Sweet Sixteen – the Madonnas, Feminism, and Fifty Shades of Grey

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‘I never really looked at them before: all figurative, all religious – Madonna with child, all 16 of them. How odd.’ [Fifty Shades Darker, Chapter 8]

Odd doesn’t even start to describe it. We will start with the number: 16. It seems rather random. Random could mean just that; that it was pulled from a stake of numbers like in the lottery. More often than not however random but specific facts are carefully chosen. The question is why?

So, 16? When we think of mystical numbers we think of 7 or 40 or 666, not 16. Yet, if we are in the realm of the unexplained already, let’s try numerology. St. Augustine of Hippo said a long time ago, a very long time ago: Numbers are the universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth. And in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe we can read that the answer to life the universe and everything is 42. In plain, dry words numerology is any belief in divine, mystical or any other special relationship between a number and some coinciding events. It means that believers believe that numbers have some meaning attached to them. For 16 you can find:

‘The key words of the karmic sixteen are: restlessness and problems related to personal relationships. The ultimate goal of the karmic number sixteen is to provide the possibility to reawakening the soul, so that it can rediscover its evolutionary path. It therefore involves unexpected and drastic changes. […] Sixteen represents the opportunity to overcome impediments in relation to the past life; perhaps being born in an unusual and not very fortunate environment or, perhaps, simply conflictive family conditioning. The person characterized by the number 16 will almost certainly have to face conflicts in personal relationships or connected with marriage in adult life, i.e. betrayal, deceit or debasement.’

Impediments in relation to the past: check.

Born in an unusual and not very fortunate environment: check.

Conflicts in personal relationships in adult life: check, check and check.

In fact make that 16 checks since Christian had 15 previous submissives. Ana was meant to be his sweet 16. And then she left. The doors of the lift shut. She is gone. Christian sits on the floor and can’t figure out what has happened, what went wrong. He looks up and there they are, his 16 Madonnas.

‘I gaze up at the paintings, my Madonnas. They bring a mirthless smile to my lips, the idealization of motherhood. All of them gazing at their infants or staring inauspiciously down at me.’ [MotU, Edward PV Outtake I]

The Madonnas are another of these randomly seeming, but very specific facts given to us in the books. They are the only figurative paintings in Christian’s apartment, and they greet you as soon as you enter his castle in the clouds. As he says himself we generally think of them as an idealization of motherhood. As such they can be easily dismissed as symbol of the oedipal conflict we all have to go through in our psychological development in our teenage years. We learn from Dr. Flynn’s later statements that Christian surpassed this part of his development and now needs to play catch up. He still needs to separate sexual desire and love when it comes to his birth mother and thus has problems to keep her out of his intimate relationships leading to chaos in his feeling. And as we all know, Christian doesn’t do chaos.

That’s all nice and good. But what about the ‘inauspicious stare’? What do we really SEE when we look at an image of a Madonna, this not just image of an ideal mother, but really ideal of a woman?

We see a mostly seated, sometimes kneeling figure. The figure is covered, usually to an extent that the typical outlines of a (female) body are totally blurred and merge with the background. Last, but not least the person whether she wears a crown, a halo or some version of a headscarf is never looking directly at the viewer, but has demurely lowered her eyes.

Not just numbers have a meaning, or random facts in books. Paintings have a language of their own which you can decipher if you want.

A seated or kneeling figure is an inactive one, and one that made herself/was made smaller/lowered herself. She might wear a crown, but don’t let that deceive your perception. A seated king would always be drawn on a pedestal with the signets of his power tightly grabbed in his hands. This queen is chained to her chair, waiting to be told what to do just as she was expected to do as told when the holy spirit impregnated her with the baby she holds in her hands.

‘As I strap her into the seat her breath hitches. The sound goes straight to my groin. I cinch the straps extra tight, trying to ignore my body’s reaction to her.
“This should keep you in your place,” I mutter. “I must say I do like this harness on you. Don’t touch anything.” […] She scowls at me and I know it’s because she can’t move.’ [MotU EPOV Outtake I]

If you cover something you are trying to hide it. Yes, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin in 1995 because they wanted to create a new curiosity for what is behind the wrapping based on the idea that you don’t really see anymore what is constantly in front of you. (That’s a thought to chew on for our social media age where we are bombarded with the same images of the same people 24/7.) But covering the female figure has nothing to do with recreating curiosity. On the contrary, blurring the outlines of the female figure, merging them with the background is meant to make the figure as a person forgettable and make her not arouse any interest.

