“One Nation Under CCTV,” waiting for the lame ducks to get back to work

Bansky, in 2008, made this simple provocative four-word statement at Westminster, London. The words, “One nation under CCTV” were painted on the side of a building. But what’s most interesting are the details.

By Banksy – One Nation Under CCTV, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3890275

Take a closer look at this picture. The two people are painted in as part of the graffiti. (Including the dog next to the policeman.)

Odd question: Why is the cop photographing this act of ‘vandalism’? He looks as if he’s carefully framing it to to post it on social media.

Another odd question: Isn’t it funny that the policeman is also being ‘watched’ by the closed circuit camera on the wall of the building?

Cameras are so ubiquitous now we seldom notice they are there. We almost expect them to be there. Have we become desensitized to being watched? Recently the Los Angeles Police Department banned the use of facial recognition using an AI platform known as Clearview. The US Congress has been slow in enacting a law that puts some guardrails around facial recognition. It’s called the “National Biometric & Information Privacy Act of 2020’’ It stipulates that “A private entity may not collect, capture, purchase, receive through trade, or otherwise obtain a person’s or a customer’s biometric identifier” unless some conditions are met. Introduced on 3rd August this year, there seems to be no traction on this.*

Clearview AI has been investigated by the media, and lawmakers and found to be engaging into some dark data mining practices connected to facial recognition. The company declares on its website that it is “not a surveillance system.” Commissions in the Australia and the UK opened investigations into this in July.

Bansky, have you been asleep recently?

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* Interesting sidebar: The way to see progress of a bill in Congress is through a website, www.govtrack.us. (Yes it sounds like ‘government track us’!) In reality we can track them – so that, in this instance, they pass a law that doesn’t track us.

“Sending a message” – There’s the contents and there’s the medium

Slogans or protest messages on T-shirts get stale, however funny.

Speaking of making a statement, I can’t think of a better artist who has been ‘sending a message’ than Bansky.

But when a mailman landed a gyrocopter on the Washington Mall this week it was not the message that got people’s attention, but the medium. One man in an exposed flying machine.

You know it’s creative because no one seems to be talking about the contents of the envelopes that c was supposedly carrying to the nation’s lawmakers at the Capitol. We are all focused on the delivery method, aren’t we?

Marshall McLuhan  who coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ must be smiling, up there. No tweets. No PR agency. No Facebook page. But a pretty powerful statement.

Note: Hughes does maintain a website, where he says

Hello – I’m Doug Hughes, a mailman, pilot and the author of this web site. In my time, I’ve delivered a lot of letters, and I’m delivering 535 letters by ‘air mail’ today – a special delivery to every member of the US Congress.

On this blog post (worth a read) he speaks of wanting to ‘change the narrative’ in Washington about whom we elect. He might succeed — if only the evening news folk will only stop talking about the potential danger of the stunt.

 

“Sending a message,” in a post-Bansky era

In my book, Chat Republic,  I feature a few examples of how ‘street talk’ has been effective, even sans the Internet.

“Banksymus Maximus”

This old, classic tactic from guerilla artist Bansky could take us into a whole new discussion of how to create buzz, often without words.

Here’s the set-up: In 2005, Bansky managed to place a fake “rock painting” in the British Museum. As you could see, it shows a caveman as a different kind of hunter and gatherer. The rock was stuck onto a wall in a ‘Roman Britain’ section.

Just plain ‘art-jacking’ or is Bansky an ingenious, much-ignored communicator? In a world empowering us to ‘speak out of turn’ do tactics like this feel relevant? Or are they too edgy for you?

Before you come to a conclusion, take a look at the modern version of this phenomenon, known as Culture Jacking.

I would love to hear your comments.