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Coming at the world from an unexpected angle, far too fast to stop.

To Boldly Not Go

Writing Posted on 2016-12-05 14:50:23

Today’s song: well, I’m
writing a review of a Star Trek movie, what do you expect
?

So, last night I finally
got around to watching the new Star Trek movie, Beyond. And it prompted me to
write this review. Especially because of the writing, because the acting was
quite good, the special effects were, well, special, and the science was
non-existent, but that’s about par for the course, I don’t watch Star Trek for the
scientific credibility. (If you do, please get out of this blog as it’s likely to offend you.)

So, what’s with the
writing?

It was spectacularly bad.
And it was, above all, spectacularly failing to be Star Trek.

The ”spectacularly bad”
is quickly recapped, and I don’t think there’s even going to be any spoilers
in here. The action sequences were far too long, and failed completely to move
the plot in any direction at all. The first big action sequence introduced the
antagonist after about three minutes, and then went on for another fifteen
minutes just to get the Enterprise crew down onto the planet, while I was yawning
and wishing they’d get on with the movie.

This was a common feature
of the action scenes. They went nowhere in particular, and took forever to get
there. When they drag on for so long that you can figure out how they’re going
to end, they’re too long. The viewer (or, when you’re writing, the reader)
should never be allowed to get ahead of the plot; that way lies boredom. It’s
important to keep in mind even if you’re writing an emotional drama, but when
it happens in a thriller, you’re failing the one basic requirement. (Hint: it’s
in the name of the genre.)

And then there was the
antagonist. Oh wow, the antagonist. It started out so incredibly promising. An
alien with a grudge against the Federation.

This could be Star Trek
at its finest. This could be, say, an alien race that had joined the
Federation, which had destroyed their ancient way of living. The Federation
acting, from a certain point of view, like the Borg, assimilating everything in
its way to turn in into identical copies of itself. The antagonist could parade
some ancient values, have some very legitimate grievances. And Kirk and Spock,
or better still Uhura, could explain why they were not the Borg (without
actually mentioning them, of course, this is before Picard, after all), how
individual freedom can sometimes lead to changes, but we can never judge those
changes without judging the people who thought a different way of living was
actually better than the old, how the filter of nostalgia will lead us to forget everything that was bad about the old ways, how freedom of choice must mean that we accept
that choice, even if we disagree, and generally win the day on moral arguments alone.

Did you notice how
extremely well this fits with a narrative of the modern world? How Star Trek, in
the best Star Trek tradition, explains why progress is a good thing, overall,
even if something is sometimes lost along the way? And yes, how this is not
even a defense, but a celebration of the modern and the liberal over the
ancient and the tribal? And how right-wing populists all over the world would burst
just as many veins as they did when Shatner and Nimoy had black female officers
and Russian officers on the bridge and celebrated peace in the future on TV while
the Vietnam war and the Cold war went on in reality?

Alternatively, they could
see it as a grand tragedy. I’m with the Federation, I don’t really care much
how Trump or Farage see it.

But noooo. The antagonist
hates the Federation because he was shipwrecked and couldn’t manage to get an
SOS through because there was a nebula in the way. He hates the Federation
because the radio broke. In essence, the antagonist is bad because antagonists
are bad. He’s not even right in his own, distorted view of the world, he’s just
gone nuts. The cheapest, laziest and most profoundly uninteresting antagonist you
can think of if you sit down and deliberately try.

Don’t do that. Your antagonist is every bit as important as the protagonist. The antagonist needs to be cunning, skillful, and, from his own perspective, the protagonist of a tragedy. The protagonist will need to win the day by being morally superior, and maybe smarter. If your protagonist is only able to win over incompetent idiots by being better than them at fighting, all you have is a piece of rather inferior, morally questionable violence.



Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

News Posted on 2015-11-19 12:35:11

Today’s
song is visual.

