Vegans in the UK are raising their weak, spindly arms threateningly into the air over a newly-discovered feature of their “paper” money — it’s made of meat.
So, tallow — a tasty ingredient in your McDonald’s French Fries — is used in the new polymer banknotes. Vegans, who disapprove of using animal products in any way, of course can’t spend these £5 notes — and, by extension, anything bought with these £5 notes is verboten, thus making the act of shopping a viral attack upon vegans. Well, I don’t know if that last part is true, but vegans have some weird rules. No word yet on whether or not the British government will stop slaughtering cows for their tasty, tasty banknotes just yet.
According to the notes in the Imgur page, all bills were put back into circulation. Legal? Yes: the mutilation wasn’t done to devalue or otherwise falsify the bills, and well over 2/3 of the original bill was intact. This means that banks and businesses would have accepted them fine, but pretty much the instant they made it to a reserve bank they’d have gone into a shredder to be replaced by crisp new bills.
The all-seeing eye on the back of the dollar is one of the most controversial parts of our money. First, its connection to Freemasonry squicks out a lot of people right off the bat. Created in 1935, the designer of the new dollar, Henry Wallace, found the symbol relevant and did some due diligence by asking a Catholic if he thought there’d be any problem with it. That hasn’t stopped Christians from going off the deep-end over its symbolism, though. From the other end, the recent overwhelming evidence of all-seeing government surveillance has brought the the all-seeing eye out as a symbol of the fascist surveillance state. As a symbol, I think it worked, although maybe not as the original engraver intended. When a symbol loses value, it just becomes an image lacking definition. When it becomes a representation of an important concept, good or bad, then some Milwaukee artist feeds off that meaning and spend three years of his life cutting tiny triangles out of dollar bills.
The buzzword these days is “altered art”, where people take one thing and cut it up, making something else — ‘collage’, what they called it back in the seventies when I was in school. Artist Mark Wagner makes complicated, beautiful, and psychedelic works purely from cut-up dollar bills:
You can even watch his process, with tiny bins for scraps on the left, and a stack of fresh dollars on the right being slowly shredded for art’s sake.
Let’s check out the law. 18 U.S.C. § 333 says that:
Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
Now that’s somewhat vague: what is “unfit to be reissued”? According to ArtTechLaw, creative uses generally don’t incur the wrath of the Secret Service — if you’ll remember, people messing with paper money is the reason Lincoln created the Secret Service. Like the coin law, enforcement of this part of the United States Code is primarily focused on destruction designed to affect the value of the money or affect the monetary system as a whole. Even when the Joker burned a huge pile of money, because it’s fiat money, with no inherent physical value, the Treasury can just print up a bunch of new sawbucks to replace what was destroyed. Part of the Treasury’s job is figuring out what to do with badly damaged money; if Mr. Wagner ever falls on hard times, he could probably carry his art right up to the Treasury’s front doors and nicely ask to have the money converted back into circulating bills. Hopefully it won’t ever come to that.