Jenny Munro

Jenny Munro, the best among titans. She is a Wiradjuri Elder who established various health and community programs in the iconic inner city suburb of Redfern. She founded the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Redfern that brokered a phenomenal deal with the Government to provide affordable housing for Aboriginal people. She continues to lead the fight to this day, as gentrification threatens The Block. She represents Aboriginal rights at every small and large protest and community event in Sydney and nationally with profound wisdom and clarity on the importance of sovereignty for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Artwork by Adnate. Photo: The Other Sociologist.

The Language of Social Justice

Common law does not require people are given access to an interpreter but legal cases show that use of interpreters does not always lead to an accurate and fair presentation of evidence in court. This is especially problematic for Indigenous Australians who speak diverse languages that don’t necessarily translate well through the mouths of a poorly trained interpreter.

Social science researchers already challenge the criminal justice system which disproportionately incarcerates Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians. In the Northern Territory, Indigenous Australians make up 86% of prisoners. In many cases they are jailed for drug offences or petty crimes like driving without a licence (though without reckless endangerment) in remote areas where there is no adequate public transport or access to nearby social services.

Lack of universal access to quality interpreters is just one way to make the criminal justice system less unfair, though working to eliminate unnecessary policing of Indigenous Australians requires broader social reforms.

Art by Adnate in Melbourne. Photo by Zuleyka Zevallos

Festival Land

In this next installment of visual sociology, we journey from January to February 2015 with many festivals in between. A celebration of Aboriginal resilience, public art of Summer Salt, the Lunar Festival, and Melbourne’s White Night Festival. We also revel in a little international art and the irreverent David Shrigley. Let’s begin with the sociology of play.

Jam Master Jay

Jam Master Jay, Run-DMC. Street art in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia. 3 January 2015

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Sociology of Animation: Banksy on The Simpsons

Banksy directs the opening sequence to the 2010 episode of The Simpsons, MoneyBart (Season 22, Episode3).

Arguably the world’s most famous street artists, Banksy storyboarded and directed this opening scene, which I first read about on the Wooster Collective in October 2010 (you see, we don’t get The Simpsons episodes for another 10,000 years after they first air in the USA). The shot opens with one of the show’s recurring symbols, a three-eyed raven, carrying a rat in its beak. The raven is an ominous representation of the seedy side of Springfield, specifically the radioactive waste from Mr Burns’ Nuclear Power Plant polluting the town’s wildlife. The rat is a symbol of anarchy that Banksy often uses in his art and which often signifies his artistic signature.

Banksy’s tag can be seen on the billboard and wall outside Springfield Elementary School. Bart is seen scrawling on the blackboard as he does at the beginning of every episode. He writes ‘I must not write all over the walls’, another tongue-in-cheek reference to Banksy’s graffiti. Following the iconic final frame of the opening credits, where the Simpsons are seated together on the couch, we see a darkly-lit and dingy factory where rows of identical-looking women work on animation frames while a severe-looking man dressed in a military-style uniform watches over them. The women are tired, drab and sullen. A little boy takes one of the frames, dips it into hazardous liquid and hangs it out to dry. We see a pile of bones in the corner.

The camera pans down into a lower level of the factory, where the only colourful objects are rows of Simpsons t-shirts being produced and handled by young children. A chorus of melancholic, religiously-themed music plays in the background, as we see white kittens thrown into a wood-chipper-styled machine. White fur comes out in tuffs on the other side, which a woman stuffs quickly into Bart Simpson plush toys. The cart of toys is guided away by a man and pushed along by a down-trodden panda that is chained to the cart by its neck. Another man seals up boxes labelled ‘The Simpsons’ (using the tongue from a dolphin’s head stuck on stick). Another man packs CD cases, perforating the hole in the centre of the CDs on the tip of an emaciated unicorn’s horn. The unicorn is chained to the wall. It falls to the ground from exhaustion as the 20th Century Fox logo looms large across the screen. The camera pans out as the logo appears on the Simpsons’ TV set and the familiar Simpsons theme music plays in the background, drowning out the gloomy music from the previous scene.

Darkly humorous and thought-provoking, this opening sequence offers a political comment on the nefarious machinations of animation production. The use of women and children denotes the labourers who are exploited in order to create this highly successful show. The panda implies the scene is set in China. The juxtaposition of the enslaved unicorn and the 20th Century logo represents the ugly reality of Hollywood fantasy, as unicorns are a recurring feature of beauty and magic in children’s cartoons.

I see this video as a clever postmodern critique of pop culture, as well as a neo-Marxist comment on the mass production of art. Banksy has reached a level of notoriety and relative success that has contributed to the elevated cultural legitimacy of street art. As far as pop cultural animation institutions go, The Simpsons cannot be surpassed. The Simpsons is the longest running scripted television show, showing in at least 60 countries as of 2002. Over the past 21 years, the show has retained a core audience of dedicated viewers. The show maintains its cultural significance in large part by embedding cult and pop references as well as celebrity appearances into its weekly series. Banksy fits all of these categories. By becoming part of The Simpsons legacy, Banksy manages to simultaneously integrate his personal anti-establishment ethos (a critique of the animation production process) whilst seeding street art into mainstream pop culture.

Egyptian Protest Art

Students from Mansoura, a city two hours north of Cairo in Egypt, put on an art show of their graffiti in late December. These street artists use their creations to protest against the injustice being committed by the Egyptian authorities. 

The first image is found all over the city. It shows a soldier zipping up his pants. The writing reads something to the effect of “I am free to piss on my people”.

The second image says: “Down with military rule.”

The centrepiece is a stenciled image of a photograph that caused international anger, of riot police dragging a woman whilst ripping her shirt open. It reads: “Would you accept this for your mother?? Would you accept this for your sister??”

The final image reads: “NO SCAF” (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces).

Corporatisation of Che Guevara’s Image

image
This iconic image of Che Guevara is widely known in many parts of the world. I see it used a lot by sociology students who are eagerly exploring their sociological imaginations. As far as visual sociology goes, this image continues to inspire interest in Marxist sociology and it is used frequently in political protests, such as the Occupy movement. Stephen Colbert even dressed as Che in spoof as he set out to Occupy Occupy Wall Street. Che’s image has also been amalgamated with the unofficial face of the Occupy movement, Guy Fawkes (hero of V for Vendetta) and repacked as an Occupy t-shirt.

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