When we
watch this now, it seems a bit… camp, almost. Bit of melodrama. But it was
filmed in 1941. France was occupied, and it looked like the war was in the
balance. Most of the extras in this scene were actual refugees from France.
Their tears were real.

There’s
been an article doing the Internet rounds today where the Marseillaise was seen
as a bit too jingoistic for the current situation. While there might be some merit to that argument, the article writer gets it completely wrong a bit down the line, when he’s
saying that ”If you are descended from migrants it’s hard to hear this and
still feel that you are part of the ‘enfants de la Patries’ rather than those
invading ‘féroces soldats’.” Because both this song, and the modern
French definition of citizenship—in essence, what it means to be French—were
created during the French Revolution. And the French idea of citizenship
differs quite a bit from what we think of in the UK, Germany or Sweden.

In France,
citizenship is viewed as an act of will. You become French by wanting to be
French, by embracing the ideals of ”liberty, equality, and brotherhood”. The US
view of citizenship works much in the same manner. You swear allegiance to the
flag and the Constitution: to ideals, not to a ruler, a vaguely defined ”nation”
or a particular group of people.

US society
does have a problem with racism. But nobody who was even remotely on the same
planet as the average human would ever claim that Will Smith or Colin Powell were in any was « less
American » than Tommy Lee Jones or Madeleine Albright.

On top of
that, France and Frenchness is nowhere near as clearly defined as it might
appear from the outside. (“Wherefrom does your intimate knowledge of France
stem,” I hear you ask. “From studying the damn language for six years,” I reply
haughtily. I even prefer speaking French to English when I travel in the
Maghreb, as 1) more people there speak French than English, 2) they can hear
immediately that I am not, for a fact, French, and so they infer that I make an
extra effort to make myself understood, which tends to make a favourable first
impression.) There are still today quite a few people in France who will
vehemently oppose any suggestion that they speak a language called French; they
speak Occitan or Provençal. (And don’t even get me started on Italy—it
has been claimed that there was no such thing as an Italian language until most
people could watch national TV transmissions in the 60s, where they spoke
Italian instead of the local language, and no real concept of Italianhood until
Mussolini forced one upon them.)

And it is
precisely by upholding these ideals, the ones created and spread by the French
revolution, that the French (and, for the most part, other Europeans) have
responded now. The guilty are those who perpetrated the crimes in Paris,
including those who planned it, and those who aided and abetted it. Not the up
to maybe 6 million French Muslims who didn’t. Not even the millions of people
terrorised into aiding them in Syria, as most of them undoubtedly feel they don’t
have much choice, what with ISIS holding guns to their heads.

And if we
back up to the clip from Casablanca, that’s pretty much how the fallout from
WWII was handled. And for what it’s worth, I think that could serve as a
blueprint for how to deal with this situation. Not that I think my opinion
counts for much. Hey, I’m a translator. You can count on me for the tricky
words, but when it comes to tricky political solutions, I elect people to
handle them for me.

So, what
did they do in 1945 that I think was so brilliant? Why did Germany succeed, but
Iraq turn into something that was worse than when they started?

Firstly,
the Allies had decided that they would accept nothing but unconditional
surrender. Remember, this was not only before the concentration camps had been
liberated, but before many of them had even been built; this was only one year
almost to the day after the Wannsee Conference, when the Shoah was engineered.
The Allies did not want a situation where anyone could claim that Germany had
not been properly beaten.

