Initially I decided to think up an image as witty as a Banksy and work it into a cartoon. I came up with a woman in a burqua in the iconic pose of Marilyn Monroe holding her dress down over the subway grate in “The Seven Year Itch”. I had Banksy painting it on a building in Afghanistan as part of an intiative of the British Army to improve relations with the locals through the power of art. It backfired obviously. I was quite happy with this as a cartoon and was mapping it out when my old friend Doubt appeared. He smiled and whispered in my ear “Are you really the first person to ever think of this image?”. He typed “Marilyn burqua” on the keyboard for me, pointed to a few things on Google Images, snorted victoriously, and threw my coffee in my face, which really hurt because I’d only just got it and it was still really hot. Luckily for me I had heard Robert Hughes say something in an interview years before that made me think much more positively about doubt. He said that anyone who is any good at anything has loads of doubts. Only the mediocre have no doubts, but that is the consolation for being mediocre. I let the coffee burn a few seconds more, serene, before wiping it off.
I decided to change tack. Another angle on Banksy is that no-one knows who he is. Amazing. No-one knows. No-one. Not even his mother, which is why his teeth are so bad as she never forced him to brush them. Why would she? He was just a kid in her house whom she didn’t know.
The most amusing and least likely person I could imagine being exposed as Banksy was the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Making her him led to the whole phone hacking, NSA mass surveillance angle, which is the real point of the final cartoon. It’s weird how what you really think squeezes out somehow. I can’t express in words what a staggeringly obscene abuse of power this disgusting monitoring of a large percentage of humanity’s communications actually is. Even if, by endlessly scouring multiple universes, you could actually discover a single, convincing reason for doing it, the potential for abuse, for manipulating the lives of billions of people, is something that would make a Bond villain feel faint. It is a truism that power corrupts, but secrecy does the job just as thoroughly. They are squirming big time now the cat is out of the bag. Why? Did they have an inkling that they might be doing something extremely bad? The ridiculous and perverse cover-your-arse idea of having “secret” courts “overseeing” this illegal activity is as bad as you can get.
Unfortunately I think this will be the theme of the coming century: mankind’s moral and ethical concerns falling further and further behind screamingly fast developments in science and technology.
More fun next week!
First published in The Guardian online, 6 November 2013
This cartoon makes use of Jean-Francois Millet’s The Gleaners and Jean-Honore Fragonard’s The Swing. The two paintings embody such perfectly opposing values – peasants/aristocracy, work/play, poverty/wealth, hard life/frivolity, barren earth/lush vegetation, etc – that they begged to be put together. The trick was to give them a context where this could happen.
Some of you may be unfamiliar with allotment gardening. An allotment garden, often called simply an allotment, or a community garden (North America), is a plot of land made available for individual, non-commercial gardening or growing food plants. Such plots are formed by subdividing a piece of land into a few or up to several hundreds of land parcels that are assigned to individuals or families. Thank you Wikipedia. You can go now.
As a newly landed Australian in London I was completely unfamiliar with the concept until I stumbled across one whilst trying to find the local estate agent. I just couldn’t figure it out. Peering through a wire fence I saw a bunch of people pottering around in little fenced off plots – in the middle of a medium-density residential area! What the hell were they doing? Was this a work for the dole scheme? A school for florists? Were they starving peasants? Gypsies? Squatting farmers undermining the legitimate carrot market? I had no idea. All I knew was that it was very suspicious. I rang the police and fled.
Anyway it’s a very English thing. It’s certainly not an Australian thing and I hope, for the sake of the joke, that it never caught on in France. I confidently made that assumption without too much research. The allotment context seemed to me to be a tres amusing way to put the two images together. In Fragonard’s painting the lady is kicking off her shoe to her secret lover hiding in the bushes, whilst being swung by another man. She is also giving the secret lover a glimpse of her knickers. It’s very titillating. I’ve tried and tried but I just don’t find the Millet anywhere near as titillating. The flying shoe bonks the head of a gleaner, whom I do not find especially attractive, and the ensuing dispute between these allotment neighbours is the spark for the French Revolution.
Liberty, Equality, Fertilizer!
No? Ok, maybe the fertilizer was a bit much. How about fraternity? Oh c’mon…