Thursday, May 19, 2011

Irksome. Banksy, Me and Everybody (spoiler)

I discovered him a couple of years ago, when we vacationed in Bristol.
It was love at first sight.
There happened to be an exhibit at the Bristol City Museum. We didn’t see the exhibit, only the lines stretching for blocks of people who were already showing signs of post traumatic stress disorder just from waiting so long. We had seen enough traces of his work around town tho, Bristol being Banksy’s Ur, that I knew I needed more. Now I wish we had just given our kids over to juvenile detention for the day and gone to the exhibit. So, what I didn’t have to do in Bristol, I got to do last night: “Exit Through The Gift Shop,” Banksy’s documentary film debut.
It was irritating.
Nails on the chalkboard stuff.

It took me a while to get behind what it was. What was the film about anyway? Was it asking what was once a standard high-school philosophy question, “What is art?”
No, that wasn’t it.
Closer would be, “Who counts as an Artist?”
But for someone who has been telling people for the last couple of years, that EVERYONE is an Artist, I was overly irritated by the unforeseen twist in this movie.

The film is not actually about Banksy, but about Thierry Guetta, a small, eccentric Frenchman with a filming addiction, who seems to be making a movie about Banksy and a number of other semi-criminals. He follows and films and “assists” Banksy and these street artists the world over for years, but when it becomes clear that Guetta is a borderline “Messy,” and doesn’t know the first thing about film making, Banksy turns the tables, and tells Guetta to handover his enormous collection of tapes (tapes Thierry has never even watched himself), and go do his own artwork for a while. Having “apprenticed” with the Space Invader, Shepard Fairey, Andre, Borf and Buffmonster, Guetta begins to follow their lead. He first creates an image for himself, or rather has someone else do it, and begins posting it in all shapes and sizes around LA as Mr. Brainwash. He then hires a team, sets up a large warehouse, and begins crankin’ out (or rather, has his team of Artists crank out) an Andy Warhol - Banksy mashup of pop-culture Ikons. At the climax of the film, Thie… um Mr. Brainwash gets in way over his head, when he wants to make a big, no, huge splash on the LA scene with a debut exhibit… Everything looks as though it is leading up to the ultimate belly-flop, until the doors open and people start pouring in by the thousands and money pours in by the Millions! It is insane.

I was irritated.
Banksy is obviously irritated.
Shepard Fairey is obviously irritated.
Even the people who were hired to set up his exhibit were pissed (I’ve worked for a psycho Frenchman before, so believe me, I know what they were going thru!).
But it also appears they can’t really put into words, what it is that bugs them so much.
Was he a copy cat? A poser? A wanna be?
Or a successful apprentice, who they hadn’t realized was apprenticing?
With no real artistic mastery of his own, he hired skilled artist to carry out his artistic direction. He seemed to have stumbled more onto a recipe than a message. So, in a way, it’s like he had stolen the answer sheet, crammed for the exam the next day and gotten an “A”, while the other guys slugged it out through the years old school style… with mastery, skill, meaning and depth.
But it still takes a kind of genius to pull off what Guetta pulled off; why do we allow him his piece of the pie so begrudgingly?
Just before falling asleep, I realized what it was that irritated me so much, and might have irritated Banksy, what it was that the film reminded me of, that feeling it was tapping into.

Thanks to facebook and the internet, I have reconnected with or been updated on people from just about every chapter of my life… and there have been many chapters: Ever so therapeutic. Several months ago, when I had slowed down long enough to listen to my own heart beat and opened up space there for new perspectives to grow, I became intensely aware of a deep truth. Of all the mean and nasty and terrible things I have thought and done in my life… more than running over a cat while driving before I got my license, more than getting busted, dropping out of school, getting kicked out of the house, puking my guts out at keg parties, or peeing in alley ways; more than cheating, lying, stealing and yelling at my kids,… the thing I regret the most, and will, on my death bed, regret more than anything else,
is a life time of underestimating people.
Time and time again, with each new “friend” request from a ghost of the past, seeing where people had gone, what had become of them, how they too had “grown up,” I became aware of what a small box I had up until that moment kept them in…what limited expectations I have for so many; how quickly I size people up and arrange them in a small corner of the world stage, never expecting them to be called out for an encore. Knowing myself the pain of being shoved to the back of the choir and not being expected to ever give a solo, makes this trait in me even more regrettable.

So, tossing from side to side, trying to wrestle this movie out of my head so I could get at least a few hours of sleep, I finally made the connection: The irksome aspect of Thierry Guetta or mbw, was that, in his quirky, sideways, clumsy way, this funny frenchman surpassed everyone’s expectations.
He became a huge success, and no one saw it coming!
How dare he!
How irritating it is, when we are sure someone isn’t playing with a full deck, and they end up winning the pot, because, as it turns out, they have an Ace up their sleeve!

I have been trying to allow other people’s stories to remain open-ended. I have been reminding myself, that there is usually more than meets the eye, and that anyone of the various people criss-crossing my life has every chance in the world of exceeding my amateur estimation of them. But my annoyance at watching Guetta, poised for a belly flop, succeed in doing a swan dive, shows me, that I better keep working on it until I make that final “exit through the gift shop.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Maher: The Atheist Who Keeps us Honest!

Bill Maher, the Atheist, who loves to goad (ok, relentlessly ridicule and attack) religious people, exposing American Christians (especially Evangelicals) yet again in their hypocrisy. His take on Christians and violence: "if you are a Christian and support killing your enemy and torture, you have to find a new name for yourself."

favorite line:

"Jesus has lines like ‘Do not repay evil with evil and do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you.’ Really. It’s in that book you hold up when you scream at gay people."