Secondly,
they dealt with the Nazi administration by due process of law, as far as that
was possible. While the matter of jurisdiction was difficult from a strictly
legal point of view, it was widely recognised that the Nazis had invented
crimes so monumental that nobody had even thought of naming them; still, it was
impossible to see them as anything but crimes. But, and this is important, it
was clear that the main responsibility lay with those who had planned and
overseen the crimes; those who had participated enthusiastically were also
punished, but to a lesser degree, while most Germans were regarded as having
been coerced or maybe just fooled into cooperation. (And the diligent student
of history will note that the infamous “only obeying orders” excuse was, in
fact, a referral to the most popular management fad of the time, the “leadership
principle” that stated that underlings would only become inefficient if they
worried over the Why and Wherefore of their orders; they should leave all the
worrying to their superiors. Many US companies are run that way to this day.
For the rest of us, it’s comparable to waving our ISO documents in the face of
the prosecution.) Only those who could be proven to have committed crimes were
punished. We do individual responsibility; collective responsibility is for
barbarians and Nazis
. So while there were punishments meted out, the vast
majority of Germans were acquitted; in a way, forgiven for their crimes.

And
thirdly, we have the point that was lacking completely in Iraq. The Marshall
plan. Originally, the plan was to transform Germany into a country focused on
agriculture
, with no heavy industry at all. This idea was soon abandoned, and instead, money was poured into the economies
of Western Europe. In essence, US money rebuilt much of what the war had
destroyed.

This is
what the US failed to do in Iraq. Sure, money was poured into the country, but much
of it went to “security measures”, and most of that was swept up by American
companies providing training to military and police. That’s what you get if you
ask the military what people need. It’s like asking the IT staff at your office
if they maybe need more computers. Maybe the Iraqi would have wanted a hospital
or two, instead of what amounts to little more than well-meaning slogans.

So, the
last point is: build basic housing, schools, hospitals. It might look
expensive, but it’s really nothing compared to the cost of the next war that
you’re avoiding. Because today, the US-led coalition is remembered in Iraq for
everything they smashed, while the Germans, by and large, remember the Allies
for everything they rebuilt and, as opposed to the aftermath of WWI, for not
being sore. Instead of a generation growing up embittered among the ruins, and
joining the next madman who comes along, they could grow up remembering someone
saying to them, “We’re really, really sorry about your Dad, and we know that he
was a good man, but forced to fight us by evil men. Here’s a school for you so
you can catch up with what you missed during the war, a hospital so that we can
help your sister, and a flat where you can live with your mother.”

Hey, it’s gotta
be worth a try. The other way didn’t work.



Pride and Prejudice

News Posted on 2015-01-14 00:15:05

Today’s song.

As I’m
writing this, there’s a wave of anger and sorrow over the recent events in
France
. And as usual, unfortunately, there’s also a wave of hate and prejudice riding
piggyback on this; I’m not going to give these the benefit of linking to them.

I’m also not
going to talk about the obvious cognitive dissonance of the haters wanting
exactly the same thing as the terrorists: curtailing of fundamental democratic freedom.

I’m going
to talk about the sneering, off-hand deriding of the “religion of love and
peace”. One which even normally tolerant, level-headed people might succumb to.
The obvious implication being that we,
as good secularised Christians, would never stoop to violence.

Because I
have personal experience of this.

Only 25
years ago, in what is now the European Union, I lived in one of the most pleasant
places on the planet
, a country that in many ways still fits Tolkien’s description
of Shire. My brother, on witnessing an argy-bargy over a parking spot,
exclaimed, incredulously, “they’re nice even when they fight”.

Still,
there were a couple of occasions when I had to explain that even though my
accent is suspiciously Protestant, I should count as a Tourist. The people I
talked to explained, in a very nice and friendly way, that this was indeed
lucky for me, since they were Republicans and they would otherwise have been
lending me their hats so as I would have something in which to carry home my
teeth. For being the wrong sort of Christian.

What is referred
to in Eire and the UK as “The Troubles” (and in most of the rest of the world
as the “civil war in Northern Ireland”) had calmed down since the most violent
phase in the early 70s, but what the newspapers called “sectarian violence” was
still alive and well. People did get murdered in Belfast on a fairly regular
basis. I visited that city once, and the first sight that met me outside the
railway station was the muzzle of a machine gun; our bags were searched when we
entered shops because they never knew who was carrying explosives. There were
even bombs going off back home in Dublin.

In case the
message hasn’t come through yet: only 25 years ago, Christians were killing
each other in Western Europe, for purportedly religious reasons. Murder,
indeed, in the name of love.
And while you might argue that these labels are
simply lampshading of political divisions—after all, UK newspapers would always
label the sides “Republican” and “Loyalist”—there were, in the same year, Muslims
being massacred by Christians here in Europe
; it is often described as “ethnic
cleansing”, but the definition of ethnicity the murderers used was based on religion.
Thousands were killed by Christians simply for being Muslim.

Some people
find this easy to forget.

And no,
this does not excuse anything. Firstly, I doubt there were any French
cartoonists present at Srebrenica, and it was certainly not mentioned as the
cause for the attack. And secondly, even if they had been there, revenge is no
way to run our affairs. We have courts for meting out justice. And thirdly, the
idea that a crime might be excusable because someone else also committed a
crime is stupid beyond description.

But my
point is that the Western world has, since the Enlightenment, been based on
individualism. This is the idea that you are, generally speaking, responsible
for your own actions. Not for anyone else’s. And nobody else can be held
responsible for what you do.

This would
appear to have been under challenge as of lately. Some people reason that
although they are individuals, all
unique and different, the others are all
the same, and not only that, but they must all be exactly like this one person
they read about in a newspaper.

Again,
stupid beyond description.

Finally, of
course, today, I am Charlie. I am also the victims of the Shoah, of the Bloody
Sunday, of Srebrenica, and all those others who had the presumption to be
different from someone who was wielding a weapon.



Forever Young

News Posted on 2014-09-04 17:47:29

I’m getting
lazy, and just link to today’s music like this.

This
weekend, I visited the town where I grew up,
and had a rather… odd insight about infinity. (If that seems strange to
you—well—my head is, possibly, an interesting place to visit.)

The thing
is that infinity is, like, huge. Absolutely mind-bogglingly huge. And as far as anyone can tell, the Universe
itself is infinite. In space, that is. It really goes on for literally ever,
not just until the next bus arrives or whatever you think is a very long time.
Specifically, it’s so big that absolutely anything that can happen, does. An
infinite number of times, even.

And just as
specifically, that includes you.

Say what?

Well, to
the extent that you’re an arrangement of various atoms in a complex pattern, it
doesn’t matter how unlikely that pattern is. The likelihood that it’ll appear
again is ridiculously low—but not zero. And if you have infinity to play in,
anything that’s possible will happen, no matter how unlikely it is. There’s
even an exact copy of the entire Earth out there, not even taking into
consideration the number of copies that are so similar we couldn’t tell the
difference (because there’s an extra atom of silicon in a grain of sand in Algeria,
or whatever).

There’s
even a bloke who has been helpful enough to figure out how long it should be to
the nearest exact copy of you
. (No, he doesn’t have too much time on his hands. Honest. It’s his job to think of
things like this. There you go,
your mind’s boggled again. Onna house. But every now and then, one of these maniacs
come up with something like electricity, so we’re ahead here.)

Mind you,
that’s just the average distance between two yous. If you keep going, there’s
another. And another. An infinity of them, since you can go on forever. And
there’s also a replica of you who’s President, Queen, or Pope, or all of the
above
; anything that could happen to you, inside the laws of physics, has happened,
an infinite number of times. Including that time you were crooning drunkenly
outside a pub and Malcolm McLaren happened to walk by and decided you were the
Next Big Thing.

And as if
that wasn’t enough—and that’s when I did a double-take—there’s also a copy of
you from the past. An Earth just like this one, only it took a while longer to
get there, so it’s still a while ago there. In my case, specifically, I
realised that somewhere in an infinite universe, it’s a spring day in 1983 and outside
my school, The Almost has just finished playing The Girl I Love, moving on to I
Don’t Care
, and I’m sitting there enjoying myself immensely, despite being
a complete idiot, full of myself and a walking advert for teensy angst.

