First published in www.theguardian.com on 20 November 2013
I like Banksy. His graffiti is always witty and he has conjured up quite an unlikely, successful career. I’m not sure why it took so long to do a cartoon on him but it was his recent month long sojourn in New York City that prompted me to act.
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!