A quote from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas haunts me when I think about our outrage culture. When I looked at the dismal landscape of Banksy’s new amusement park — his version of Disneyland, disaffectedly called Dismaland — the quote came immediately to mind.
To me, Banksy is an aesthete with a conscience. He’d have fit right in with the wide-eyed generation of the 1960s, just as Hunter S. Thompson did. Here is the well-known Thompson quote. It’s an arresting look back on the heyday of the cultural revolution:
“San Francisco in the middle ’60s was a very special time and place to be a part of. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning … Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. … So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
Realizing Banksy’s so-called bemusement park is not representative of his oeuvre, the park does represent the ironic and satirical approach many of us take to politics. Irony and satire are how we engage with politics. We critique it. We laugh at it. We do not empathize. We do not fool ourselves by taking part in “the system.”
Our realization that politics is sham is not all. Our childhood fantasies are a sham; our institutions are a sham; our fellow humans are a sham. Banksy holds his mirror up to our understanding of such a world: the fantasies, institutions, and humans at Dismaland do not merely sometimes fail us despite their best intentions—they are marked for death from the start.
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