No, I
wouldn’t exactly want to go there, if only to avoid meeting that complete and
utter twit.

But there’s
a place I’d like to go.

To the
planet where The Almost didn’t break
up in 1984 or thereabouts, and continued to make the sort of great songs that
are possibly now preserved only on an old C90 tape I haven’t played for decades,
plus of course on the sort of rare-ish album Första Vinylen.
Just so I could buy their records and bring them to this planet, you see.

If you’re
Mats,
Henrik, Johan,
Alf
or Wille, this is when
you get exactly as full of yourself as I was four paragraphs up. If you’re not them, this is where you leave a
comment telling me which planet you’d like to visit, if you had a free pass to
any place in the infinite universe.



Viva Las Interwebs

Writing Posted on 2014-04-14 17:50:09

I am a member
of two writers’ groups on Facebook. One was founded as a fallout when Litopia disintegrated, and lots of people
still wanted to hang out. It’s still in working order, despite having virtually
no rules; one reason might be that it’s strictly by invitation, and you’re not
very likely to start major fights with someone you actually know.

The other
one had a Litopia moment the other day. A thread got heated, invectives started to get thrown about, and the
moderators took the thread down. Moments later, there was another thread up
complaining about the removal of the first one. It quickly descended into
complaints about arbitrariness, despotism, and general violations of free speech.

This would
happen every three weeks at Litopia.

After a few
years of this, the moderators at Litopia – of which I was one – simply gave up.
It’s not easy to stay positive, cheerful and impartial when people complain
endlessly, which they will, simply because any group of more than three people
will have different opinions about things. And that is, in brief, why the whole
thing fell apart: there were not enough people left to run it.

With this
experience, I have some advice for everyone who is a member of any form of
online writers’ group. Or any online group at all, really.

* The
Moderators are as human as you. They’ve got headaches and toothaches and bad
days, too, like you.

And sometimes they make mistakes. Cut them some slack. When you’re out
shopping, would you actually yell at a supermarket attendant who made a
mistake? (If you would, you’re simply an unpleasant person and there is
probably not a whole lot I can do for you.)

* They do
this for free, and you will get what you pay for. If it is a free service, you have
the right to expect nothing.
It is actually they who pay – by doing this instead of something they
would rather be doing.

*
Moderating the forum is not the most important thing in their lives. They have
children, mortgages, jobs, cars that need repair and roofs that need mending, a
grandmother who just fell ill and a dog that needs walking. Some days you won’t
even register.

* Most
importantly: What happens on the
Internet, stays on the Internet. FOREVER.
You’re a writer now, hence a
professional; your name is your brand. And guess what? Your future business
associates will google you. Your behaviour on the Web will come back to you. If
you come across as a difficult person, someone who will happily lash out at
people and dish out personal insults adorned with four-letter words at the mere
whiff of a slight, you are henceforth labelled “Difficult to Work With” and you
can expect form rejections. It might not be the worst possible reputation to
have, but it’s definitely in the top three. (Unless you’re Harlan Ellison.)

This is why
you should never complain when a
moderator deletes your post. You should thank
them.

They might
have saved your book contract.



Super Trouper

Writing Posted on 2014-04-03 15:15:06

I hereby
announce that this Saturday, I was impressed.

If that
seems like a very bland announcement, you should bear in mind that I did a lot
of thinking about learning and teaching when I worked as a teacher for two
years, and came to the conclusion that there are very few achievements in the
world which could not be repeated by most people, were they willing to invest
the time, effort and sheer bloodymindedness it takes for most of us.
Consequently, I will always applaud a good performance, but I will rarely be impressed, in the sense that I will
believe I just saw a display of skill that defied all probability.

