BP or not BP? That is not the question

Russell McCarthy

Topics Culture

A horde of Viking raiders descended on the British Museum in London last weekend. But, unlike their fearsome Dark Age counterparts, these raiders were unlikely to stir anything other than bemusement and ridicule in onlookers. This ‘flash horde’ forsook named swords and Dane Axes for their preferred weapons of choice: amateur dramatics, cardboard shields and a cloth mock-up of a long ship.

The fancy-dress Vikings were part of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company’s theatrical protest group, ‘BP or not BP?’, which campaigns against BP’s sponsorship of the arts and aims to promote what it calls ‘the idea of ethical sponsorship’. They are known for their ‘Guerrilla Shakespeare interventions’ where they storm a gallery or a museum where BP is sponsoring an exhibition and stage segments of reworked Shakespeare plays where BP is cast as the villain.

This particular intervention was protesting BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum’s excellent Vikings: life and legend exhibition. Like many environmental protest groups, the Reclaim Shakespeare Company has a flair for getting noticed but offers little in the way of an alternative to what it so detests. The group doesn’t elaborate on who it deems worthy of providing the ‘ethical sponsorship’ it speaks of; I’m guessing organic greengrocers don’t have the means to bankroll an exhibition at the British Museum.

Also, like many of its right-on peers, the group shares a very low view of the general public. The campaign’s website gives us the shocking information that BP does not sponsor cultural events out of the goodness of its heart; the oil-and-gas giant is just fooling us all for the sake of covering up for its evil money-making activities and the environmental destruction it leaves in its path. In other words, these high-culture eco-warriors believe the public are credulous half-wits.

London’s museums and galleries host some of the greatest exhibitions in the world. These exhibitions are, for the most part, made possible by corporate sponsorship. Are these sponsors acting out of genuine altruism? Probably not. Do most people care? No. Does that make museum visitors complicit in BP’s accidental oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010? Of course not. So never mind these patronising plonkers, if you haven’t seen Vikings: life and legend, then go. This Sunday is your last chance.

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Topics Culture


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