The new recruitment campaign for the New Zealand Police, a series of stencilled scenes sprayed on to urban walls by Otis Frizzell, rated a mention here and there in local media – including this item in the Herald, noting that the murals, which depict the derring-do of the constabulary, have themselves been embellished by taggers.
These unorthodox display ads, which appear in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, have also attracted a good bit of attention overseas. I say overseas; actually, mostly in America.
They seem to have got wind of M&C Saatchi’s “New Cops” campaign thanks to the Inspiration Room, a kind of online gallery space for creative types, which posted images a week ago.
“The police in New Zealand are hipper than you might think,” writes Adam Clark Estes at the Atlantic Wire, the zeitgeisty online cousin of the wise old magazine. “In a style deeply reminiscent of Banksy’s stencil work, the ads are painted on the walls in the same locations that the featured police activities took place.”
From the cop who comforted Japanese victims of the earthquake to the pair of officers demonstrating a classic catch-a-crook method, the three murals seriously muddle the old paradigm that police are the enemies of street artists.
Just how Banksy-ish is the campaign? The Bristolian unquestionably is the best known stencil-favouring street artist, but hardly the only or the first of his kind. Still, some thought the similarities were striking.
It is “idea theft”, reckons Charlie at the online magazine Urban Times, of Banksy’s “trademark stencil graffiti work”. His real beef, though, is this:
It seems like a double standard: recruit police with graffiti on the walls, in order to stop graffiti from happening in the future.
The blog of the US leftwing magazine Mother Jones puts it this way: “New Zealand cops co-opt Banksy’s style for their new ad campaign”. (It doesn’t say anything else, apart from reproducing one of the images; but the choice of verb is interesting.)
The most interesting take on the ads comes on Copyranter, the blog of a New York-based copywriter. “I was ready to torch this campaign for its blatant unoriginality, but the backstory of these graffiti executions has stayed my flamethrower,” he writes. Why had he cooled down? Because “the scenes are from real New Zealand police stories and were drawn on walls near the actual events”.
Some noteworthy remarks in the comments thread, too. Such as:
It’s double irony. Banksy creates ironic illegal street art of the police. The police create legal street art reminiscent of the former. Genius.
If people stopped crying BANKSY every time someone created a stencil based work then we might get over this shit … It’s nothing more than an agency trying a bit too hard to be cool and street. And I know for sure that Otis has copped more flack than he expected from local street artists.
It is a blurry line working on the street for a corporate campaign. But when the campaign is street art trying to recruit police to, among other things, go out and catch street artists, well then it gets messy.
It’s not a corporate campaign. The Police are employed by the people and serve the people. They work on, and protect our streets. And it’s not government propaganda either. It’s not pushing an agenda, it’s opening an unexpected conversation with people who may never have considered being a cop. Otis has received props from local street arts too.
A swift footnote. As the Atlantic Wire points out, there is a certain accidental charm in the fact that Charles Saatchi, the C of the M&C in the ad agency’s moniker, is hardly Banksy’s favourite person. Here’s what he thinks of the ad mogul cum gallery owner:
I wouldn’t sell shit to Charles Saatchi. If I sell 55,000 books and however many screen prints, I don’t need one man to tell me I’m an artist. It’s hugely different if people buy it, rather than one fucking Tory punter does. No, I’d never knowingly sell anything to him.
Where did I find that quote? The Saatchi Gallery website.
Swift footnote No 2. Otis Frizzell, those of an age will remember, was one half of 90s hip-hop act MC OJ and the Rhythm Slave. In their repertoire was “Marijuana”. It was about marijuana. Desperately sorry to say I can’t find a YouTube clip, but Robyn Gallagher’s account sounds about right to me: “All aspects of smoking dope are examined, including getting the munchies and the dries and” – wait for it – “the appearance of a policeman.”