Did you drive your SUV to that "Down with BP" rally?
Don't answer that. It's not a serious question.
I've attended enough protests and rallies and debated issues with angry people enough times to know each and every one of us can justify our personal consumption and/or willing participation even as we wag our fingers at others who can probably rationalize theirs just as convincingly. The truth of the matter is that everyone (anywhere) reading this has oil on their hands. You'd have to live like a hermit without any electricity to truly be blameless in the amount of energy consumed with abandon globally (and yes, especially in the States). So, although I find the "redesign BP's logo contests" [scroll down on that page] humorous, I can't quite agree with the folks demonizing that particularly unfortunate (and yes, perhaps criminally un-careful) company as if before the accident they weren't just as happy to fill up their car at a BP station as they were any other. Such is the nature of many helplessness-fed protests, though. Outrage for outrage's sake with little to no introspection.
Where I find the lack of introspection most bothersome is in the art world (because I gravitate to it for its claim to that very rare self-awareness...usually). Artnet.com reports on how the backlash against BP has entered the hallowed halls of the Tate:
Do corporations even support the arts anymore? Well, one big funder in England is British Petroleum, and if the oil giant might have thought that its good deeds in the realm of arts patronage would gain it any relief from the gusher of bad publicity (and worse) that has come its way during Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, then it was sorely mistaken. Or perhaps BP does benefit in a peculiarly perverse way, as the wrath of protestors that might ordinarily been exercised at the oil company itself is instead aimed squarely at the arts institutions who are recipients of its largess.
In a supreme example of bad timing, Tate Britain held a "summer party" on June 28, 2010, to celebrate 20 years of BP sponsorship, allowing BP executives to mingle with curators and artists at the museum. In a letter to the Guardian, a long list of arts professionals protested the association of Tate with BP, claiming that "the BP logo represents a stain on Tate’s international reputation." Signers of the letter include Hans Haacke, Suzi Gablik, Lucy Lippard, Peter Fend, Maya Ramsay and Helene Aylon.
Here's the gist of that letter in the Guardian:
We represent a cross-section of people from the arts community that believe that the BP logo represents a stain on Tate's international reputation. Many artists are angry that Tate and other national cultural institutions continue to sidestep the issue of oil sponsorship. Little more than a decade ago, tobacco companies were seen as respectable partners for public institutions to gain support from – that is no longer the case. It is our hope that oil and gas will soon be seen in the same light. The public is rapidly coming to recognise that the sponsorship programmes of BP and Shell are means by which attention can be distracted from their impacts on human rights, the environment and the global climate.Now I don't actually question how upset any of these artists or writers truly are and I know a few of them to be life-long advocates of change. I simply question the convenience of their objections now as opposed to when, for example,
- Hans Hacke gave a talk at the Tate
- Lucy R. Lippard participated in a conference sponsored by them
- Rebecca Solnit contributed to a catalog published by them
- Adam Chodzko exhibited at the Tate St. Ives