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Banksy’s "Shoe Shine Boy" Jabs At Ronald McDonald

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Banksy’s "Shoe Shine Boy"

Street artist Banksy continues his art installations in New York City this month with his latest work taking a jab at the famous icon Ronald McDonald. On October 16, 2013, a fiberglass replica of Ronald McDonald showed up outside a McDonald's in South Bronx.

The sculpture diverts from the typical ones you may see at McDonald’s in that it has oversized, red clown shoes and the face of the Greek God Hermes. It also has one leg up, waiting for his shoe to be shine by an actual person. The sculpture has also come with an audio guide explaining the sculpture to some detail. Banksy’s website is calling this installation "Shoe Shine", stating it will be outside a different McDonald’s everyday at lunch time for the next two weeks.

In the audio guide, Banksy argues that Ronald McDonald is the most sculpted figure behind Christ. He goes on to say that he is a “polished image of a mega-corporation” and asks the question, “Is Ronald’s statuesque pose indicative of how corporations have become the historical figures of our era?” His audio sure gives the audience a lot to think about, just like all his installations.

It is interesting that he took another stance against the food industry just days after his "Sirens of the Lambs" exhibit pulled up to the Meatpacking District. The fast food industry has a large impact on factory farms and you could link Ronald’s large shoes to McDonald’s large carbon footprint. However, this installation seems to focus on the fictional figure that reigns king of American capitalism and corporation across the globe. The position of a boy shining Ronald’s shoes represents the enslaving control the fast food giant has taken over many youths across the globe.

The Huffington Post reported in May 2011 and again in May 2012 of McDonald’s rejection of anti-obesity proposals in their menu, claiming the importance of democratic choice and their stockholders. McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson denies the connection between their food and childhood obesity in this Business Insider article this past summer. However many claim the use of a clown for 50 years to market to children is a problem in itself (How the Food Industry Manipulates Children into eating junk food).

The initial locations of these installations are very important to the messages Banksy is projecting. This latest sculpture was located outside a McDonald’s in South Bronx. This area of the City has an average household income of $32,058 in 2011 and is 48% hispanic according to city-data.com. This is significant because according to a study by the Yale Rudd Center, Hispanic children are marketed to much more often when it comes to fast food.

Banksy also mentions he used the face of the Greek God Hermes as the face of his Ronald McDonald. Then claims in his audio guide that it doesn’t have much meaning other than it made sculpting easier. That might be hard to believe when Hermes is the God of commerce as well as thieves and athletes. There is definitely a significant connection here, can you see it?

On a publicity note, The New York Post is reporting some backlash from Mayor Bloomberg himself. The New York Post quotes Bloomberg in reference to Banksy’s work saying “Graffiti does ruin people’s property and it’s a sign of decay and loss of control…I just think there are some places for art and some places where – no art.” As easy as Bloomberg finds it to define art, it really isn’t that simple. If Banksy were to step in line as Bloomberg suggests, he would just be another shoe shiner for the mega corporations like McDonald’s.

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Peter Mirabella, PhD

is recently retired from the New York City Department of Education, where he taught elementary school for nearly 9 years. He completed the New York City Teaching Fellows Program in 2004. Prior to becoming a teacher, he was a public affairs speechwriter for over 20 years for such organizations as The New York Stock Exchange, KPMG Peat Marwick, Goldman Sachs, and the New York State Comptrollers Office. He has a Ph.D. in political science from the New School University and a M.A. Degree in education from Lehman College. Dr. Mirabella currently is writing a book about his experience as a New York City school teacher.