The last
time was in November, 1993. (A Beatles tribute band called The Cavern, who did a very
good Beatles impression, which I was thoroughly enjoying, but not more, up
until the moment they performed Back in the USSR. I
happened to know that the song was never performed live by the real Beatles.
Yet, had the Fab Four ever played it in front of an audience, that was exactly what it would have sounded
like
. Copying existing recordings is one thing; this went far beyond that and
into the realm of the truly incredible.) This will give you a sense of how
easily impressed I am.

As for
talent—well—if you’re born with a natural talent for anything, it means you
haven’t even had to bother to practise properly. In my book, there’s nothing
particularly clever about being talented; it just means you won the lottery. I’ve
seen more examples of great talent leading to mediocrity (since talented people
rarely develop the persistence needed to become really skilled) than great talent
leading to dazzling results.

This last memorable
moment also had to do with live performance of music, and it was achieved by
two girls about eleven years old.

My youngest
had just performed in front of an audience for the first time ever (a piano
rendition of Old
McDonald Had A Farm
), and I was beaming with pride since he had carried it
off flawlessly. Three or four acts later, up came two girls to play
four-handed, which isn’t easy in the first place, what with trying to
coordinate your own hands while listening to what the other person plays and
adjusting accordingly so that you don’t end up finishing half a verse ahead.
Their first song ended rather unexpectedly; it might have been intentional but
looked more like they suddenly forgot what they were doing. Then they started
on their second song (one of Beethoven’s
German Dances
), and… faltered after two bars.

They
started over. And stopped after two notes.

And they
started over. And stopped after two notes.

And the
same thing happened a fourth time.

You could
hear a pin drop.

Silence for
about five seconds. The girls sat immobile by the piano.

They
started over. And played it through perfectly.

The worst
thing that can happen on a stage happened to them, and they pulled through.
Sheer will force and, yes, bloodymindedness showed them through. (There’s no
realistic way anything worse can happen on stage. If you drop your trousers, at
least there will be laughter, and you can pretend this was exactly how you
planned it. If you start babbling incoherently, you’re having a plausible case
of nervous breakdown and will probably be led off and fed brandy by some kind
people. If you start fornicating with the stage props—well—I did say realistic.)

The reason
I’m writing this in a blog which is, ostensibly, about writing, even though I
have noticeable difficulties staying on topic, is that the inestimable Lynn
Price
has once again posted a piece where my thoughts won’t fit snugly in
the comments space.

Lots of
people are scared witless by the very thought of having an audience.
Personally, I’m perfectly happy with the idea, but I was still nervous enough
the first time on stage that I was very fortunate to have a microphone stand to
hold on to, as my knees had inexplicably turned into porridge. And when you’re
a writer, you might think you sign up for a solitary lifestyle in the
confinement of an ivory tower. But hey, you’re chased by publishers, agents and
publicists who are eager to put you in front of an audience, and they all expect you to say interesting
things
.

Enough to
drive anyone nuts.

So, while I
have never actually been to a book signing, much less held one myself, here are
my tips. I was teaching for two years, meaning I was on stage full time, in
front of an audience who would much rather have been anywhere else; I played in
some of the crappiest punk bands in the town where I grew up, more about which
later; I was a manager at a translation agency for four years, which also
entails a lot of public display and outright acting. So while there might be
reason not to listen too closely, there’s at least reason to listen.

1. They Can Not See You Being Nervous.
This is extremely important to remember if you’re given to nervousness. If you
start getting nervous about being nervous, the feedback loop will petrify you
inside ten seconds. But guess what? Your audience can never see how nervous you
are. If you don’t believe me, think back to all your job interviews, and all your
performance evaluations, and remember this: the
person hiring or evaluating you was very nearly as nervous as you
. I’ve
been there. See above. You didn’t notice. Nor will the book signing audience.

2. They Will Fulfil Their Own Prophecy.
They’re there of their own, free will. They’ve read your book with interest,
and they expect you to be interesting. And amazingly, whatever you say, they’re
going to find you interesting, no
matter how dull you find yourself. There’s probably a name for it; I’ve been
known to call it the Eric
Olthwaite Effect
.

