloured out of a possible two or three does not sit well with me. I am wondering if this is a none event. My blog stuff is not about politics, it is about me. And that normally includes talk about dykes, femmes, females, males, bakers and a couple of books.

    I wouldn't want to be in their company. I would simple not fit in. I don't see my blog as an extention of some anti-establishment, let's change the status quo realpolitik cast in the image of white suburbia. I think I am just a pusher of my own perspective, a writer, a budding historian and an artist. Yeah, that is political, but I am not so political that I would want to sit through a meeting with a bunch kids from discussing God knows what.

    No offense, but they look like a bunch of drips.

  2. Bill, I hear what you're saying. My response would be that if you step outside the sphere of your blog, and look at the larger power of progressive blogs, which have played key roles in recent years in politics, and most recently, I would suggest, in Ned Lamont's win in Connecticut, it is important to think about who's participating in and helping to construct this online progressive movement. Whether or not these people look like drips or rock stars or whatever, the very fact that once again people of color appear--and I can only go on the image AND the initial reports on blogs like AmericaBlog, which enthusiastically described the event--to have been an afterthought. But this is par for the course. I see it at work, I see it in the mainstream media, I see it in the queer media, it's everywhere, and whether even if it's not intentional, it's still problematic, highly problematic. Blogs are more than just online diaries, daybooks, commonplace books, clearinghouses, and sites of narcissistic self-engagement these days; some have played vital roles in our political system, such as when bloggers helped to elect right-winger John Thune in South Dakota, ending the career of the Democrat Senate Majority Leader, or helped Paul Hackett pull to within a few percentage points of his opponent, ultraconservative wacko Jean Schmidt, in the Ohio House race a few years ago. This is only going to grow as the structural changes in the mainstream media continue and certain kinds of power and modes of information distribution become increasingly discretized and atomized. My posting of the picture is not about my own desire or aim, as a blogger, as someone who comments on politics, as someone who believes in the concept of civic engagement and duty, etc., which is to say, any direct [i]personal investment[/i], to have been a participant or invited, but points to what I see as a symptom of the larger, still exclusivist political discourse in the American Left, and in particular among people who fashion themselves as progressives but who're reproducing the very same (sometimes racist) narratives, structures and practices they claim to reject or to be challenging. Perhaps these people did invite Keith Boykin, Steve Gilliard, Andrés Duque, and some of the other actively engaged bloggers of color based in NYC, but you know, I doubt it. I seriously do. And yes, the issue of tokenism is salient, but at the same time, if we're not there at all, once can't even make that charge. Ultimately perhaps it is a non-event, on one level. But, if I may be slightly Foucauldian for a minute, since it's replicated daily, in multiple sites with multiple players, thus producing a mechanism for constant reinscription that we tend to internalize as the norm, it is important. VERY important.

  3. Indeed a strategy against the re-enforcement of certain social norms and codes concerning the liberal left and how it operates is an important fight; but, I think ultimately that this model is one in which we are constantly asking others if we can play in their sandbox. And that is what is cooking my goat.

    It is funny, one of the things that I am dedciated to, or have become more dedicated to, is the plight of homeless teenagers and young adults in New York City. I used to volunteer at a place called Safe Space for Children and Families near Time Square. And now that I am back in New York I am looking at a couple of places where friends and faculty of that place have migrated to over the past couple of years (see

    Now, I wonder if the Ali Forney Center has a blog written by homeless gay and transgendered teens and 20-year-olds or by their staff. Maybe it would be a good idea to do both. Maybe there could be commentary of policy changes by a young person juxstaposed against a copy of the amended policy itself. It would be a good exercise in understanding ones civic status and improving ones writing and vocabulary. That is the kind of thing I am waiting for (your comments set this spark off). I just wonder if it is being done all ready and if it is maybe I will give it a shot anyway.

    I am pretty aware that my comments are coming from a space that deals with me and my immediate surroundings, but I wonder about this "let's sit at the table and talk to the white folk". I had been sitting at the New York White Liberal table for sometime, before reading Langston Hughes short stories or listening to my grandmother talk about her experiences from the 30's, 40's and 50's and seeing that the fundemental rules of black and white engagemenat are the same in each discourse. Fundementals concerning where black people are allowed to participate in the world and where white people step away because they "can't reach the kids" the way a black male teacher could, or how the "older auntie" model works better in social work.

