Banksy and Neoliberalism

In Neoliberal Culture, Jim McGuigan explains that the phenomenal ideological success of capitalism hinges on its capacity to sell itself as cool and co-opt the spirit of rebelliousness for its purposes.

People like Banksy are ideologues of neoliberalism in a much greater degree than any crusty old libertarian who drones on about free market in the classroom.

I really recommend McGuigan’s book because he shows that the British art scene is the laboratory where neoliberal ideology is articulated and masked as ‘cool.’

What we saw yesterday with Banksy only looks like a really cool thing because we’ve been brainwashed by the philosophy of cool capitalism. It’s not an ideologically innocent trick. It’s a co-optation of people into the structure of feeling that legitimizes their oppression. We are enthusiastically underwriting our own oppression in many ways. This is one of them.

3 thoughts on “Banksy and Neoliberalism”

    1. The hostility of intellectuals is mostly for bluster. In reality, they do the work of disseminating neoliberal ideas – while loudly denouncing neoliberalism, of course – more enthusiastically than anybody.


  1. Banksy’s main appeal is his ability to repackage kitsch into high art. If an unknown artist painted Girl With A Red Balloon on canvas, it would be derided as the schlocky sentimental crap it is, if any critic or art historian even noticed it at all. It’s illustration, not art; clever, not meaningful. Yet this kind of imagery deeply appeals to people despite its emptiness and superficiality. It allows people to indulge their desire for kitsch while maintaining an illusion of good taste. It’s a very old trick, and the theatrics, the mystery, and “coolness” are only parts of how this latest version is performed. What is the difference between the man who displays this hypothetical Girl With A Red Balloon on canvas in his home and the man who would purchase a Banksy original, a facsimile of the street, in a custom frame to hang on his wall? In the first case, his friends raise their eyebrows and snicker behind his back, while in the second, he’s a connoisseur, a patron of fine art. Yet there is no material difference; the image is the same. And this is why it had to be destroyed – to maintain the illusion at the core of the work.


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