Saturday, September 16, 2006

Dog and Pony and Elephant Show

I visited graffiti artist Banksy's controversial "Barely Legal" warehouse show today, an art event that -- after a sizeable amount of Internet promotion -- actually made it to the cover of the Los Angeles Times with the euphonious title "Painted Pachyderm Draws Outcry." Why the ruckus about the prankster known for substituting parodic remixes of Paris Hilton for the real article, inserting a dummy of a Guantanomo prisoner in a ride at Disneyland (which park officials described as a "security threat"), and hanging his own altered thrift store paintings at museums? This time the scandal was generated by the inclusion of a live animal rather than any alleged acts of vandalism against public property.

Cards at the exhibition read:

There's an elephant in the room.
There's a problem that we never talk about.

The fact that life isn't getting any fairer.

Unfortunately the statistics about world poverty that followed weren't quite accurate, given that anyone should know that "20 billion people" on the planet is an Internet statistic not a real number. But it's an interesting rhetorical strategy to literalize a metaphor to make a point, one that often appears in innovative social marketing campaigns as well.

Responding to the outcry from animal rights' activists, the head of the city's animal services department attempted to pull Banksy's permit at the last minute, although the show's organizers had completed all the paperwork according to regulations. I also discovered that Animal Services General Manager Ed Boks maintains a blog, but no commentary about the show has yet appeared. The LAPD officer I spoke with maintained that the animal in question often appeared at show business events and had not been mistreated in any way.

Of course, locals are sensitive about allegations of elephant cruelty, because of the death in captivity of LA Zoo elephant Gita, whose necropsy was officially released on the web last month.



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