Most readers have probably already seen and/or heard about the “controversial” Simpsons opening, which was (apparently) created by the British street artist Banksy. If not, here it is:
Banksy, an internationally known artist whose vaguely anarchist, certainly anti-consumerist, and possibly pacifist politics are present in much of his art, seems in his Simpsons piece to be making a statement about the prevalence of capitalist exploitation of the 3rd world. Since the animation for the Simpsons is indeed outsourced to South Korea, he seems to be chiding the Simpsons for participating in these crimes of oppression. The irony of course is that his statement becomes a part of the Simpsons, presumably animated in the same South Korean sweatshop(???) as the rest of the show. Banksy, a celebrity artist of resistance becomes co-opted by the show (and really by Satan himself: FOX CORP.) for entertainment value (and publicity value for both the show and the artist), and thereby participates in the very oppression his piece decries.
This perfectly illustrates humanities’ inability to break out of paradigms of coercion, violence and oppression; or, in theological terms, humanities’ inability to break free of the bondage of sin. But here, in contrast to pietistic concern for personal bondage and personal freedom, we are dealing with the bondage produced by systemic sin–the kingdoms of this world that hold us all in thrall collectively. Those who try to subvert or resist these systems are always eventually co-opted by them. This is the human condition, and the source of our deepest and most tragic irony.
This is why charity and humanitarian efforts fail, because the good work they do is co-opted, assimilated into the systems of evil that pervade the world. The World Bank and World Food Organization perpetuate the economic misery they were created to eradicate. The most well-intentioned and principled politician quickly becomes an instrument of corruption. The fight against terrorism begins to look precisely like the very thing it meant to end.
The only thing that has ever truly broken this cycle, and successfully withstood becoming co-opted into the evil systems of this world is the Christ-event. Christ effectively withstood and subverted all the evil systems of this world, including the ultimate and most powerful, death. In following after Him, we might have moments of true resistance, true subversion of the kingdom of this world, moments when the Kingdom of God break in; but, Church History’s main lesson should be that we so often fail at the outcome we want desperately to achieve, and our message, like that of Banksy, makes that ironic turn toward saying the opposite of what it was intended to say. The most insidious part of co-optation is that perceiving our own guilt, our own complicity, may be harder than repentance itself.