The Banksy Outrage Continues

242753517_ed99b0ab47.jpg

On Thursday morning I posted Lucinda Michele’s photos from Banksy’s Barely Legal and it’s been a shitstorm ever since. The comment thread on that post, as well as on the follow up post with the location have been filled with people asking questions about the elephant. Some people are amused by it, some people are outraged. Some people are even so outranged that they are using different names and posting follow up comments agreeing with themselves. Needless to say it’s been a hot topic over the last 48 hours, and, at least from my vantage point, it’s been amusing to see people instantly assume the worst.

The LA Times joined the conversation today with a piece called “Painted Pachyderm Draws Outcry.” They actually talked to Ed Boks, general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, the agency that issued the permits for Tai the elephant. More thoughts on this, his quotes and my follow up after the jump.

From the Times piece:

“Activists believe that elephants, which roam miles in the wild, don’t begin to get their physical needs met in the confines of a zoo – let alone a downtown warehouse.”

I think this is an important part of this conversation, and something that is getting blurred and that is the discussion if wild animals, such as elephants, should be in captivity for any purpose. Be that zoos, commercials, movies, or an art show. The people who don’t think they should, are misdirecting their attention to Banksy on this one. Banksy didn’t create the laws or policies in place regarding these animals, but he’s taken every precaution to follow the ones that are in place. I wonder if the people who are posting comments about how offended they are have the same reaction when they see an elephant in a commerical or a movie? They might. But then again they might not. Regardless, he’s following the same precautions and providing Tai with the same care required in those other situations.

The Sunday Herald Sun has a comment from Kari Johnson, Tai’s caretaker:

Johnson said Tai lives on a private southern California elephant ranch and has appeared in several commercials. “There is nothing in the world I would ever do to harm an elephant. The paint is non-toxic and washable and does not hurt a bit,” Ms Johnson said.

Ms. Johnson is also quoted in the Times piece saying that Tai has been in many, many movies and is very used to make up. So, point being, if you are pissed off about an elephant being in captivity, Banksy isn’t the person you should be flipping out about. Which brings us back to the Los Angeles Animal Services. From the Times:

“…the artist’s employment of an elephant in a downtown warehouse had activists e-mailing one another and prompted a rebuke from a city official. ‘I think it sends a very wrong message that abusing animals is not only OK, it’s an art form,’ said Ed Boks, general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services. ‘We find it no longer acceptable to dye baby chicks at Easter, but it’s OK to dye an elephant.’ Boks found himself decrying the presence of the elephant in the exhibit even though his agency had issued the two permits necessary to have the elephant there – ‘to my chagrin,’ he said.

OK, so, his agency issued premits for something he considers abuse? WTF? If it’s abuse then surely he should be able to step in and stop it, right?

“He tried late Friday to revoke the permits on grounds of public safety. ‘Some of the experts I’ve talked to have told me there’s no way of predicting when an elephant will go berserk,’ he said. ‘We want to do what’s right by the public and the animal.’ However, Boks would have to give five days’ notice to revoke the permits. And in five days, the exhibit will be gone.

What? Is anyone following this guy’s logic? The permits were applied for, granted because they met all the requirements to properly care for an animal like this and that would have been that. Except people flipped and it got a lot of attention, so the agency is now backtracking, but rather than dealing with the issue at hand, if the animal is being treated properly they pull up this public safety thing. How is it a public safety issue today and not one when the permits were applied for? If elephants just “go berserk” then why is the LAAS giving out permits to have animals in public? The reason, obviously is because that isn’t a threat at all and elephants that have “gone berserk” in the past have obvious evidence of being mistreated, which is why the LAAS has to grant permits in the first place. To make sure the animals are not being mistreated, which brings us back full circle. This is only an issue now because some folks sent angry e-mails. It won’t be an issue next week, and it won’t stop Tai from showing up in another commerical.

Someone in the comments yesterday asked how I, as a vegan and as art gallery owner feel about this. Would I have encouraged an artist to use a live elephant in my gallery, probably not. Is Banksy the devil for having a live elephant in his exhibition, probably not. If there is a villian here it’s the LAAS, they need a policy that they stick to, not something they use when no one is looking and then another one they pull out when questions are asked.
(Photo by Lucinda Michele)

19 Replies to “The Banksy Outrage Continues”

  1. I’m in total agreement here. And Christ, Boks, the elephant was not DYED. It had powder-based breathable pigment applied to its skin.

    There’s a difference.

    But that’s just splitting hairs–this is all very silly. It’s like animal activist targeting the guy who does research on the sexual orientation of sheep (in order to prove that homosexuality is actually, truly, genetic)–he’s studying EIGHT live sheep. How about the millions that die brutally in US slaughterhouses every year? And yet activists are up in arms: “To put it simply, these experimenters believe that homosexuality is a defect that needs to be fixed, and they’re cutting open and killing gay sheep to do it.”

    …mmmmmkay.

    Let’s be a little more thoughtful about this.