‘”That dress is very short,” he adds.
“You like it?” I give him a quick twirl. It’s one of Caroline Acton’s purchases. A soft turquoise sundress, probably more suitable for the beach, but it’s such a lovely day on so many levels. He frowns and my face falls.
“You look fantastic in it, Ana. I just don’t want anyone else to see you like that.”’

The demurely lowered eyes go right along with a seated position and a covered silhouette. They too are a restraining measure as they don’t allow you to take in your environment. You can’t observe what interests you in open curiosity, but you are left in a weak, defenseless position unaware of what is to come. You are kept a virgin – innocent, but also inexperienced, naïve, ignorant, unaware, and helpless.

‘”You look very relaxed in these photographs, Anastasia. I don’t see you like that very often.” […] “I want you that relaxed with me,” he whispers. All trace of humor has gone.
Deep inside me that joy stirs again. But how can this be? We have issues.
“You have to stop intimidating me if you want that,” I snap.
“You have to learn to communicate and tell me how you feel,” he snaps back, eyes blazing.
I take a deep breath. “Christian, you wanted me as a submissive. That’s where the problem lies. It’s in the definition of a submissive – you emailed it once to me.” I pause, trying to recall the wording. “I think the synonyms were, and I quote, ‘compliant, pliant, amenable, passive, tractable, resigned, patient, docile, tame, subdued.’ I wasn’t supposed to look at you. Not talk to you unless you gave me permission to do so. What do you expect?” I hiss at him.
His frown deepens as I continue.
“It’s very confusing being with you. You don’t want me to defy you, but then you like my ‘smart mouth.’ You want obedience, except when you don’t, so you can punish me. I just don’t know which way is up when I am with you.”’ [Fifty Shades Darker, Chapter 2]

Yes, a Madonna, the painting of a perfect, desirable woman, is the picture of a submissive. Continuing this thought, it is what had been expected of a woman for centuries, and is still expected by many though they might disguise it as ‘behavior belonging to the social contract we who live in a society of plenty have entered in’ or as ‘behavior demanded by religion’ etc. It is that picture down to the part where the image is an oxymoron – a virgin mother – and really unachievable. In that light a woman will always be a sinner and therefore punishable for just being that, a woman.

Have I mentioned already that all Madonnas are brunettes? Yes, like Christian’s mother who was a crack whore with a pimp using her, beating and abusing her into submission. Like the women Christian likes to beat. Like Ana, who was meant to become Christian’s 16th Madonna. Christian – who’s name means ‘follower of Christ’, the baby son in and from the lap of all those Madonnas.

But Ana said no and walked out on him. She wasn’t ready to sit or kneel, to lower her eyes or herself.

‘”I don’t want a set of rules.”
“None at all?” Shit – she might touch me. Fuck. How can I legislate against that? And suppose she does something stupid that puts herself at risk?’ [MotU EPOV Outtake I]

This reflects a lot of the male fear in regard to a shift in a female’s position in society: What if they hurt me? How can I still prove my masculinity if I can’t be their hero? But back to the moment in that Ana left and refused to become the 16th Madonna, one of those now looking down at Christian inauspiciously. What other female models are there he can draw from to paint another picture of a desirable woman?

There is Elana, the dominant. She made the transformation from trophy wife – the Madonna of another man – to a successful business woman. In a market that stagnates at best she was able to found and grow a business that sells luxury – not an easy feat to accomplish for anyone. It is business in an area that shapes the image in all our heads of what a modern, at least outwardly successful woman has to look like. She says of herself:

‘”I was the best thing that ever happened to you,” she hisses arrogantly at him. “Look at you now. One of the richest, most successful entrepreneurs in the United States – controlled, driven – you need nothing. You are master of your own universe.” […] “You loved it, Christian, don’t try and kid yourself. You were on the road to self-destruction, and I saved you from that, saved you from life behind bars. Believe me, baby, that’s where you would have ended up. I taught you everything you know, everything you need.”
Christian blanches, staring at her in horror. When he speaks, his voice is low and incredulous.
“You taught me how to fuck, Elena. But it’s empty, like you. No wonder Linc left.” […] “You never once held me,” Christian whispers. “You never once said you loved me.”
She narrows her eyes. “Love is for fools, Christian.”’ [Fifty Shades Darker, Chapter 22]