3. They Will Excuse Any Eccentricity.
Face it, you’re an author. You belong to a class of people not fabled
for their
mental
stability. Should
you suddenly decide to arrive in a diving suit and answer all questions in medieval
German, it’s only par for the course. More realistically, starting to mumble
incoherently about a deceased uncle isn’t going to make them just up and leave
on you, even if a thorough search should fail to yield any uncles at all, dead
or alive. (The only problem is that if you start to e.g. use the nearest flower
pot as a toilet, they will start to expect such behaviour from you in the
future, which might not be altogether convenient.)

4. Even If The Worst Happens, It Will Pass.
This is where the above-mentioned punk bands come in again. I was seventeen.
There was this huge gala. We were the opening act. We were so abysmally crappy
that the drummer left the band fifteen minutes before curtains up, saying he
couldn’t go through with it. He was replaced in a panic by the guitar player
from another band who took pity on us, but had never rehearsed the songs or
even heard us play. The bass guitar player could be persuaded to enter the stage
only by me promising him that he could have his back to the audience at all
times. I stood there, waiting for the curtain to rise, having the singing
ability of the average train wreck, knowing that absolutely everyone who meant
anything to me socially was going to witness this. I was dressed up as a
condom.

I lived through the next twenty minutes.

Absolutely nothing about a stage can ever frighten me again.



Extra, Extra

News Posted on 2014-04-01 12:16:25

…and an update: Banksy’s Web page is now completely blank. Still not barking.

In the meanwhile, rumours say the the happening might have been arranged by the crew Czon and Underground, but, crucially, with Banksy’s explicit approval. They have denied it, but as we’re in conspiracy theory territory anyway, I proclaim the denial to be a very suspicious fact in itself.

Czon, in the meanwhile, is a good illustration of one of the shortcomings of street art. There’s a woman involved in the crew, and she’s apparently welcome as long as she’s willing to be depicted without any clothes on.



Art Lover

News Posted on 2014-03-28 16:47:57

One of my
most highly prized possessions is something I don’t, strictly speaking,
possess. It exists only in digital form. It’s an email I got ten years ago, and
it’s actually only one word long, plus the signature.

The word is
“thanks”.

The
signature is “Banksy”.

So, with a
long-standing interest in that very elusive person and his art, it’s no wonder that this
Sunday, I ignored my beeping hoax sensors and made the pilgrimage to
Hudiksvallsgatan in Stockholm, where it had been rumoured that Banksy was to show up for some
sort of manifestation.

I wasn’t
alone. See below. Picture taken 15 minutes after the designated starting time,
and more people showed up during the next 15 minutes; my estimate is somewhere
upwards of 2,000 people. Since I was there on my own (as opposed to alone), I
could chat with some people and overhear quite a few conversations. Most
believed it was a hoax, and most believed nothing much would happen, except for
perhaps a video later appearing on YouTube of the police trying to disperse us
and the caption “look what you can make hype-susceptible people do by
using a famous pseudonym”.

Then a
whistle was blown on our left. A lone jogger in sunglasses threaded his way
through the crowd, followed by a woman who said she wasn’t about to miss
anything. People were completely bewildered until the jogger reached the end of
the street, turned around, and waved at us to follow while whistling a couple
more times. (He was obviously more used to, say, rave crowds.)

The crowd—now
pleasantly surprised since something or other was obviously about to happen, or
maybe was already in the process of happening if the excitement was going to be
limited to a short stroll—followed, rather like lemmings don’t do in real life
(only when massacred wholesale by Disney in order to get a better story). We
were led to a condemned building a few blocks away, and after standing in line
for an interminable time (during which many people prepared themselves by pulling
out their phones and watching the exhibition inside on Instagram), we were led
into a room where the writing on the wall proclaimed “This must be the
place”, in a manner very reminiscent of the street artist Akay.

