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Just last month the Boston MFA cancelled its art exhibit allowing museum goers to try on a Kimono and take a selfie in front of Monet's La Japonaise, because students thought it was racist, despite the fact when the same painting toured Japan, museum goers (presumably not all of them Japanese) were invited to try on Kimonos. Also despite a video explaining the cultural etiquette that it is perfectly fine for foreigners to wear Kimono--in Boston or Japan or wherever. Mostly because in Japan (at least in this video explanation at the bottom of the article) there's not a knee-jerk reaction to what people in America deem "cultural appropriation," or "racism." So this is a case of two countries, one much more sharing of its culture, and one intolerant of anyone who even attempts to share another's culture. Fun times.
Now we have Banksy. Thanks to complaints, the above mural was removed by the council of England citing it contained insensitive and racist remarks." Sorry, did I say complaints? I meant complaint. Disregarding the Guardian's headline, the article makes that clear.
"Nigel Brown, communications manager for Tendring district council, said it had received a complaint on Tuesday that “offensive and racist remarks” had been painted on a seafront building. 'The site was inspected by staff who agreed that it could be seen as offensive and it was removed this morning in line with our policy to remove this type of material within 48 hours,' he said."
The above mural, which is at face value, a social commentary on racism, and nothing more than that. Though the Guardian makes reference to the mural appearing at a time when an MP has defected to UKIP, who much like the Sweden Democrats and some GOP front runners in America, are seen as wanting to limit immigration, or intolerant xenophobes depending on which narrative fits your narrative. But it could also be a reaction to British Poles going on strike and donating blood to prove their importance. A sort of #PolishLivesMatter if you would.
My point is, as simplistic as Bansky murals sometimes are, it's also simplistic to merely take this mural (or indeed any art) at face value only. Banksy could be making a a commentary on what is happening locally, or what is happening globally when it comes to intolerance. Or he could be making a comment on the intolerance of outrage culture, that demands we don't do or say or think anything unless previously approved by some oppressive regime on social media.
What I know is this: To read the above mural as racist you'd have to be...living in 2015. The era of trigger warnings. Where a joke or word or phrase can turn someone into the next Hitler overnight. In 2015, shutting someone up and shouting someone down is considered high art. May the shrillest voice with the most retweets win.
But what do they win in this particular case? They win the right to suppress art. They win the end of debate, discussion, and healthy arguments. They win the right to put a topic they don't want to discuss in a wasp's nest, then lock it in a safe and throw away the key. But the problem with living in 2015 is that you can't lock anything up anymore. You can rip a piece of art off a wall but the point has already been made and the image has already propagated.
To be honest, I could usually take Banksy or leave him. But I have a theory and this theory about this mural and it has changed my mind about him. Here goes:
I believe that this was planned from the start by Banksy. Not as a commentary on UKIP, or Sweden or Donald Trump. While that is a very valid if not rudimentary way to read it, I believe this is actually a commentary on the neurotic and absurdist state of today's outrage culture that only grows crazier by the day. I'll even go so far as to say I believe Banksy was the one who called in the single complaint (or called a few times if there indeed turn out to be multiple ones) and then waited, not too long, mind you, until the outrage police showed up and the mural was removed.
All it takes to go viral is a mural, a prank call, and the social experiment wheels were set in motion. Of course, he'll never say if he orchestrated it. But regardless, I want to believe this was the intent because if so, this is one hell of a meta piece of art that will start so many conversations that regardless of intention, silencing it will be all but impossible.
And if that's the case then Banksy can retire, because this is his masterpiece.