(some explicit language)

What's your response?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Salad

Yesterday, “couch-potato” was on the calendar.

Completely spent after going all out For Charis’ big day on Sunday, I was hoping to just sleep it off. Tune out everything and at the most just watch the winter return outside our bay window.

But someone had to go and shoot Osama bin Laden!

Thanks for that.

So I wake up to weird fb status quotes… bible verses about not rejoicing over my enemies death; or in another vein, “I wish I had pulled the trigger. May he rot in hell.” (speaks volumes for the friends and family I have on fb!).

Obviously I had missed something.

“Thank God I don’t have a tv. Actually, I’ll thank myself for that.”

The bare facts and the endless fb, twitter commentary are more than enough fodder for that half-asleep-trying-to-ignore-my-bladder-and-stay-in-bed-at-least-another-half-an-hour state of mind. In this groggy, grey, morning SDDS (self-directed-dream-stage), when my internal computer was still booting up, I processed the news of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.


“Never thought that would happen.”

Then I was in this abnormally long train station, and I couldn’t find the bathrooms.

“What does this mean?” “Does this mean anything to me?”

I was desperately trying to find the train to take me to that gorgeous Hawaiian Island, that I would love to go back to… the one with toilets right next to the beach...

… but instead my thoughts took me back to Goroka, PNG, where we got the news about the Columbine shootings. My son was about 2 or 3 years old, and I remember thinking, that the worst thing that could ever happen to me, is if my son grew up to be a murderer, worse still, a mass murderer. What an utter nightmare that would be.

Well, obviously the next link in that chain of thought was finding myself, not on some Hawaiian beach, but in a Burka in some hut sitting on a dirt floor throwing dust over myself and wailing… wailing for my son, Osama bin Laden, the mass murderer.

Then there was someone playing the same iphoto presentations that I had played for Charis on Sunday, only with pictures of Osama growing up, with the lovely and sad song 10,000 Miles, by Mary Chapin Carpenter, which I had used for one of the slide shows, playing in the background. They were the same pictures I had shown: as a baby just after delivery, a smiling child on the swings, playing in the water, mucking around with his brothers and sisters (all 49 of them), crying while getting a hair cut, in silly costumes… and I, now his mother, was wailing and weeping, “where had my little boy gone? He was so bright and passionate, full of conviction and a thirst for justice. He had so much potential! What had eaten away at his soul and carried him into darkness?”

Then other pictures were mixed in, and it was clear that those were the people lost in the towers, and the embassies, and soldiers… their families. There were slides of them on the swings and mucking about, making funny faces into the camera with their moms and dads and sisters and posing with their friends. Multi faceted gems reflecting the full spectrum of the colors of life: joy and fear and sadness and humor and anger and disillusionment and desperation and hope and determination and wit and vulnerability and a fierce longing for a better version of reality. They were all gone… 10.000 miles and maybe more….

And the frustrating thing was, that this hut too, had no bathroom.

So I went outside and began looking for justice.

But I didn’t find it in the planes that flew into the Towers.

And I didn’t find it in the tanks in Afghanistan.

And I didn’t find it in the drones in Pakistan.

And I didn’t find it in the bullet that killed Osama.

I didn’t find it in the myth of redemptive violence.

I found it in the rain that falls on us all irrespectively.

I found it in the sun that shines for everyone, hoping to grow good things in our gardens, leaving us to weed and tend to our fruit and flowers.

I found it in the idea, that we do not all get what we deserve (whew!!),

but that we should strive to give everyone what they need to grow and flourish in harmony and peace and dignity.

I found it in the dandelion growing in the crack of a concrete sidewalk.

I found it in the time that has healed old wounds.

I found it in the rebalancing of power, through creative, self-sacrificing, persistent and patience protest.

I found it in the handshake of persecutor and persecuted.

I found it in the embrace of enemies

Eating leftover chips and salsa with my now 15 year old son at 10pm yesterday evening, he asked, “Mom, what do you think of Osama’s being killed?”

hmmmm. “I think if his name had been David, we might evaluate it all in another light.”

Jonathan, “hunh?”

“I was just wondering, how much the two have in common.”

We started to list ways they were different and ways they were the same.

“David was just a shepherd boy, not the son of a construction tycoon,” he said.

Yes, I said, “but if the United States was Goliath, even the 17th son of a billionaire, seems pretty small in comparison.”

“and in one sense, David also was hiding out exercising “terror” attacks on occupants of a country.”

“Yeah, some of those stories are pretty harsh! Can’t really wrap my head around destroying the whole city of Jericho and everything in it, men, women and children,” Jonathan confesses. (not a David story, but we can add Joshua to the “terrorist watch list”).

Weighing the unimaginable hugeness of America’s military strength, the enormous sums we spend on it, and the ferociousness with which the arms industry protects and propagates its interests, I will admit, that it was always hard for me to emotionally perceive Osama as the Powerful tyrant in the equation bin-Laden vs. United States of America, and I am sure he saw the planes as his lucky sling-shot stone that brought down the giant Goliath, much to his own surprise.

So, perhaps the names have all changed, the heavy-weights and the underdogs have different faces, but the cycle of violence and the rhetoric that fuels it is that same ole lion crouching at the door to devour us.

I can’t help to mourn for what might have been had we Americans poured the same amount of time, money and manpower into humanitarian efforts in that region of the world and at home among our own instead of unleashing this hungry lion of war. Call me a daughter of the 60’s, a naive, hippie flower-child, but I can’t help thinking that maybe we could have killed the terrorist and saved Osama’s mother’s son.
And that would have been a beautiful thing.