Hijacking Bush to the West

Even though the hijacked billboards are now replaced by Seiko and McDonald's ads, here's more about the whole Kanye/Bush art fiasco that happened last week.

While hip-hop superstar Kanye West ain't no golddigger, apparently he's not exactly George W. Bush's bud either according to a couple of doctored billboards around town.

The defaced ads, using derogatory ethnic labels, are raising questions about the limits of irony in mass messaging. Are we comfortable with epithets even if they are making an anti-racist point?

The first altered billboard at Dundas West and Bloor appeared last weekend, covering over the Simply Audiobooks ad, Don't Read Enough? alongside picture of Bush, as well as an adjacent McDonald's ad.

The defacer extending the ad's dis of Dubya's intelligence, added a picture of West, notorious for denouncing the American prez during a Hurricane Katrina relief concert last September, posing with the president. The message "Isn't Kanye an A-Rab name?'', is meant to comment on the U.S. president's ignorance of the rest of the world.

The other billboard highjacking at Jane and St. Clair, Bush, is according to the person who marred it, designed to comment on the Bush admin's stereotyping of non-whites. "Kanye, you's my nigga!'', it reads.

Artist Dan Bergeron, the man behind Fauxreel Studios, owns up that he's behind these takeovers. He's hoping that viewers will at least crack a smile when they see his comments on the prevalence of U.S. racism. "I'm not spreading hatred,'' he contends.

But acccording to Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, ads like these "take a certain level of knowledge and humour to be understood. What may be understandable to a small group, may be dangerous in a public domain.''

As for Simply Audiobooks, the Oakville firm declares itself "mildly concerned.'' They expected a backlash from local Bush supporters when they launched their campaign, but had no idea someone would use it for their own political agenda.

"We're a consumer entity that has a lot to lose from a negative taint and the first billboard (at Dundas West) was kind of amusing, but the second one I had a strong reaction to,''says Simply Audio Books chief marketing officer Sanjay Singhal. "The only saving grace is they erased our logo from it.''

Singhal says he hasn't attempted to contact Bergeron because "Why stir the pot?''

Pattison Outdoor, the owner of the posters, isn't enjoying this either. The firm is looking into pressing charges. "This has not happened before [to our clients], says Pattison Outdoor president Randy Otto. "All we can do is investigate the individuals who chose to vandalize the board.''

Toronto Police spokesperson Victor Kwong says it's up to Pattison to file a mischief to property complaint. "If the company wanted to proceed with charges, we'd do an investigation.''

Mr. Fauxreel seems not to be exactly shaking in his boots. "Billboard companies take into account a certain amount of vandalism,'' he reasons.

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