The Esthetics of Occupy

May 13, 2012

The chalking you see above was one of the first signs I spotted of the organizing that was taking place inside of Bryant Park on May Day. Simplistic, but probably one of the more coherent artistic messages that I encountered as I traveled throughout lower and Midtown Manhattan on May 1st.

Ersatz Buddhist symbology-including the beautifully drawn lotus seen below-was incorporated into the protest esthetic OWS attempted to create for its May 1st “general strike.” I’m not sure what precisely the aim of this association was, but I must say that it’s preferable to the transgendered Maoism found at other Occupy Wall Street endeavors.

In addition to the visual arts, there was a self-described guitarmy willing to provide musical accompaniment to hundreds of OWS activists scattered throughout the city. Unfortunately, most of it was of the bad, acoustic folk-rock variety expertly satirized by Tom Lehrer.

There was also a brass section which I, alas, didn’t have the pleasure of hearing perform.

And what urban protest movement would be complete without a papier-mâché replica of the Statue of Liberty? There was a similar effigy of Uncle Sam, which inexplicably went unused-much like the scores of yellow ponchos brought to Union Square by well-prepared SEIU members.

There was also a nod to the paper airplane protest against large banking entities that were recipients of TARP welfare, courtesy of the federal government.

Personally, I don’t think holding aloft a facsimile of a multi-engine passenger jet is the best way to endear yourself to residents of lower Manhattan, but I could very well be mistaken.

Someone decided to wave a mock police barricade-referencing the large presence of law enforcement throughout the day. For those of you who might not recall, Union Square was sealed off completely for several days at the end of March. Astonishingly, this was a response that even the anthrax attacks in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center did not occasion.

One of the primary means of visual communication for OWS is, of course, stenciling. Some of the results are more impressive than others.

A pretty creative sign lampooned the too big to fail mantra of government bureaucrats and the recipients of taxpayer largesse among financial services/banking giants. The analogy of these corporate supplicants to dinosaurs was pretty clever in my estimation, at least if you consider the corporatist model to be going extinct. Perhaps that’s an overoptimistic belief, considering the resiliency of taxpayer-bankrolled  corporate bailouts.

One of the more baffling tableaux I noticed during my May Day peregrinations involved a group calling itself the “Tax Dodgers.” Obviously playing off the former pride and joy of Brooklyn-which abandoned New York City for less green pastures many years ago-this collection of amateur actors was attempting to draw an analogy between the reviled “one percent” and the men who shipped off Dem Bums to the Left Coast.

I’m still not quite sure who the Walter O’Malley figure is supposed to represent. Warren Buffett perhaps? You have to wonder if the amateur actors here are indignant about government manipulation of the tax code generally, or simply want to use the government’s instruments of taxation for their own pet projects.

The anathematizing of the wealthiest-some would say most productive-element of American society was in full swing at Bryant Park on May 1st. Evidently,  these folks have never listened to Adam Carolla’s theory regarding the Occupy Wall Street generation.

A few feet from the Tax Dodgers I noticed an attractive young woman wearing an emerald green dress fringed with what appeared to be fake dollar bills.

It turns out that she was a “money bunny.” I’m not certain what her intended message was, but I’m going to go out on a limb and surmise that it had something to do with the unfair distribution of income in the United States. Those darned one-percenters!

There was another quasi-artistic protest decrying the evils of perceived greed. Roughly translated, money is less than brains plus heart. I’m not sure what precisely this means. Perhaps my confusion stems from the fact that you do need intelligence-and some degree of creativity-in order to create wealth, although you probably shouldn’t tell that to President Obama or Ben Bernanke.

There were a handful of talented artists at Bryant Park, such as this fellow:

And the man who created this painting:

The link between the artistic community, at least within New York City, and Occupy Wall Street is relatively strong, notwithstanding the seeming crudity of the efforts on display at Zuccotti Park and other outposts of OWS. For example, Molly Crabapple has contributed her work to various protests throughout the city. Why successful entrepreneurs would lend their support a movement that wants to confiscate their wealth is a matter for political scientists-or perhaps psychotherapists-to analyze.

One of the organizations which has tried to glom onto the popularity of Occupy Wall Street is Anonymous, whose banner you see above. Based upon my time at Union Square and Bryant Park, I’m not sure most of the people identifying with this group understand the underlying concept.

To be fair, a few seemed to grasp the idea.

One of the more interesting innovations I found was the incorporation of Quickmeme into the protest art of Occupy, a humorous turn that isn’t quite as trite as the “Tax Dodgers” gambit, which seems to be merely a reincarnation of Billionaires for Bush.

Surprisingly, LOLcats also made an appearance:

There was even a DIY wizard ambling around Bryant Park, although I’m not certain what connection, if any, he had to the political agitation occurring during May Day’s general strike.

The central objet d’art in Union Square harkened back to the traditional meaning of the holiday with a paper-rather than wooden-maypole. Instead of celebrating the changing season though, it invoked the time-honored tradition of kvetching about the people who have screwed you over. Shades of Seinfeld?

I suppose that’s a fitting way to end this photo-essay, insofar as the chief activity during the May Day “general strike” seemed to be ritualistic complaining. As a man much wiser than I has observed, that’s no way to go through life. That said, I doubt the maypole of lamentations is going anywhere, at least if the OWS generation has anything to say about it.

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