    When I first saw Tai in there, I was taken aback also–but over the half-hour I milled about, I watched him, and his behavior was calm, curious, gentle. His keeper stood right by him and patted him, talked to him, etc. I left feeling okay about it.

    There is a great deal of genuine animal suffering in the world. It’s atrocious. If all this energy was focused on spay & neuter programs nationwide, we could make so much progress, eliminate metric fucktons of suffering and pain.

    But apparently people are simply distracted by bright colors.

    I don’t know if anyone saw Bansky’s splash page on his site a few weeks ago, but it said this:

    If you want an audience
    start a fight

  2. If you were at the exhibit later than 6:00 pm last night then Tai would’ve been on it’s way home. However, I did expect to see the elephant this afternoon. As of 1:00 pm: no Tai.

  3. I was there around 1p (or a little after perhaps). The elephant was behind the building. There were guards posted to prevent people from seeing him too clearly.

  4. The real elephant in the room is that the elephant is the best part of the show. The rest is fairly simplistic anti-war anti-capitalist anti-consumer anti-etc one-liners that seem to get a bunch of people all excited about being socially conscious rebels. So excited, in fact, that I counted no less than EIGHT dudes tagging/stickering walls while walking down Hunter Street on the way out of the show (oddly, none of these Banksy protege’s were tagging about starving children or clean drinking water). This kind of work has been done with much more complexity and finesse by folks like RTMark, The Yes Men and countless others. Gotta hand it to Banksy for being able to hype, though — here’s an anti-establishment “street” artist who still gets Brad and Angelina and Jude to show up to his exclusive/elite/not-for-the-public opening night party.

  5. I was there this afternoon. Tai was eating some hay, surrounded by dozens of folks with cameraphones and digital cameras shooting snaps. I think it was the first art show that I’ve attended where more people were taking photos of the art, than actually looking at it. Too bad, because they missed a good show…

  6. MDB: I agree! Everybody was there to take pictures of things instead of to experience them. It’s a shame, because we don’t get many chances in LA to experience things communally, and that was one of the things that got me excited about heading down there – being in a crowd of people who all enjoyed and thought about this one guy’s art. But instead, people were there to take pictures so they could look at them at home and email them to their friends. Oh well.

  7. isnt this the exact same conversation following the last banksy show?

    hype. its allll hype.

    elephants are painted in india regularly as part of traditional religious ceremonies. but they dont have channel 2 and 9 and 11 news vans out front with overly manicured anchor people who come in from malibu to slum with the downtown set.

    the elephant in the room is no secret. pshhh… that elephant has a damn fine publicist.

  8. probably one of the most intelligent articals I have seen yet about this exhibition, shame i dont live in the US or I’d go and see it.

    Shame so many people are making a fuss about something they dont really care about (because if they really cared about animal welfare they would be doing something constrictive instead of whinging about an unstressed elephant that is in a safe environment)

  9. You’d be amazed at how many people take pictures of artwork instead of experiencing it. I have had people in the gallery to look at a photo show, spend 2 minutes in the space, and then 20 minutes looking at the pics in the book when the real photos are on the wall!

  10. I’m glad to see that Animal Services has finally seen the light and will no longer issue permits for the use of animals, for anything. Because, really, that’s the only logical conclusion, and really not a bad one. No more animals for films or tv, no more animals at the circus (finally!) and no more animals at the zoo. Oh wait, they’re probably not going to do that, easier to pick on some (used to be) obscure artist rather than challenge the whole practice of using animals.
    These bundled panties types are quite the hypocrites, selectively choosing the latest outrage completely devoid of any context. Just like some animal rights groups get hot and bothered when people start eating dog and cats yet fail to get worked up by the eating of cows and chickens. It’s all or nothing mofos.

    Great post Sean!

  11. And still no one discusses the animal’s symbolism in the show- proving Banksy’s point perfectly. You can only spare enough outrage to cover one elephant. This elephant, residing comfortably here in America, is shown more care and concern and regard than even one of the billions of our fellow humans who live stricken with poverty and war strife and disease every single day. I am vegan and I wholly agree that Tai is not where she belongs, but the 50 million female garment workers slaving in sweatshops around the world who are treated like beef cattle are likewise just as mis-placed and exploited as Tai. Where is the outrage for them? I say those here who can denounce painting an animal and propping them up as an object of art but stop at that point are surely full of it- and for those who might be sincere, take a closer look at how the consumer-whore ad-driven society around you religiously practices objectifying women this exact same way every chance it gets. Why is it any more acceptable to paint us and prop us up? Why is that seen normal instead of freakish and worthy of outrage? And if you truly feel outraged about mistreatment and exploitation, then channel it into doing something productive to stop the genocidal bloodbath in Sudan, or the genocidal atrocities against the Palestinians, or help for the women slaving in sweathshops under subhuman conditions- forced abortions, no health care, work hours in the double digits every day, being paid pennies per hour to produce goods that will be sold for hundreds of dollars…

    But when you know deep down that Tai is being looked after, cared for, fed adequately, and in general treated with far more honor and respect than we treat the populace of any third world nation, I guess it’s easier to use her for your copout protest, a bunch of hot air to make yourself feel as if you care about something, when the truth is the noise expressed here concerning Tai is but a ruse to help distract from the guilt felt, guilt that stems from our culture’s wretched desire to avoid acknowledging the reality of the world that exists beyond the end of our nose- the reality in this case is especially glaring- Tai is perfectly fine and in good hands, and billions of our fellow humans are not. Once you admit that to yourself, then you’re stuck having to do something to raise awareness and start *working* to help change it. And we can’t have that, no way.

