Sunday, 10 November 2019

Book review: Poster Boy: A Memoir of Art and Politics, Peter Drew (2019)

Released in Australia on 6 August, this book hasn’t made much of a splash and it’s easy to see why. Drew seems to be a little confused about life and he’s got a hot head – which is probably why street art appeals to him; it makes him feel good to break rules – but his understanding of the importance of stories as social glue is correct. Language is innate so the use of stories to create community is a species behaviour.

I wasn’t sure though why Drew seems so wedded to the idea of belonging either to a left wing or a right wing, politically speaking. (I liked his poster with the skulls and the word “equality”.) Being politically agnostic might help him, and people like him, to simply forget about that kind of nonsense and deal with individual issues on their merits.

But then, if you did that, people might ignore you, which might lead to disappointment. It feels good to belong to a group and mobs are born when people are given an opportunity to gratify an instinct to gather to achieve a common goal. Mobs can be unruly and Drew appears to regret the polarisation that characterises the public sphere in the age of social media but his book was born in exactly that place, so the reservations he expresses are not entirely convincing.

The pacing of the book is good but it flags once the campaign has finished that uses the image of an Indian migrant wearing a turban. The image sits on well-known posters that Drew has put up all over Australia’s capital cities. The problems that enliven the narrative in the book from that point seem to be domestic ones that don’t have much to do with the posters except through Drew’s use of rhetoric to construct an argument.

I wondered if he wasn’t perhaps brought up ae Catholic considering his emphasis on what he doesn’t term transcendence (though that’s what he means; seeking out an adrenaline rush from postering is linked to the same urge) and the power of a kind of spiritual awakening that can be used to overcome problems and find relief. To find redemption. He doesn’t give the reader much detail on matters of faith as it relates to him personally but he says that he has been, since the age of seven, an atheist, which is what someone who has been brought up in a religious family would say.

Drew’s constant use of the word “empathy” bothered me as well as his admiration for Aboriginal culture, a culture in which elders are (allegedly) respected on account of their ability to impart wisdom. But then he turns around and lambastes every white, middle class guy aged over 50 who says he doesn’t like his posters. A double standard seems to be in play but this is just one example of the author’s inability to recognise his own biases for what they are. The lack of rigour evident in this regard is typical of the book generally.

On a related note, the title is a bit of a puzzle, since by the time the story ends Drew is already 35 and hardly a “boy”. Seems a bit like false advertising, but the publisher probably liked the idea. Makes the project fit the profile if you are trying to gain traction on the internet.

There is more I could say, for example on the subjects of racism, but I won’t indulge myself. The book is, in fact, worth reading even given the points I’ve listed but Drew will not win any prizes for his effort.

No comments: