No war has ever been captured on film more extensively than the war in Syria. Yet these images of war — mostly delivered by YouTube — seem to have done little to heighten awareness and trigger empathy among those who witness this war on the screen of a computer. On the contrary, the more we see, the less we feel; the image has become the analgesic.
Enter Banksy — the pseudonymous graffiti artist currently performing in New York City. He epitomizes the contradictions in the spirit of rebellion in the internet age — a craving to be seen, wrapped in a fear of being known.
The man whose public life began in the early 90s must by now be approaching middle age and yet he clings to his adolescent persona, convinced apparently that if his real name were to be known and his real face seen, the Banksy bubble would burst; the unmasked rebel would rebel be no more.
That Banksy would release a YouTube video mocking rebels in Syria probably says much more about the ways in which he finds his own rebel identity threatened than it says about the men fighting against the Assad regime.
That in two days, Banksy’s video would have been viewed more than four million times while an award-winning documentary film about Syria, Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution, directed by Matthew VanDyke, has only been viewed 61,000 times, shows how readily the internet caters to our insatiable appetite for mindless entertainment. In this era, the internet delivering YouTube, Twitter, endless apps and GIFs, is the opium of the people.
In VanDyke’s film, Omar Hattab (Mowya), standing next to a cat notes with irony that most Americans show more interest in cats than Syrians.
“I am sure that the animals have rights in America more than the people here. They don’t care about us… Maybe you filming three of four cats and putting it on YouTube — maybe one million will watch the video in one hour.”
It turns out that Syria animated by a Disney character is just as popular.
Syria is not short of satirists, as the residents of Kafranbel continue to demonstrate.
Banksy’s latest stunt is just that: a stunt which calls for attention yet speaks of little more than the universal desire to be noticed. It is a shout to be heard made by someone who has nothing to say — not a sharp piece of political commentary.
In Syria, teenagers have been thrust into adulthood by war, while in the West pseudo-rebels performing their acts of digital defiance turn out to be adults who lack the courage to leave their adolescence behind.