When it comes to Banksy, Taylor Glenn reckons we’re much better off in the dark. Stop going for the big reveal, people.
Last month, a crack team* of researchers at London’s Queen Mary University used a technique called geographical profiling to attempt to prove the identity of one of the world’s most elusive artists.
*I don’t know if they were technically a ‘crack team’ but it’s so seldom I get to use that term, I took a shot.
Banksy – or as claimed by both the researchers and the infamous 2008 Daily Mail investigation, Mr Robin Gunningham – reportedly got his lawyers involved in an attempt to stall the results of the study.
Whether this is the truth, or part of a possible PR stunt orchestrated by Banksy him/her/them-self in response to the profiling, we don’t know.
At any rate, as April Fool’s Day – the most Marmite of all calendar ‘Days’ (unless there’s an actual Marmite Day) – approached the story diffused like spray paint in the wind. But I couldn’t help thinking about this latest O Banksy, Where Art Thou? attempt, in the context of a topic which has always intrigued me: pranking.
“Banksy has managed to stay true to his delightfully mysterious 90s prankster persona. Do we really need to know where he lives and what he eats for breakfast at this point?”
Abbie Hoffman, the social activist, anarchist and political prankster, is oft referenced for dividing pranking into categories:
• The silly/puerile variety (cue fans of toilet seat plastic wrap covering – has anyone actually done that or is it just a plot device in 1980s Babysitter’s Club books?);
• The downright nasty (stag party + Rohypnol + incriminating photos maybe? Dunno, not my thing); and finally
• The noble prank. The ones which rock the norm, forcing into question political or social processes which need some serious questioning. Like setting up a fake Trump rally and forcing his followers to listen to Nazi propaganda and seeing if they notice, perhaps?
Hoffman, of course, fell into the last category, although in his spare time he may have enjoyed a bit of toilet seat covering to blow off steam from all that counterculture activism. We’ll never know.
Considered by some as the ultimate prankster and political artist, Banksy has built up this reputation during a career which kicked off in the early 90s with a series of politically charged graffiti stunts in Bristol and across the UK. An inimitable mark has been left all over the world, from the districts of New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina to, more recently, the Gaza strip and Calais Jungle.
And who could forget last autumn’s full-scale UK ‘theme park’ installation Dismaland in Weston-super-Mare?
Love, hate or feel lukewarm towards him/her/them, there’s no denying the secretiveness surrounding Banksy’s identity is a key part of the art and its associated stunts. There aren’t many artists who could pull off set-ups where their prints are sold for a mere $60 a pop on a street corner by a bored looking guy, before generating so much excitement upon the reveal without ever actually revealing the artist who created them.
Psychologists and sociologists have long studied the role pranking plays in society, and guess what, April Fool’s fans? Pranking can be good for us. Like five-a-day good for us. Pranking is a near-universal concept, practised across diverse cultures and within all age groups.
The art of fooling is used in both initiation rituals and for fun, and it’s thought to play a role in both establishing a sense of social belonging, as well as pushing the victim towards a state of discomfort which ultimately results in a positive affirmation of vigilance.
In simpler terms: pranks keep us on our toes, and that somehow creates both a sense of belonging and a sense of mental sharpness. In even simpler terms: humans are very weird creatures.
This is all assuming the prank is well executed, and the recipient is psychologically receptive to the prank. Recent history has illustrated that a mismatch of either can result in tragedy.
“Psychologists and sociologists have long studied the role pranking plays in society, and guess what, April Fool’s fans? Pranking can be good for us. Like five-a-day good for us.”
But in a relatively victimless crime like street art (you can call it ‘micro-terrorism’ if you want, but it’s still just paint on walls), is there such a need for the pull back and reveal? Why are we so hell-bent on finding out who Banksy really is? And would it be good for us if we did?
In an era dominated by public profiles and social media accessibility, Banksy has managed to stay true to his delightfully mysterious 90s prankster persona. Do we really need to know where he lives and what he eats for breakfast? To catch a glimpse of him topping up his rail pass or going for an eyebrow wax?
Or worse – imagine a world where Banksy has a Twitter account and he sells iPhone covers of his art on Etsy. Actually, those things might already be true. Isn’t it fun that we don’t really know?
Maybe, just maybe, we’ve all got so used to knowing who everyone is and effectively, being able to contact anyone (I admit I’m an offender myself; I got MC Hammer to follow me on Twitter JUST BECAUSE I COULD – Hi Hammer!) that we’ve forgotten the value of being duped from time to time? (Wait, Hammer, is that really you?)
In summation: leave Banksy alone, crack teams of the world. There are enough real criminals out there you could be catching. And somebody get on that Trump rally idea, that’s a good ‘un. Banksy could do that, if you stop messing around with him and calling him Robin.
Anyway I think I’ve said enough. I’m off to see if Robin Gunningham’s on Twitter.4094 Views
Taylor is an American comedian, writer, and former psychotherapist based in London. She has a two-year-old and a dead basil plant.