Pumpkin Soup for the Soulless

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The other day at the world-famous Louvre museum in Paris, some activists protesting something or another hurled pumpkin soup at the Mona Lisa. The famed Leonardo da Vinci painting was protected behind glass, and thankfully wasn’t damaged.

A few thoughts crossed my mind as I watched the video of the incident. The first one was that this trend in recent years of activists throwing soup at famous works of art, while shouting out some grievance, might just be the most idiotic form of non-violent protest I’ve ever seen (well, that and sitting down in the middle of highways to block traffic).

Sure, it gets the desired attention (and I suppose I’m adding to that attention by writing about this topic today), but it seems to me that successful activism means winning over the hearts and minds of people who aren’t already on board with your cause. It means persuading people to view an issue as you do.

Tossing liquid-food on a historic masterpiece only convinces people that you’re an imbecile who isn’t worth listening to.

My second thought on the video had to do with the museum staff’s response to the episode:

My wife and I were in Paris, and visited the Louvre, just last year. The security there was pretty tight. We had to go through multiple bag checks and metal detectors, both of which, according to our tour guide, were in place primarily to catch… you guessed it: soup-toting would-be vandals.

Unfortunately, the Mona Lisa’s vandals appear to have circumvented those measures by carrying the soup in plastic squeeze bottles, and hiding them in their coats.

There’s also a layer of security around the Mona Lisa itself. As you can see in the video, a wooden rail serves as a modest barrier between the public and the painting, but there are also several museum staffers there (including no-nonsense security types) managing visitors through the winding line leading up to the display, and motioning them to hurry up with their picture-taking. At least, that’s what it was like when we were there.

The sense I had at the time was that if anyone did attempt to vandalize the painting, they would be pounced on pretty quickly and dragged out of the room.

Apparently not.

As far as I can tell from the video, this Louvre’s security procedure in such an event is as follows:

  1. Direct a deer-in-the-headlights stare at the vandals while they rant.

  2. Snap out of it after ten seconds or so, and radio someone.

  3. Begin awkwardly setting up little privacy walls (which would seem to serve no purpose at all) in front of the vandals.

Even the two activists seemed rather shocked that no one was doing anything to them or their protest. They got out their loud talking points as planned, and were then just kind of waiting to be removed and arrested. When that didn’t happen, they came across like actresses in a play who’d forgotten their next line. I was half expecting, at that point, for whoever was filming the incident to coach them on what to say next.

The vandals eventually did get arrested, according to reports. Hopefully none of the arriving police officers sprained an ankle navigating around those privacy walls.

I guess, as an American, I was expecting something different. And as the author of the Sean Coleman Thriller series, I know of at least one security guard who’d handle such a situation much differently (and not because he’s an art lover).

I don’t mean to sound too hard on the Louvre staff. My critique of them is mostly in jest. The vandals are of course the villains in this story. I just can’t help but think that when it comes to deterring soup-wielding activists, you might get more with salt than with sugar.

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Weird standoff.


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