Guardian environment editor Damian Carrington has started an interesting conversation about “the balance between impact and taste in environmental campaigns.” The topic surfaced in regards to a controversial image that’s currently up for auction by renowned British graffitti artist Banksy. The image depicts Disney’s Jungle Book characters “awaiting execution against a backdrop of clear-felled devastation.” It was apparently featured on Greenpeace billboards and leaflets around the UK in 2002 and again recently for the group’s forest campaign, despite raising copyright concerns. But as Carrington points out, the bigger concern for activists is whether an image can go too far.
In the last year or so, there’s been Plane Stupid’s polar bears falling from the sky, the government’s bedtime stories TV ads, the images of shanty towns around Buckingham Palace, and, of course, the exploding children in 10:10’s notorious short film.It’s clear that involving children in campaign films or images requires very careful thought. Does that apply to much-loved cartoon characters, who in this Banksy image appear to be lined up for beheading? I’d be interested in your thoughts.
Most of the commenters seem to find little fault with Banksy’s image. I tend to agree, as it humanizes the issue of deforestation in way that is unfortunately necessary for most people to understand its importance. It also has the side benefit of prodding a major corporation to think about the issue. As a Greenpeace representative noted, somewhat humorously:
Our letters to the company urged them to consider the reality of rainforest destruction, and how their characters might help raise awareness of this issue. Their concern for the environment didn’t stop them threatening ‘further action’, sadly.
What do others think? When has a protest image gone too far? Can anyone cite examples?
The immediate one that comes to mind was created by the Russian art collective Voina earlier this year. They painted a 65-metre erect penis on a drawbridge in St Petersburg, facing the city headquarters of the federal security service FSB. Ironically, Banksy is in the midst of donating £80,000 to Voina to help two of its members, who are in prison awaiting trial on charges of hooliganism.