Elena for me represents in many ways old school, fundamental feminism of the kind that thinks itself superior because of the second X chromosome. She wants to be the better man up to the point where she uses and abuses men and denies the existence and power of feelings. She divides the world in worthy opponents and pawns in her game. And any woman not willing to see the world like her will never be worthy because there is no other way than hers.

‘”You can’t go. Ana, I love you!”
“I love you, too, Christian, it’s just –“
“No … no!” he says in desperation and puts both hands on his head.
“Christian …”
“No,” he breathes, his eyes wide with panic, and suddenly he drops t his knees in front of me, head bowed, his hands spread out on his thighs. He takes a deep breath and doesn’t move.
What? “Christian! What are you doing?”’ [Fifty Shades Darker, Chapter 13]

Yes, sticking to what he knows Christian offers Ana this way. But for Ana this is just wrong and disturbing. She said she wants no rules, no roles to fill, no presaged paths to walk. And she meant it for both of them. She doesn’t want Elena or her ways, no standard feminism which tries to tell her how a woman has to be either. No man or woman is to tell her how she has to behave or who she has to be.

‘”Don’t you dare to tell me what I’m getting myself into!” I shout at her. “When will you learn? It’s none of your goddamned business!” [Fifty Shades Darker, Chapter 22]

But it is finally not Ana who throws Elena out.

‘”Get out of my house.” Grace’s implacable, furious voice startles us.’ [Fifty Shades Darker, Chapter 22]

Grace “Call me by my right name – Mom” is for Christian the angle that rescued him. He is eternally thankful, so thankful that he calls his catamaran after her. And that throws Ana off for a moment because on the outside his relationship with her is reserved and more on the coolish side. But the reason for that too is confusion. The term ‘mother’ is attached to the Madonna for him, his birth mother. The image of female force is taken by Elena. He cannot connect successful and yet warm Grace with either. She doesn’t fit. She is a category of her own. But since he sees her as a rescuing angle she is also something otherworldly, in her love maybe even slightly dangerous. And as Grace shows in this situation she can be an awesome, forbidden creature.

Just like his Ana, who accepts no conventions; who is only a Madonna when she chooses to; who is the dominant when she must; who doesn’t know what is the right path, but ploughs forwards on her path; who is proud and more secure of who she is not least because of him and his support and can freely admit it.

That is Fifty Shades for me – a story about a young woman’s way in today’s world to finding her definition of what it means to be a woman, of what feminism is today. There is sex, yes. Being female is first and foremost a gender and implies needs that ask to be sated. There was silence about that for too long. No need or desire is wrong. Christian, when Ana and he enter this new chapter in their relationship, stresses again and again how important it is for Ana to articulate her wishes, discuss sex and become comfortable with it. She stresses in return how he needs to open up about his thoughts and feelings and accept her love. They try a way of partnership and communication. It is more, more than there has been.

Is it mommy porn? Yes, because the idea of being cherished while free, of being who and how we want to be, of being not superior or inferior but truly equal while staying unique in all ways with a man who knows to value that is very arousing despite all the work it is.

Look at me. – I am.

Boldness be my friend! Arm me, audacity, from head to foot! (Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition, Nov 17)

masks

In the tragedy I am looking for today quite a number of characters pick up mask and pretend to be someone else. It isn’t an unusual plot element in Shakespeare’s work. In fact there are quite a number of plays in which especially young women disguise as men for various reasons. But the number of characters changing identities to survive, because they don’t know differently or to be dealt out a fate they think they deserve is especially high in this play.

Masks weren’t just a thing back in Shakespeare’s time. I love the Marvel and DC comic worlds. Ever since Teresa made me watch Arrow for another art project I am an avid viewer. The very first thing we hear about the main character is:

“My name is Oliver Queen. For five years I was stranded on an island with only one goal – survive. Now I will fulfill my father’s dying wish – to use the list of names he left me and bring down those who are poisoning my city. To do this, I must become someone else. I must become something else.”

Oliver Queen – he dons on a mask (ok, at that point of time he paints on a mask) and pulls a hood deep into his face because he feels that he can’t be himself and be good enough to accomplish his goals. The person he is appears to him not to be adequate, to be lacking. He creates a persona that covers all his insecurities, that can embrace his dark parts, and that seems to be inhumanly strong. But this persona is also isolated, hunted even, and without character – 2 dimensional and exchangeable (though that trick kept Oliver Queen from prison early on).

We all have Oliver Queen in us. We pick up masks because we think who we are is not sufficient or not adequate or not wanted or anyone else would be better. We are even advised to fake it till we make it. The mask is our attempt to dip into the river Styx and rise from it invincible, a hero.

But just as Achilles had a heel, a mask will never cover it all. It’s part of the package of being born human. Our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses: our unique personality and our (com)passion that is born from who we are. It’s what makes us different, thus vulnerable. But it also allows us to find likeminded people, connect, create, and come up with unique solutions.

A mask does not only take away our distinctiveness and polarization. Achilles wasn’t a pleasant character overall, but his belief in his invincibility though he knew he would die and die soon since he chose glory over a long life, made him careless and that’s what made it possible for Paris to kill him with a simple arrow to his heel. The same way a mask makes us careless. We become aloof. We dismiss others to the point where we hurt their feelings. We make bad choices that hunt us. We stop to care. Like Achilles we become personified grief, in others and for our death inside.

That we don’t need to be someone else or perfect to be even a superhero proves another character that made it from the comic pages to the big screen. Tony Stark never denied that he is Iron Man. And Oliver Queen seems slowly to make peace with the person he is as well. Three seasons in and he has found at least a group of people already for whom his mask isn’t necessary anymore:

“My name is Oliver Queen, after five years in hell, I have come home with only one goal – to save my city. Now others have joined my crusade. To them, I’m Oliver Queen. To the rest of Starling City, I’m someone else. I am something else.”

Back to Shakespeare and today’s play. It ends with all characters taking down their masks and admitting to who they always have been. And as far as tragedies go this is a happy ending. That’s maybe why some scholars call it a romance, one of Shakespeare’s late romances. Which play am I looking for today? If you know it send an email to banksyforthewimp@gmail.com. For rules and more check here.

O brawling love, O loving hate, O any thing of nothing first create! (Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition, Nov 14)

Love

In the play I am looking for today in Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition we meet the archetypal lovers, rather star crossed in their case.

Love – some refer to it as an international language that overrides any barriers. And yet, the cultural differences in the way we conceptualize love make it impossible to come up with a universal definition. Even the heart, which I use as well in my emoji code as a stand in for the concept, doesn’t mean the same to all of us. That’s a main problem with a language that uses symbols in need of interpretation. An ‘L’ is an ‘L’ while a heart – well, even in my code it appears again as stand in for the concept of life that includes being alive as well as survive etc. There it is accompanied by a visual image of heartbeat.

On the other hand, that’s also the advantage of an unusual code like the emoji code I devised. It makes it possible to illustrate a connection that goes beyond the visual. It is more than a thought-terminating cliché that love keeps us alive – as a single person and as a species.

Love has a biological basis, in our brains not hearts though, that involves three neural circuitries including neurotransmitter. They enable us to care for and identify with another person to the point of unconditional selflessness that we show in our actions from momentary lust to long-term attraction and commitment. Thus love is a major facilitator for interpersonal relationships which lead to offsprings and the care for them as well as to sharing of resources, feelings of safety and security, and mutual defense.

Yet, while love means giving it is at the same time very egoistic. Since we have a sense of self we all jonse to be recognized as an individual and to be cherished for who we are. Love in friendship and family, but even more so in a committed relationship is what gives us this sense of recognition. Our being turns from something dissolving into nothingness through time into a blip on someone’s radar into an existing universe.

Unfortunately, our real interpersonal relationships become rarer instead of more. Families and long standing communities break apart. Caring becomes a weakness because it makes us vulnerable. The part of love desired is the part that gives us recognition. To achieve that we overshare, the more exclusive, the more explosive, the more unnatural the more attention, the better. We become so confused we end up not finding each other anymore. And it hurts.

The play I am looking for today isn’t just about star crossed lovers. In Shakespeare’s version of the tale their death out of love reconciles their feuding families. From Dante (canto VI, Purgatory) we know however that the Montague’s were a family from Verona, the Capulet’s a Cremonese family. They were political rivals who played out their feud all over Lombardy until their continued warfare led to both families’ destruction. The difference between reality and fiction, between death and life was love.

It’s not that hard now anymore to tell me the name of the play, is it? Do so in an email to banksyforthewimp@gmail.com for a chance to win an original paper version of a storyboard of your choice from this series.

When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won (Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition, Nov 11)

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In theaters around the world some believe that today’s play in Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition is cursed. They refuse to mention its name and simply call it The Scottish Play.

Proud Scotland that just showed us in their referendum that democracy can work even when it comes to such an emotionally heated topic as independence.

In a world where decisions tend to be based on a global scale shrinking it back to the home turf seems antiquated. But even global decisions start as a thought in a single human brain. No matter what masterpiece of evolution a human brain is, the bulk of its development happened when we lived in small tribes that were knit tightly as humans’ main tool for survival. It’s because of that that the highest number of social connections our brain is capable of handling at once is 150. As much as we want to perhaps, we will never care for more than that because having a connection to someone is the basis for caring.

Ever growing entities that demand our attention and loyalties overstrain and frighten us. We try to adjust, widen our perspective, start long lists with electronic blips we are asked to call friends, but the longer the lists grow the lonelier and more insecure we get. We turn into Linus without his security blanket. We dig for roots in hope to find connection and identity again.

That the world stretches wider in a way than our mind can handle makes us vulnerable. Our desires have always been engine and fuel to search for solutions. Those who aim for power know how to use this. The play I am looking for today dramatizes the corrosive psychological and political effects produced when evil is chosen as a way to fulfil the ambition for power.

But really we don’t need to look into fiction to find examples for that. 96 years ago today ended one of the most horrific wars of humankind with the armistice that was later on turned into a very fragile peace with the Treaty of Versailles. I am thankful for all those who threw and throw their weight and life against the devilish combination of malicious, manipulative, megalomaniac, rootless, and ambitious. At the same time my hope is that the Scottish referendum, the peaceful beginning of a debate on how to achieve both: roots and freedom – individual recognition and integration in a world wide network, will not remain a lorn example of an attempt not to turn more people into veterans.

Thy Husband is … (Hint to Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition – Play of Nov 5)

Kimmy

The play I am looking for today in Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition raises more than one eyebrow because of its apparent misogynistic elements. There is a man psychologically tormenting and torturing a pigheaded and obdurate woman, who is an unwilling participant in their relationship, until she turns into an obedient wife happy with her place under his thumb. Or maybe it is all irony, or part of a farce. Whatever school of thought you follow one thing is for sure, one major theme of the play is the role and place of a woman.

Shakespeare lived most of his life in the England of Elizabeth I. The queen’s unmarried status was a popular topic of the time, though she thought of herself as married to her kingdom. She said on this subject:  “I keep the good will of all my husbands — my good people — for if they did not rest assured of some special love towards them, they would not readily yield me such good obedience.” Under her reign women lived a freedom unknown to women in other European cultures of that time; maybe because it was a brief period of largely internal peace and economic health that allowed to turn the focus a bit away from men, armies, conflicts and war. There were more well-educated upper-class women than anywhere else on the continent and the marriage age at least outside nobility was relatively high. Despite all that it was a patriarchic society in which woman stayed weak because they didn’t owe a thing and always had to yield to the wimps of a male protector. That even becomes clear in Elizabeth’s statement because she saw only the men – her husbands – as the good people that mattered and whom she had to tend to. So, Shakespeare could have been both: a conservative who felt endangered by headstrong, educated women demanding more freedom or a progressive who understood that without regard to gender education leads to freedom, leads to the most normal thing of them all – equality.

Yes, equality is the most normal thing of them all. It is scientifically proven that the difference in our chromosomes, whether we are xx or xy, has no impact on that what governs us – our brain. Of course, the difference has some importance beyond the pure definition of our gender. Men – the carriers of xy chromosomes – lack a leg on one of their chromosomes, hence a certain amount of information is not available. While an x chromosome carries about 1500 genes, most of them busy with anything but the shaping of female anatomical traits, a y chromosome carries only 78 genes involved in essential cell-housekeeping activities and sperm production (9 do that while 1 is responsible for the male anatomical traits). As a result baby girls born before their time have a greater chance to survive than their male counterparts. The prevalence to be born with genetic diseases on the other hand is bigger for baby boys. And the average man has a lower life expectancy than the average woman. As one of my teachers always said: nature had no use for old men.

The reason why I just took this excursion into the realm of biology should be obvious – while our gender is determined by our chromosomes, nothing we can learn from them screams females are weak or inferior. They don’t actually say either that females are superior. Quite a couple of genetic diseases are encoded on the x chromosome. It is only because women have two x chromosomes that both bring their information to the mix that prevalence of these diseases is higher in males who can’t patch up defects on one chromosome with information from the other. The differences in the hierarchy that were once perceived as the norm are rooted in culture and not nature.

These differences in the hierarchy were written into laws – by men – like laws preventing women to possess things, to sign contracts, to partake in higher education or to vote. It was these rules that made and make women dependent. And it was the implementation of these rules over centuries that anchored these ideas as facts into our brains.

The letting go is a slow process. It’s not just because whoever once gained power of any kind has a hard time of letting go. It’s also because the same rules forced men into a corset that by far doesn’t fit all. And it is because there are obvious differences between the genders most significantly but not limited to everything connected to reproduction. This leads to the big question what equal really means beyond women’s suffrage and equality in front of the law concerning everything marriage and parenting to property and contracts.

In my opinion equal means that regardless of gender what one wants to be and how one wants to live must be up to choice solely based on personal preferences and abilities. There must not be any judgment whether one wishes to serve in the army or serve a family. So, the line ‘Thy husband is…’ could be concluded: maybe existent, sometimes above me, sometimes below me, always covering my back, and possibly even a wife.

Et tu, Brute? – About Heroism (Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition, hint for Nov 2)

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The play I am looking for today (November 2) ends with the tribute to a man, who is declared “the noblest Roman of them all”. Such a man must be a hero. But then, this declaration is uttered after he committed treason, had a literary hand and knife in the murder of his close friend, was run out of town, lost in battle against the Roman troops and committed suicide. The definition of the term hero clearly is a fickle business.

First used by Homer the word hero derives from Greek and means protector or defender. It has been proposed that the word’s origins are even pre-Greek. If you asked C.G. Jung he would tell you that hero isn’t so much a word but an archetype in our collective unconscious and thus a product of evolution. While archetypes form the foundation on which we build our experience of life they are empty, nebulous forms that take shape in images, symbols and behavioral patterns. They are stuck in our mind and want to break loose. The ‘how’ is what we make them to be.

To give an example: When WWI broke out 100 years ago the classics – the stories of Greek and Roman heroes like Achilles and Odysseus – though only a major part in elite education were well known in the whole of society. These characters and their counterparts in contemporary retellings of the stories were what the young soldiers turned to to fill the term of hero. We know this through writings and poems by the likes of Patrick Shaw-Steward who basically begged: “Stand in the trench, Achilles, flame-capped and shout for me,” before he entered the battle of Gallipoli.

Those heroes aren’t perfect. They are flawed characters with sometimes questionable motivation, no humility or compassion, who are lifted to the status of hero mainly because they are of use to the community. They might call up images and values that don’t fit into a civilized society and they might need the backdrop of war to display their prowess and courage. But they have their moments of reflection and introspection thus allowing room to stop and ask the necessary moral questions. And so, even though the stories tell us that they were put into their place by fate even they made information and knowledge based, conscious decisions that put them on their path to become heroes.

It is not the fighting or the dying of today’s main character either that turned him into a hero in the end – a tragic one. It was thinking through his choices and what it would mean to make them. It was placing his decisions on a foundation of moral principles and values. It was not taking the easy road and acting for glory or money or whatever, but fighting first and foremost a battle inside with himself and what he knew and cherished to be true, but that in that instant clashed.

No, a hero doesn’t need to die or even to fight in a war. A hero needs to think and needs to question. A hero needs always to be ready to discard believes when proof to the contrary surfaces, but needs to be steadfast to principles and values. It’s not the definition of a hero that is fickle, it’s the business of being a hero that is complicated – going beyond and above especially in the Why? department.

But the ultimate sacrifice is still death. And if it is that what it takes let it be for people, standing in line and in place for others – past, present and future – as a protector and defender. Standing in for all of those who fit the bill: RIP Clp. Nathan Cirillo.

[This is a hint for the Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition – Play of the Day of November 2. You can take a look at the storyboards and red about how to play and win here.]

Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition – Play of the Day

Welcome to Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition. It’s a contest and here are the Storyboards for the play of the day (click on the picture to view a larger image):

 

 

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Please, send your guess on what Shakespeare play out  of this list it is until 12 pm EST on November 1, 2014 to banksyforthewimp@gmail.com.

 

The rules:

Starting November 1, 2014 I will post one out of 30 chalk on blackboard storyboard of a Shakespeare play in emoji code per day through several outlets. You have till midnight EST (that’s 5 am Greenwich Mean Time) to send the title of the play of the day to banksyforthewimp@gmail.com.

One entry per day, but you can participate every day. There will be one winner drawn randomly on December 1 Hunger Games style – the more right entries you submit (30 would obviously be the highest possible number of entries per person), the higher the number of times your name is in the pot, the higher the possibility of you winning.

The storyboards are made up like pages from medieval manuscripts complete with an illumination each. The illustration picks up on the play. I dare to say in a couple of cases you can base your guess on this illustration alone or how many plays do you know about a handkerchief?

On ten days I will post additional clues hidden in a text about some ideas I feel like sharing about the play in question. And whenever I feel like it I will post quotes from the plays.

The Code

The code used is based on emoji. It is yours to crack. But I compiled some hints that might be useful here.

Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition

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Banksy for the Wimp

In autumn 2013 Banksy, the elusive British street art artist, celebrated his self-declared art residency in New York. Show is everything, right? In November then after a very short and somewhat moody mental pregnancy, I gave birth to the unloved bastard out of a much regretted one night stand between my insecurities and my frustration. I called that brainchild ‘Banksy for the Wimp’. I declared art residency in my parents’ kitchen. It’s much warmer than the streets, has good food, offers a much lower chance of running into other people, and it comes equipped with a small blackboard, which can be cleaned of the ‘graffiti’ quite easily to create something new. And I did create something new every day for a while on this backboard, commenting on all kind of things. Yep, I am a wimp and that’s Banksy for the Wimp.

Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition

One year has gone by, it’s November –again – and I decided to return to the kitchen and the blackboard. Where else to spend the darkest days of the year than in a cozy room with stories to share?

The days between Samhain/Halloween and Jul were once called the dark times (Dunkelzeit, Morketid etc.). Each day is shorter than the one before and often clouds and rain hang so low and thick in the skies that they serve as an additional blanket dimming the light. At some places the sun doesn’t even manages to climb over the horizon anymore. The ancient people, heavily depended on the sun, retreated inside. There they fashioned wreaths from evergreen twigs with candles. Each day less candles burned thus the people let the darkness sip into their homes. They understood that darkness and death is an integral part of our lives. They pitted stories filled with knowledge and wisdom against it.  The wreath represented their steadfast belief in the ever turning wheel of time and with it in their conviction that the light would return and with it life. Over time our rituals changed, but the connection between light, knowledge, and stories remained.

So, I have stories. Shakespeare’s plays. And I tell them to you in just a few words. The catch is, I use a code I devised based on emojis. Everyone uses them so the code shouldn’t be too hard to break, right? Right? Then again, have you ever tried to decipher hieroglyphs? Welcome back to your early days in school when letters only barely clung together to form words and sentences.

As always there is the question of WHY to address. And let me start to answer this by stating what is generally true for all my projects: because I can. But in this context this ‘because I can’ takes on a whole new meaning. I can because I once learnt to talk and read a rather useful code that gave and gives me access to several universes worth of information and stories that helped me to shape who I am today and continue to help me in my quest to understand my surrounding and form independent opinions and lines of thought.

What is true for me is true for everyone else as well. Language is the tool that shapes our mind, and stories are the path that lead us ahead to understanding, strength, consolidation, help and sometimes just to this short moment of relaxation necessary to go on. Being able to read means freedom and books are the most useful weapon anyone can wish for. It is not without reason that manipulation and exploitation always start with limited access or use of reading skills and/or stories and information. Once we are able to read the only limits set to our minds are self-imposed, e.g. by choosing to limit our code by the use of little pictures or by limiting the diversity of topics we confront ourselves with.

So, while hundredth and thousands of people sit down in November to write the stories inside them, I chose to celebrate that we can read and what we read with a dose of fun and art, and the trickle of excitement that accompanies a contest. And, it’s a kitchen – I have cookies.

Ice buckets, Popularity and Suicides

I believe that every penny send to a science lab to find cures for yet incurable diseases or to find ways to ease the suffering of those affected or to raise awareness to their fate is a good penny. And it costs discipline to keep aware of that and do something other than retweet a hashtag when time slips through our fingers in the treadmill of daily life as long as we are far away from it. Hence the work of non-profit organizations to find donors is often harder than it should be and a sensation like the ice bucket challenge can be a game changer in the fight against a disease like ALS. Plus all the attention given to those affected that are often cut off from society (not least because illness implies decay and death and death is a taboo in our youth loving society) has a positive impact on their attitude and spirits. It makes it simply perfect.
Perfect? Really? Just yesterday I read a headline that stated that every celebrity not yet invited to the ice bucket challenge needs to accept that s/he is culturally insignificant. I am not a fan of reality TV and casting shows and the instant fame they promise etc etc. But for every one associated with the business culture is their life. So, using the word ‘culturally’ isn’t worth the trouble. What sticks is the insignificant part. We are ready to call human beings insignificant and leave other human beings in fear to be called just that in the next moment (and the irony is that it is because they have not been chosen to show their compassion for other human beings publicly).
Given that a lot of creative people struggle their whole lives with a feeling of not being good enough, fearing that whatever they come up with from the bottom of their souls will always be lacking, we might not want to cry the big tears when the next star OD’s or commits suicide, because we created a society in which even compassion and a good deed is turned into a showy popularity contest. And we don’t need to cry over teenage suicides either because it is beyond naïve to think that the idea of calling someone not challenged yet insignificant stops where the lime light turns into the shadows of everyday life.

 

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During my high school exchange year in South Carolina I took US History. It was obligatory for all exchange students just like US literature and US government/ economics. The teacher did not just make us watch videos like Gone with the Wind and Dancing with Wolves, we had to learn the names of all US presidents in the correct order by heart.

Our textbook had them all lined up with their pictures on the cover pages at the front and back. Looking at them you could tell when photography took roots, and then television. Some of the presidents pre-photography were not exactly a pleasure to look at to say the least. But people wouldn’t know, would they? And what is even more important, people wouldn’t care. Other things were more important than looks when it came to the decision about who should rule.

What a thought given today’s fixation on our pictures, the visible, sometimes tangible expression of our existence. Look, here I am, and the next day and the next. Everyone is rushing somewhere. Up. Anywhere. Everything is fleeting – trends, opinions, interests, celebrity status, fashion, music, technology. While we hate to be reminded that our lives are a mere wink and done, the reminders for life’s momentariness, for our unimportance even are everywhere. Every picture a cry: I am here and I count.

No, I don’t think that every picture taken, takes away a piece of our soul. There are people out there, who had more pictures taken of them than can be healthy and good and respectful for their private lives, who still have a beautiful soul. And those who don’t probably hadn’t one in the first place. But I’d hope that we would move the focus of proof of our existence back from the outer shell and name to our ideas, deeds, skills and work.

I was known to exchange my profile picture with that of a snail shell whenever my Aspie self had enough of the world and wanted to hide. I try to avoid that now and even make an effort to look for contact though every unanswered email, every personalized tweet sent out without reply brings up the same fears that I just failed again in this communication game that I don’t fully understand. Yet, as a person I step back behind the bright universe of my art, in which I celebrate creativity that excites me, while not losing the inter-human dimension in it out of focus. But who am I than just a jester screaming that the king wears no clothes?