Adrian Gray – The Banksy of Cambridge
In his first column, Adrian takes a bold leap and tackles racism, street art and political satire
It’s the first week of Michaelmas so, as a third year, I feel some obligation to produce a hyper-bland, patronising and unnecessary attempt to connect with the freshers. Here it is:
Hey guys! Congratulations on making it into the best place in the whole wide world! But also the most c-R-a-z-Y! Cambridge is going to be a wild ride but one where you’ll also have to manage your time effectively!
So now that’s out the way I’d like to discuss something that’s been in the news recently. Last week, a ‘Banksy’ in Clacton-on-Sea was destroyed because it was deemed to be racist. The artwork in question was an image portraying a group of pigeons telling an exotic bird to ‘go back to Africa’, among other things.
Quite obviously, the image was a satire of intolerance, and it’s almost bemusing to think that anyone could have construed it as otherwise, particularly as ‘bird art’ isn’t really the most popular medium for hate. Most racists who do want immigrants to ‘go home’ tend not to deliver said message via a confused, pigeon-based metaphor stencilled onto a garage door. Likewise the Islamic State has never made a papier maché swan with ‘Fuck Obama’ crayoned onto its beak and a burning picture of Diana glued to its cock, and pushed it out to sea. If it did, I’m sure the UK’s terror threat level would rise, but it hasn’t.
What’s more bemusing to me though is the media’s general praise of the piece. Despite knowing nothing about art I quite like Banksy – much in the same way I quite like The Beatles despite knowing nothing about music or quite like Top Gear despite knowing nothing about being a cunt towards South Americans.
But I don’t think this particular mural was in any way a masterpiece, nor a good piece of satire. It may as well have been entitled ‘Racism – but imagine if it was birds what were doing it’, because that’s essentially what it is. Look at it this way: you wouldn’t call someone a genius if they drew some ants as a metaphor for the financial crisis or wrote about some farmyard animals as an analogy for the Russian Revolution, would you?
Yet maybe the media were so impressed with this mural because in the current scheme of British satire it actually fairs okay. TV, for instance, is a mess. Apparently ‘Have I got news for you?’ is satirical, but by that logic so is writing ‘Eric Pickles is fat’ on a napkin. ‘Russell Howard’s Good News’ was meant to be satire for the next generation but it’s largely just an eight year old introducing YouTube clips of a dog trying to lick its own arse on a trampoline.
Good satire is important, though, and it shouldn’t be this hard to produce. The US manages it. Take John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ on HBO. It’s self-assured enough to spend more than eight seconds and a nob-gag on each piece, which means it can find comedy in the depth of issues rather than just their headlines. Sure, the studio audience woop their way through the thing like a pack of Barbary apes being tickled with ice cubes, but that doesn’t stop it being watchable. Or better than anything we’ve got right now.
So I feel like British satire needs a bit of help. If Banksy comes to Cambridge he’ll probably spray an anti-Semitic manatee onto the Van of Life or something, and no-one wants that. Thus, I’ve come up with some Banksy-style murals that I think effectively satirise the most pressing issues in Cambridge. I hope you enjoy/don’t despise them.
Fig 1: Satire of the extensive yet bizarre nature of the Boots meal-deal
Fig 2: Satire of the Cambridge one-way system (actually quite proud of this one)
Fig 3: Satire of Girton being far away (less proud)
Fig 4: Pretty self-explanatory what this represents
Fig 5: Satire of rising theatre ticket prices