Monday, September 28, 2015

Banksy and the Problem of Writing about Humor You Don’t Get (Dan Brooks in the NY Times, Part II)

In a previous post I called out (and, I hope, shamed) Dan Brooks in his NY Times essay, “Banksy and the Problem with Sarcastic Art” for writing a negative critique of Banksy’s pop-up theme park, Dismaland, without bothering to actually experience it. Now I’d like to address another aspect of that piece, the fact that Brooks doesn’t get British humor, thereby offending an entire culture.

Before expounding, Brooks might have, like any good writer, consulted Wikipedia, where it says: “A strong theme of sarcasm and self-deprecation, often with deadpan delivery, runs throughout British humour.” This is a surprise? I thought humor was one of Britain’s most famous exports. But then Brooks lives in Montana.

So, of course, the Brits say it best, as evidenced by these comments on Brooks’s blog:

Patricia:  Hello your piece about Dismaland was a load of bollocks just saying .smiley face

Sam: Hey arsehole, I noticed you didn’t offer a right to reply on your hilarious Banksy critique you coward. American critics can’t seem to help but embarrass them selves when it comes to understanding British cultural work. The reason you can’t pin down where the depth lies in his work is because you can only see it through the lens of your own cultural experience you prick. Its not for you, (American goal/success obsessed, materialists), its for us, (British people who live under the yolk of class oppression). He’s made it clear he doesn’t want to be in the work and that’s a big part of its value. Just accept it. It’s Far more poignant and rare to see outward looking work like his, rather than most American introspective conceptual art that’s obsessed with the artist and the individual, that when you get down to it, exists as little more than in invitation to fuck or be fucked. Write about shit you see in your own culture but leave our work out of it.


 LOL. Takin’ some heat for your Dismaland piece. I guess that’ll happen when you deconstruct the only functioning tool in the room. And anyway, if you can thrill to the demagoguery, than surely you can at least find some amusement in the irony of a society which makes a bond of the chasm and defends it by hurling at you fragments of their smashed and deconsecrated urn, the last remaining ashes of wit mixing irretrievably in the wind with whatever comes next.

Dismaland, featuring "Mediocre" by Axel Void of Miami. Photo: Carol Diehl © 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

Britain, the police, and a world without guns

So Friday night, Ray, Magda, and I are sitting around chatting in their living room in London’s Hackney Wick, when Ray hears a sound in the garden and gets up to check, thinking it’s a fox. Instead four young gang members being chased by the police have climbed over the high brick walls and are now at the back door begging to get in. When we go to the front door there are police cars everywhere. Magda and I go upstairs to watch the drama unfold from the windows, a vivid lesson in the difference in policing styles between England and America. First of all, the cadre of cops that show up are a bunch of truly hot guys—young, slim, and handsome—like maybe the rugby team has come to the rescue. They get to the garden—not by breaking down our door—but by nimbly scaling the series of walls and as I watch one climb over the next wall in pursuit, I’m thinking that even if cops in America were that fit, they’d be weighed down by all the equipment they carry. I’m also realizing that if this were happening in America, guns would be involved, and instead of standing at the window, I’d be under the bed. We watched as they arrested two out front, and felt sad for everyone. The boys—who, we were told, been fighting in a gang war with knives, boards with nails in them and machetes—didn’t look evil, just young and clueless. The police were respectful and professional. When they left Ray went out to the garden to try to salvage his climbing cherry tomatoes, and I went to bed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Banksy and the Problem with Writing About Stuff You Haven't Been To (Dan Brooks in the NY Times)

One of Banksy’s many talents is getting people in the public sphere to reveal themselves at their most self-serving. Like turning over a rock, his Dismaland has brought to light a gaggle of journalists (and/or editors, who goad them into it) willing to put their scruples aside and gain exposure by taking advantage of Banksy’s notoriety. I mean, really, you’d think that the first requirement of having an opinion on any experience would be to actually have the experience. But nooooo….first to tip me off to this phenom was a commenter who asked if the author of the negative Dismaland critique in the LA Times had actually attended it. Then in today’s New York Times Magazine, one Dan Brooks waxes at length on “Banksy and the Problem with Sarcastic Art.” citing negative reviews from Business Insider (“bad and boring”), HuffPo (“Dismaland is not interesting and neither is Banksy”) and others to bolster his point—while there’s no evidence that he, or any of the other writers, found occasion to visit the event. This conundrum is especially interesting when one considers that Brooks fancies himself a specialist in “ethical dilemmas” who, in his blog, has taken issue with those having an opinion about a book they haven't read.

Rats! I should have written a critique of the Jeff Koons retrospective, which I missed, based on my certain assumption that I would have hated it.

Is this happening relative only to Banksy or does it portend a trend? If so, it’s bad news for readers, good news for writers who will no longer have to leave their chairs to cover music, art, theatre, restaurants, etc. Think of the gas money they can save! And no need to get a baby-sitter. As for hard news, staying home is not only a lot safer than going into a war zone, the food is much better.

I’m off to Dismaland next week, will report.


Update: More on Dan Brooks's ethical dilemmas: