Academic journal article Borderlands

Apostrophe of Empire: Guantanamo Bay, Disneyland

Academic journal article Borderlands

Apostrophe of Empire: Guantanamo Bay, Disneyland

Article excerpt

On the 8th September 2006, the guerrilla artist Banksy staged another of his politico-artistic interventions, installing an inflatable doll dressed as a Guantanamo Bay detainee in the grounds of Disneyland, Anaheim, California (figure 1). Banksy has achieved international fame as both a street and guerrilla artist. His graffiti projects have commented on everything from the Iraq war to the wall built by Israel on Palestinian land. He has also, as guerrilla artist, made significant interventions that have called into question the cultural politics of museums and art galleries by clandestinely installing 'fake' paintings and pseudo-archaeological artefacts that have often remained on the gallery walls for days before being discovered by museum staff (Banksy, 2005). Banksy's work consistently brings into focus the often effaced or naturalised relations of power and violence that underpin 'legitimate' social sites and established cultural practices.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In the course of this essay, I want to flesh out the complex mesh of politico-cultural significations that inscribe Banksy's installation of an inflatable doll dressed as a Guantanamo Bay detainee in Disneyland. In particular, I want to bring into focus the systems of relations that hold between subjects and sites that might otherwise appear to stand in absolutely dichotomous positions: Guantanamo Bay detainees and inflatable dolls, Guantanamo Bay military prison, Cuba and Disneyland theme park, California. Driving this analysis of seemingly untenable systems of relations between graphically incommensurable subjects (real prisoners and inflatable dolls, an entertainment theme park and a military prison) is a desire to address what I think is magnetised and brought to the surface through Bansky's provocative guerrilla gesture of installing the simulacrum of a Guantanamo detainee within a site that is charged with 'the inflammatory power of Disneyland as cultural metaphor' (Olsberg, 2006: 9).

In the course of my analysis, I will proceed to read Banksy's tactical intervention in terms of the rhetorical figure of the apostrophe. In rhetorical terms, an apostrophe instantiates a break in either a narrative or a discourse in order to address the reader or spectator. It marks, in other words, a rupture of the narrative or discursive flow in order to bring into sharp focus a particular issue. The abrupt nature of the apostrophe ensures that the speaker/writer grabs the reader's/spectator's attention. In this essay, I proceed to read the specific site in which Banksy installed his Guantanamo detainee, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the Frontierland section of Disneyland, in social semiotic terms; as such, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Frontierland, will be construed in both narratological and discursive terms. As a narratological construct, Disneyland's Frontierland bespeaks to its visitors a story of heroic pioneers carving civilisation out of a wild and savage wilderness. This narrative, embedded within the spatio-temporal coordinates of the site and its multiple historical reconstructions, is, in turn, discursively inscribed and structured. The discourses of colonialism and empire, embodied in the ideology of Manifest Destiny (as discussed below), enable the teleological narrative of the heroic clearing of the land, and its uncivilised indigenous inhabitants, precisely as they mark the labour of establishing the foundations for the future-oriented imperial visions of Tomorrowland, with its promise of the conquest of other alien lands and uncivilised spaces.

Situated within this narratological and discursive configuration, Banksy's startling insertion of the simulacrum of a contemporary figure, that iconically signifies the violent prerogatives of empire and its attendant impunities, rends the seamless flow of the historical scene in question. As an apostrophic gesture, Banksy's Guantanamo detainee in Disneyland disrupts the narrative fabric of the site in order to enunciate to its audience/spectators two critical questions: What historico-political genealogies are at once ruptured and sutured through this figure? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.