What will Banksy do?

February 14, 2011

Banksy is a famous street artist. His film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is a brilliant meta-documentary about grafitti, the street art movement, and the art world in general. It skillfully plays with levels of reality in ways that Darren Aronofsky wishes he could have done with “Black Swan”. It demonstrates clearly that Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix were just being tools.

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” was nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar this year. And though it is unlikely to win (since its very premise is to ensure that most people don’t “get it”), it does raise an obvious question: what will the otherwise anonymous Banksy do at the Academy Awards ceremony?

Here are some possibilities:

1. He’ll skip the ceremony or show up “straight”– in a tux without any disguise.

These are not likely options. The Oscars are an over-inflated cultural monument and represent too great a target for somebody like Banksy to pass up. It also seems unlikely that he would sacrifice his closely guarded anonymity for something so pedestrian as an awards ceremony. If Banksy is a no-show, I would expect the Academy to show a fictional headshot on screen, similar to how they handle the Coen Bros.’ pseudonymous editor Roderick Jaynes. The question then becomes what image does Banksy submit.

2. He’ll send somebody in his place.

Call it The Marlon Brando. It’s seems a bit simple for someone of Banksy’s brilliance, but using a surrogate but it would mirror what Banksy was doing in the film with the Mr. Brainwash ‘character’. If a vaguely outrageous character were to show up and give an acceptance speech at the Oscars, the instant rumor will be that it was actually Banksy in disguise – call that The Tony Clifton. Of course, the instant rebuttal would be that Banksy sent somebody in an obvious disguise with the goal of starting the rumor that it was really him, when in actuality it wasn’t. Call that the The Bob Zmuda.

3. He’ll stage some sort of outrageous display.

This is my cop-out response, which is basically “he’s so smart, anything could happen.” Which is true, except it pretty much invalidates the entire premise of this post. That being said, as creative and resourceful as Banksy is, there are two significant factors that would restrict an “anything goes” response: not knowing whether or not he’s going to win, and the stodgy, old school nature of Hollywood. As creative as people in Hollywood claim to be, the reality is that nobody at the Oscars wants Banksy to do anything creative. It’s extremely unlikely that Banksy has as much creative freedom at the Kodak Theatre as he does tagging buildings in London. Unless he’s Ben Stiller handing out the Oscar for Best Makeup. Then he would be given as much latitude to be ridiculously unfunny as he wants.

4. He’ll hire Kanye West to interrupt the winner’s speech.

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