The screenprint Napalm, also known as Can’t Beat That Feeling, is another powerful image from anonymous street artist Banksy. The artwork is based on famous and recognisable Vietnam War photograph entitled “The Terror of War” taken on June 8th, 1972 by photograph Nick Ut. In 1973, the photograph won both the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography and the World Press Photo of the Year. Banksy revisited Nick Ut’s photograph and added a surprising twist. 600 unsigned and 150 signed Napalm prints were released in 2004 in three different colourways (grey, orange and white). Unlike most of Banksy’s work, Napalm never appeared in the street.
Napalm is one of Banksy’s most poignant work as it is based on the famous and heartbreaking Vietnam war photograph showing Vietnamese children in flight from a napalm blast that has just hit their home in Trang Bang village. The focal point shows a nine-year-old girl Phan Thi Kim Phuc running away naked in fear on a road among other children and soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. The young girl was severely burnt on her back and was not expected to survive by doctors. She is still alive today and now lives in Canada. She has been the focus of a book entitled The Girl in the Picture by author Denise Chong and published in 1996. In Banksy’s reimagining, Phan Thi Kim Phuc is placed in the centre of the artwork. On either side of her are the characters of Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald holding her hands. Largely monochromatic, the two popular characters and the background are the only colourful elements in the whole composition.
In order to deliver another comment on today's society, Banksy once again created a disarming juxtaposition, with two childhood American icons associated to a terrorised little girl who is trying to survive. The horror of the scene is thus intensified with these two smiling characters who seem unconcerned by her distress and one may certainly wonder where they are taking her. Are they trying to take her to a safe place and save her life? Or are they guiding her to her fate? Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse symbolising American consumerism, Banksy may simply attack the American consumer society, its impact on people, especially children, and denounce its lack of humanism. His artwork draws interest towards America's position but also how America perceives itself and the rest of the world.
It is not surprising Banksy chose the icons of the world's most litigious corporations to evoke the danger of capitalism. As the artist is also well-known for his political commentary and his sharp critique of militarism, one could also interpret Napalm as highlighting the damaging effects of expansion and occupation. The process of expansion can be seen in the figure of Ronald McDonald who evokes the expansion of this restaurant chain and its influence in the world. Mickey Mouse is also an example of expansion as well as occupation since Walt Disney's industry is known around the world.
Napalm is considered by many to be one of Banksy's hardest images. This hard-hitting work shares common inspiration with Bansy's Flying Copper in which soldiers have yellow smiley faces, or Happy Choppers, a cartoon-like work showing military helicopters dressed in a girly pink bow; both artworks raising concern about militarism. In 2006, the famous British artist Damien Hirst acquired the Napalm painting so as to grow a personal collection of works by other artists. The artist rapidly spent £1.8m to present at the Serpentine Gallery from November 2006 to January 2007 the works of Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol and of course Banksy. Hirt has expressed many times his respect for Banksy, considering “the streets are boring. So I think anyone like Banksy who makes it entertaining and treats people like people instead of consumers is brilliant. He's a surrealist who makes you think about the world in a completely different way." (The Guardian, November 2006)