Hijacking Political Art and Youthful Imagery: The Di Lampedusa Principle

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Judith BESSANT, RMIT, Australia
New information communication technologies have promoted a rich repertoire of political communication embodied in digital cartoons, satire, poster art, political memes, music, street art and performance art. These technologies provide an almost global reach and unprecedented opportunities for co-operation which has positive implications for politics and art. In this context I observe the persistence of an old practice: the co-option of political art and images of youthful resistance by traditional power holders.

In this paper I examine contemporary examples of how political art and images are appropriated by traditional power holders. Attention is given to how the material is repackaged, how the political sting is dulled and how the meanings are altered so it is transformed into something else and ready to sell merchandise or promote the agendas of government and other institutions. A series of cases are offered including the appropriation of street art by private and public organizations to sell tourism and to promote institutional policies, and the appropriation of ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest images by Pepsi to sell soft drink.

In a bid to understand what is happening I draw on theorists like Adorno and Marcuse and contemporaries like Critchley, Goehr and Ranciere who argue that art practice forms a part of the politics of liberation. While their work is helpful I note they omit to say what makes art political. I attempt to clarify the political nature of ‘political art’ and images of youth resistance as a prelude for understanding what is happening: Do we, for example, see the interest of governments and corporations in ‘repressive tolerance’ (absorbing critique into safe spaces to neuter or negate the political message)? Or, do we see the di Lampedusa strategy in play, a strategy that involves co-opting the symbolism, terminology and expressivity of ‘the discontented’ to prevent significant change?