  12. And still no one discusses the animal’s symbolism in the show- proving Banksy’s point perfectly. You can only spare enough outrage to cover one elephant. This elephant, residing comfortably here in America, is shown more care and concern and regard than even one of the billions of our fellow humans who live stricken with poverty and war strife and disease every single day. I am vegan and I wholly agree that Tai is not where she belongs, but the 50 million female garment workers slaving in sweatshops around the world who are treated like beef cattle are likewise just as mis-placed and exploited as Tai. Where is the outrage for them? I say those here who can denounce painting an animal and propping them up as an object of art but stop at that point are surely full of it- and for those who might be sincere, take a closer look at how the consumer-whore ad-driven society around you religiously practices objectifying women this exact same way every chance it gets. Why is it any more acceptable to paint us and prop us up? Why is that seen normal instead of freakish and worthy of outrage? And if you truly feel outraged about mistreatment and exploitation, then channel it into doing something productive to stop the genocidal bloodbath in Sudan, or the genocidal atrocities against the Palestinians, or help for the women slaving in sweathshops under subhuman conditions- forced abortions, no health care, work hours in the double digits every day, being paid pennies per hour to produce goods that will be sold for hundreds of dollars…

    But when you know deep down that Tai is being looked after, cared for, fed adequately, and in general treated with far more honor and respect than we treat the populace of any third world nation, I guess it’s easier to use her for your copout protest, a bunch of hot air to make yourself feel as if you care about something, when the truth is the noise expressed here concerning Tai is but a ruse to help distract from the guilt felt, guilt that stems from our culture’s wretched desire to avoid acknowledging the reality of the world that exists beyond the end of our nose- the reality in this case is especially glaring- Tai is perfectly fine and in good hands, and billions of our fellow humans are not. Once you admit that to yourself, then you’re stuck having to do something to raise awareness and start *working* to help change it. And we can’t have that, no way.

  13. A stack of leaflets on the counter at the show read, “There’s an elephant in the room. There’s a problem that we never talk about.” This quotation references life in general, and the atrocities that many people face dealing with a lack of food, lack of clean drinking water, and lack of other basic necessities. I attended the show Friday evening and the elephant was not there, but I do understand how it has created quite a stir. It is my hope that it was treated with the fair animal rights that it deserves, however, I also feel that it more than served its purpose. As a guerilla artist, Banksy’s art is intended to be “in your face” and draw attention. He creates art in order to purge his mind of his thoughts and let the world know how he feels. The elephant is hopefully just the beginning of problems that are not normally talked about.

  14. A stack of leaflets on the counter at the show read, “There’s an elephant in the room. There’s a problem that we never talk about.” This quotation references life in general, and the atrocities that many people face dealing with a lack of food, lack of clean drinking water, and lack of other basic necessities. I attended the show Friday evening and the elephant was not there, but I do understand how it has created quite a stir. It is my hope that it was treated with the fair animal rights that it deserves, however, I also feel that it more than served its purpose. As a guerilla artist, Banksy’s art is intended to be “in your face” and draw attention. He creates art in order to purge his mind of his thoughts and let the world know how he feels. The elephant is hopefully just the beginning of problems that are not normally talked about.

  15. It all boils down to anthropomorphism. We like to imagine animals as having feelings and motives as we do, and when we see them in situations that are not what we’d want, we jump up and down. Every nature show I’ve ever seen shows that most wild animals spend the entire day sleeping, eating, and pretty much doing nothing. When an animal exhibits similar behavior in a zoo, we cry “how cruel”: it must be so bored and sad. Perhaps. But the real issue is that WE’D be bored and sad if we were stuck in a cage. Freedom is a cultural sacrosanctity.

    Tai may have found the experience of color-powdering similar to being bathed or brushed. Unaware or indifferent to her appearance (animals do not read Vogue) and happily fed, she could have been having a descent afternoon. Maybe not. But I know for certain that if I were painted red and gold and stuck naked in front of thousands of staring people with nothing to do, I’d be embarrassed, frightened, and angry.

    While I do think we should be gentle to, respectful of, and not exploit animals, I think this whole issue (along with others of its ilk) is really about us and our fears. The hypocricy of LAAS as pointed out is nothing more than politics and deserves no more attention. Banksy wins and loses: he gets added publicity due to the Tai controversy, but the Tai controversy distracts from all his other work and his visit to LA in general. We get something to argue for awhile until something else comes up. And Tai is somewhere on a ranch in greater LA quietly eating a bail of hay. We may care a great deal about her and her problems, but she doesn’t give a shit about us and ours.

Comments are closed.