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Just Stop Oil: cosplay radicals

The attack on the Rokeby Venus only revealed how hollow this movement is.

Michael Pearce

Topics Culture Feminism Politics UK

Diego Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus, the gorgeous 17th-century masterpiece depicting the goddess, Venus, lying naked and vulnerable in her bedroom, has once again been assaulted.

Last week, two misguided Just Stop Oil activists managed to shatter the glass protecting the painting in London’s National Gallery. They presented themselves and JSO as the heroic comrades of Suffragette Mary Richardson, who famously slashed the canvas of the painting with a meat cleaver in 1914, in retaliation for the arrest of fellow Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

JSO seems to be indulging in a cosplay fantasy, in which there is some equivalence between its anti-oil posturing and the Suffragettes’ campaign for the enfranchisement of women. After fracturing the glass, the protesters even directly invoked the Suffragettes, claiming that ‘Women did not get the vote by voting. It is time for deeds, not words.’ The historical analogy is absurd. The Suffragettes fought to emancipate half the population. JSO wants to impoverish the whole world.

And what kind of ‘deed’ was this lame assault on the Goddess of Love anyway? The attack stank of performative pretension. The axe-wielding Richardson’s ferocious attack was poetic in its sublime destruction and spectacular in its scale. She enacted her attack as a metaphor for the patriarchal establishment’s imprisonment and abuse of Emmeline Pankhurst. Real symbolic purpose lay behind Richardson’s use of the Rokeby Venus as her target.

As she told the press at the time, ‘I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history’. Richardson argued that those who expressed outrage over her deed were hypocrites ‘so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women’. There was a political power to Richardson’s performance, a potency to her ‘deed’.

Contrast her act of rebellion with JSO’s. The two privileged activists tapped ineffectually at the glass with tiny hammers, just about causing it to break. Where Richardson was forceful, these two were insipid. And their statements to the press were weaker still.

Unlike the Suffragettes, JSO is not driven by any popular support. This assault on the Rokeby Venus was funded by patronising, super-rich Americans. According to its website, Just Stop Oil is financed by a Los Angeles-based activist organisation called the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF). It’s run not by people with any scientific expertise, but by bobo Americans seeking to impose their theatrical fantasies of catastrophe and annihilation upon the British people.

Oil heiress Aileen Getty founded the CEF with a $1million donation, perhaps seeking redemption for her gilded life as a trust-funded beneficiary of the empire built by her grandfather, J Paul Getty. The CEF’s co-founder, film director Adam McKay, reportedly ‘pledged’ a $4million gift to the fund. McKay’s smugly apocalyptic and fear-mongering Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle, Don’t Look Up, glibly parodied what he believes to be the world’s indifference to climate change.

Then there’s clinical psychologist Margaret Klein Salamon, the executive director of the CEF. She has written jargon-laden polemics about the collapse of the environment in the ghastly prose of the worst American self-help books. Her Facing the Climate Emergency promises therapy-seeking readers desperate for self-affirmation that they will transform themselves and find validation in ‘climate truth’.

The CEF is backed by an all-women board who surely imagine themselves to be latter-day followers of Pankhurst. These condescending Californian propagandists include deep-pocketed social-justice warrior and documentary producer Geralyn Dreyfous, and her showbusiness friends, Shannon O’Leary Joy and Rory Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F Kennedy. The solitary former scientist among these monied deck-dwellers is Rose Zheng Abramoff, a former associate researcher at the US Department of Energy’s nuclear-power institute, Oak Ridge National Lab. Abramoff was fired after only a year at the laboratory for disrupting an academic conference with a staged protest demanding that her colleagues take to the streets.

There is no connection between Venus and oil, and there is no symbolism to JSO’s actions, no cultural resonance. The activists’ reference to a Suffragette once attacking the same painting is a desperate attempt to give JSO’s actions some meaning. But this is stolen valour, as shameful as wearing someone else’s medals.

Just Stop Oil has misunderstood symbolism, and turned the British public against it and its American overlords. The Suffragette campaign aimed to improve representative democracy. The Just Stop Oil campaign is merely a means for the limousine-liberals of the Climate Emergency Fund to burnish their narcissism. They know nothing of the lives of Britons and less about the depth of their treachery to Venus.

Perhaps they should brush up on their mythology. When Ovid’s Acmon insulted Venus, he and all those who took his side were turned into honking birds. That increasingly is how the public views JSO and their vain, rich backers.

Michael Pearce is the author of Kitsch, Propaganda and the American Avant-Garde.

Picture By: YouTube.

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Topics Culture Feminism Politics UK

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