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Just Stop Oil is a British environmental activist group that aims to prevent further fossil fuel licensing and production in the United Kingdom. The group has employed vandalism, road blockage and other illegal methods to draw public attention to environmental issues, which became a subject of criticism among some online, as well as viral discourse. In October 2022, the group achieved notoriety after its activists threw tomato soup at Van Gogh's painting Sunflowers and glued their hands to the wall in The National Gallery in London.
On February 14th, 2022, the environmental activist group Just Stop Oil was created. The group demands that the U.K. government halts all new fossil fuel projects in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change and relies on civil resistance and non-violent direct action as the primary methods of achieving its goals.
Starting in March 2022, the group staged a number of protests and other public acts aimed at attracting the public's attention to the movement's goals. On March 13th, Just Stop Oil activists disrupted the 75th British Academy Film Awards. On March 20th, 21st and 24th, attempts to disrupt football matches were made. On July 3rd, a group of Just Stop Oil supporters then attempted to disrupt the 2022 British Grand Prix.
The group achieved viral notoriety in October 2022 after two Just Stop Oil activists threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh's 1888 painting Sunflowers at the National Gallery and glued their hands to the wall below the painting on October 14th. The painting, protected with glass, was not damaged, although the painting's frame sustained minor damage. On October 16th, 2022, one of the protestors confirmed that the act was not meant to damage the painting but rather give publicity to the group and its cause.
Videos of the act went viral on social media as users shared and discussed them. A video tweeted by environment correspondent Damien Gayle on that day (shown below) gained over 49.6 million views, 10,700 retweets and 39,600 likes in two weeks.
— Damien Gayle (@damiengayle) October 14, 2022
The protest became a prominent topic of discussion on social media in mid-October 2022. Negative reactions directed at the group put the efficacy and methodology of their protest in question, while positive reactions praised the group for achieving the goal of drawing the public's eye. Some users pointed out that The Climate Fund, which gifted $1 million to be used by the activists, was co-founded by Aileen Getty, a granddaughter of oil magnate J. Paul Getty.
For example, on October 14th, 2022, Twitter user @EllenFWalker posted a tweet in which she expressed doubt that a painting done by Van Gogh, who was impoverished and marginalized during his lifetime, was a right target (shown below, left). The tweet gained over 21,500 retweets and 148,000 likes in two weeks. Also that day, comedian Andrew Doyle commented that the act represented "a repudiation of civilization and the achievements of humanity" in a tweet that received over 4,300 retweets and 21,300 likes in a similar timeframe (shown below, right).
On October 23rd, two climate activists then threw mashed potatoes at Monet's painting Les Meules at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany. The act inspired more viral discussions about the tactic and about radical environmental activism.
The October 2022 protest staged by Just Stop Oil also became a subject of memes on social media. For example, on October 25th, rapper Lil Nas X posted a meme about throwing Van Gogh's Sunflowers at Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can. The post gained over 84,300 retweets and 812,000 likes on Twitter in one day (shown below).
 The New York Times – Climate Activists Throw Mashed Potatoes on Monet Painting
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