And, well,
it was. First exhibit was a pair of legs (seemingly alive) hanging from the
ceiling. Death of the artist, no less, so I’m explicitly free to add my own
interpretation. Good. I will, later. A short manifesto on the wall, called
“Anonymous celebrity” and carefully phrased to add to the mystery. It
even referred to the statement put out by Banksy’s publicist only the day
before. For me, though, the great part was still all the other people: milling
about, very uncertain what they were actually doing, and peeking and poking at
the various odds and ends that usually litter condemned buildings, in case they
were actually part of the exhibition.

And in the
next room, there was more writing on the wall, this time most definitely in the
style of the street artist Klisterpeter.

And another
queue in the corner. Leading us past a wall adorned with what a surprisingly
large number of people have failed to identify as a quote from the Hitch-Hiker’s
Guide to the Galaxy, seeming to indicate that someone had got fed up with lying
in front of the bulldozer of commercialism, and into a much larger space. This
one was definitely devoted to Banksy, with re-creations and re-interpretations of
some of his more iconic works.


There were
even exhibits among the rafters, although I was hindered from exploring by
vertigo (and also by being fat enough to be completely unwieldy even on a
ladder, had I found one, but the people up there seemed to have been scaling
the walls). I saw people wearing chimp masks, and there were apparently more
Banksy works up there, real or fake.

And at the
end, a proclamation. The poor artist.

So, what
was all this about?

The
Internet, as is its wont, abounds with theories. They range from it being
somehow genuine, whatever that might mean in this context (If Banksy is
actually involved, making the stencils and posting them to Stockholm for the
exhibitors to use, does that make the flower thrower “genuine”? Does
“genuine” even have a meaning here? What if Banksy was only shown a YouTube
video of this, laughed and said “Go ahead, do it”?) up to this being
a very elaborate PR stunt by Gucci.

My own
official stance is this: I don’t know whether Banksy was really involved, or if
the question even can be said to have a meaning. But I do know that I was part
of a very ambitious and very well executed street art happening.

Then
there’s the unofficial part.

Artists
don’t normally use other artists’ names. Claiming to have done something in
cooperation with, say, Dan Brown or Steven Spielberg is utterly out of the
question unless they’ve actually been involved. So, the only reason someone
would have done this would probably be to criticize Banksy in some way.

Let’s
suppose it was done without Banksy’s involvement or approval. What do we have
then? Well, we have first a couple of Swedish street artists, then a
retrospective of Banksy’s career, and then the statement that Banksy has been
crushed by commercialism. In effect, a very elaborate way of stating
“Banksy is a sell-out”.

That’s a
huge effort to go to in order to say something that’s been said by lots of
other people. (Very unfair, in my view; the only thing the bloke has done is to take whatever money is thrown at him, in the end enabling him to be a full time artist, in effect freeing himself from commercial pressure.)

If Banksy
is involved, though, it gets a lot more interesting. Then the exhibit is about
his own perception of himself, and how he’s being crushed under some commercial
media hype. Then it’s not just a repetition of what someone else said. It
becomes an artistic expression. It becomes, for want of a suitable word, art.

And there’s
a final clue. As of the moment I’m writing this, Banksy’s Web page only says “Banksy
has not made any t-shirts for a water charity”. This is because someone
claimed he had done so, and the claimer apparently made a decent amount of
money selling said tees. Most artists are very sensitive about having their
name used by someone else, especially if there’s money involved.

Yet, we
have the curious incident of the street artist on his Web page.

Not proof,
of course. And he’s probably not falling over himself to deny some allegation
made in a two-horse town at the edge of the inhabited world, so maybe he’ll get
around to it next week, who knows. Still, it makes me wonder.

Of course,
there’s one way we could get to know, without being told explicitly.

If a mural
were to appear in London tomorrow, showing Banksy being crushed under a giant
Gucci bag.



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