Georgina Guedes

Hysteria around Ray-Ban hysteria

2014-11-21 13:47

Georgina Guedes

The Ray-Ban artist has likened the vandalism of his sculpture on the Sea Point Promenade to the Rwandan genocide. We've all read those headlines and comments this week, haven’t we?

What a toss! Who does he think he is? How could a corporate shill possibly believe that the trashing of his sponsored artwork relates in any way to the violent and horrific loss of one million lives in Rwanda in 1994?

The thing is that's not actually what Michael Elion said. This is a great example of social media and the actual media revving each other up into a frenzy of misquoting and requoting until the original truth is lost in the turmoil.

So what Elion actually said on Cape Talk – which very few journalists and tweeters managed to find the time to listen to – is as follows:

"[Charges] were actually laid before the vandalism happened. I laid those yesterday after this mass hysteria was reaching a very dangerous point with people sending messages, saying they’re sending a street fighter down to sort this out.

"It's very prominent people in the art community liking those posts. A few days before, prominent people in the art community suggesting that vandalism be one of the options for the way forward.

"This kind of behaviour, honestly it's really scary, it's terrifying… and it harks back to lynch mobs with burning crosses, the Rwandan genocide happened exactly the same way."

Vandalism is not genocide

It's a subtle distinction, but the difference is there. Elion is saying that the media and public outrage surrounding his work is like the mass hysteria that set in motion by state-sponsored media broadcasts that led to the Rwandan genocide.

And to be clear, the comparison was made before the vandalism took place, although a call for vandalism had already been made.

Now, while I believe it’s important to quote correctly and in context, I'm still not particularly sympathetic to Elion’s claims. In the first place, a bit of overblown middle-class outrage over advertising masquerading as art is hardly the same as the kind of mass hysteria that led to a genocide. I hope the guy accepts that he misspoke.

In addition, the threats of violence made against Elion were made by an artist Hermann Niebuhr, who said, "Tell that charlatan Michael Elion, we’re sending a Joburg street fighter Stephen Hobbs down to settle this."

Stephen Hobbs is not a renowned street fighter. The only thing he’s renowned for is being another artist. Honestly, anyone with an ounce of common sense would read that "threat" and be able to work out that it was made in jest.

Refocus the hysteria

Would I be fanning the flames if I pointed out that the only person guilty of any kind of hysteria here is Elion for filing charges against this crew? Oh well, too late.

So, here we have another storm on a beach front that will pass in a couple of weeks. If people didn't like the eyesore of a pair of giant Ray-Bans looking out to Robben Island before, I’ll bet they like the new, graffitied version even less.

I'm not particularly offended by the sunglasses themselves – as a work, they're kind of fun. I am concerned by the blurred lines between art sponsorship and advertising that have allowed this piece to make its appearance in the first place – which I believe is the whole point. Perhaps those lenses could be turned inward to bring into focus the process behind the landing of "Perceiving Freedom" our fair shores.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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