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Banksy: the Discriminating Philistine

Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal, 23-02-2013.

["Street artist" Banksy] was privately educated, which suggests family prosperity. From an early age, however, he appears to have suffered not from nostalgie de la boue, for he had never hitherto known la boue, but from envie de la boue, a longing for the depths. This common desire results from two ideological assumptions: that somehow the poor are authentic in a way that other social strata are not; and that prosperity, at least in our society, is something to be ashamed of, the product of social injustice or exploitation. The vulgar language in which Banksy expresses himself, which is probably not native to his original social stratum, is thus a form of expiation for the original sin of having been born to the prosperous and inauthentic. (...)

Banksy’s attitude toward authority and property rights is the standard hostility of the lumpenintelligentsia. Here he is particularly hypocritical because, while maintaining that pose of hostility, he employs lawyers, owns private companies, and is reputed to be highly authoritarian in his dealings with his associates. Inside every rebel, goes the saying, there’s a dictator trying to get out. (...)

Despite his wit, Banksy’s sensibility is both conventional and adolescent. Evidence of his conformism is that all his targets are easy and of the sort chosen by the lumpenintelligentsia (which does not, again, mean that they are necessarily unworthy). For Banksy, it is always “four legs good, two legs bad”: a simplistic worldview in which the common people, as defined by their authenticity, opposition to authority, lack of respect for property rights, and indifference to high culture, can do no wrong, while the rest, inauthentic, law-abiding or themselves in authority, careful of their own property and respectful of others’, and cultured in the traditional sense, can do no right and are either fools or oppressors. (...)

[Simon] Leys says that the true philistine is not he who does not care to discriminate between the good and the bad, but he who discriminates and chooses the bad. Banksy is such a philistine, and his talent is not an extenuating but an aggravating circumstance.

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