    By all means I think what you are saying is important. And in terms of the political spheres you mentioned I am not really well versed on the political battles in places outside of New York, New Jersey and Tennessee (learning a bit more about Missouri thanks to and how the blogging world has shaped and continues to shape elections, but what can we do so that they come to our sand box sometimes? Steve Gilliard, Steve Boykin and Andre Dupue and a whole host of others could have been at the table, but what would have been said if they were there? What is the plan for changing the discourse? What are we up against?

    I understood instantly the spirit in which you posted the picture and its significance in how our politics are being recasted in the electronic media mold, I just wonder to what extent we can bridge the gap between what goes one at lunches like these and the reality that is right outside in Harlem. Having someone there is a beginning. But selfishly, I say it ain't me. And I ain't bittin' this argument.

    Years ago I read the Voice article entitled "The Unbearable Whiteness of Publishing" when I ws just starting out and before that Volunteer Slavery by Jil Neslon. I went in and did my 1st tour of duty in that war, and though I am still committed to the fight, in a sense I am all cried out on this debate.

    I wouldn't feel comfortable fighting at that table, let them come downtown for a couple of lunches and see what it looks like. Where do the homeless go when they gentrify the neighborhood or bring in Disney? Let them know. I knew Ali Forney before he was murdered. I know what young people looked like after dinner, walking out of the day shelter preparing for a world where they are constantly displaced by municiple greed, a greed sanctioned and ordained by the very officials that we elect. And I also know that all these issues of black/white and wealth/poverty still govern how homeless and disenfranchised young people receive help in NYC. And for certain people, they are literally outside looking in on the party.

  4. My friend and I attended the Banksy show/spectacle on Sunday afternoon. Downtown L.A. was a fitting location as the shameful dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots was on full display--by this I mean that downtown L.A. is a far cry from Beverly Hills and a lesson in socio-economics.

    Most of the pieces on display can be viewed at his website: While the work carried the same, passionate social critique, I felt lost in the spectacle of the gathering. There was a line around the block, and it was about 90 degrees in the sun. A local man was selling bottled water out of his apartment window. The crowd was random and diverse: local teens, hipsters, celebrities (Sacha Baron Cohen), art afficionados, the random rich/famous in designer wear--maybe it's just L.A., but it made me wonder.

    I wonder how long Banksy will last. I say this because anything that challenges the status-quo is eventually absorbed by it, diffused, and spit out for consumption by the masses. At his website Banksy explains why he won't sell t-shirts. However, as we stood in line for the show and I watched the Channel 4 newsvan pull up, part of me knew it was the beginning of the end.

  5. Hi Eileen, thanks for visiting. Your comments really made me think about the NY Times hype of Banksy and whether that wasn't a kind of knell of a sort--now that the his artistic practice is more out in the open as opposed to the sorts of semi-anonymous interventions he was engaging in, I wonder if he'll be subsumed by the spectacle and the ever-devouring commodication machine out there. I almost with that he'd picked some out of the way place--a small town in Iowa, or rural Maine, or on the edge of what remains of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, instead of an admittedly working-class part of the second media capital of the US (i.e., the world). But then perhaps that was part of his aim, to see where he could take this particular spectacle and what the response might be, as a gauge for future actions. If he could get a Guantánamo doll onto the floor of the US Senate or in a room of the White House, then get someone to photograph it, I'd say he'd have achieved one of the great interventions--a truly avant-garde event, in the original, socially contextualized Simonian sense of that word--of all time.

  6. Hey John, I live in Banksey-land. So much of his street work is located in my "stomping grounds." I am always on the bus noticing some new thing he's installed. Or I am lamenting the loss of a favorite piece. My son and I have a lot of fun playing "Spot Banksey" Which is a double edge sword of a game. On one hand we talk about not drawing on walls....on the otherhand, Banksey is cool urban art. Hard for a 3 year old to understand. The world here is Black and White. But, I think he's getting it!

    We've been blessed by two new Banksey's on our block - one at an occupied theatre which is scheduled for demolition and the second at some squats in what is swiftly becomming our gentrified suburb of Angel. So - give the brother? a chance. He or his reps are still changing life in East London.

    The more celebs cottoning to his work makes it harder for the councils to suppress him. If you look at web sources - you'll notice the British Musuem has "held onto a work he installed there as a donation from the artist." You know they have a 500 year vision. And they made the acquistion for free!

    Finally, to me he reads like a Basquiat who isn't falling into the nightmare of fame. Gotta love a brother? who refuses the traditional role assigned to him.