Eyesore or art, graffiti is part of any culture’s public dialogue. Vandalism is visual profanity, and we all swear in our own f—ing ways. I’ve been drawn to these wall scrawls for a while, probably since I read Holden Caulfield‘s concerns about the subject in Catcher in the Rye. My fascination gained momentum while I was stationed in South Korea.
A soldiers’ bar in Tong Du Chon (the Peace Club, which is no longer there) was littered with attempted wit. “I used to believe in the common decency of main,” one drunken soldier-scholar printed at eye level. Another replied, “I still do.” Eight hours into a soju-induced haze, this stuff is profound.
Along the way, I’ve become a connoisseur of this crime, though only as an observer. I have seen social commentary and even debate. And, there’s even been a bit of meaningless paint spilled in the vain hope of making a point. I’ve soaked it all in and hit a few readers up for their tips, as well.
So, let’s take a tour of some of my favorite acts of defacement. Some reflect careful planning and show artistic talent. Others offer nothing more than layers upon layers of cries for attention and assertions of self-importance.In Iceland, I read in the local English language newspaper, the Reykjavik Grapevine, that an outbreak of graffiti was the result of building vacancies triggered by the weakened economy (and this was back in June). This was supported by the observations of the walking tour’s prophetic viking. Hell, the wall says it all.
The Parisians waxed political on the walls of metro stations. I was in town for the hotly contested presidential election of May 2007, and the ultimate winner, Nicolas Sarkozy, took a beating in the vandals’ press. This is nothing compared to the scratched-out eyes on campaign posters, though.
Translation: Sarko = Bush = Berlusconi = Shit. The tagger lumps the president of France with the now former president of the United States and the hotheaded former president of Italy … not to mention a steaming pile. Politics took center stage in Tallinn, Estonia, as well. Thankfully, the vandals worked in English, making it easy for me to take a stab at recreating the crime.
From what I could see, this is something of a public discussion. First, it seems, a disgruntled “activist” wrote “Fuck Fascism!” And, I have to admit, it’s hard to disagree with that. Next, a second person probably popped “anti” in front of fascism, before a third joined the spray-painted conversation by crossing out “fuck.” A fourth crossed out “anti,” and we’re left with fascism. But, the entire discourse supports the original position.
At least, that’s how I’d imagine the entire process unfolding.
The most compelling, however, was in Quebec. I found it fascinating that the retort to an assertion of independence was proffered in English.
Of course, my neighbors are far from innocent. Here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we seem to be waging a war on body image. Custo Barcelona, an upscale fashion retailer, has ads on the corner of W. 71st St. and Columbus Ave. The models, wearing about as much body fat as they are clothing, glare at me every time I walk to Gray’s Papaya for a hot dog, as if holding me in contempt for my substandard diet. Someone (not me, I promise) decided to comment.
Hey, New Yorkers can be brutal, even in my quiet, peace-loving corner of the city. This is but one example of how the poor Custo models, have suffered, though. Check out the photo gallery below to get a sense of how Upper West Siders feel about this bit of eye candy.
And, this is just a taste of what I have collected. Take a look at the next photo gallery to see what our readers have submitted. Fortunately, their collections are a bit more high-minded than mine. The stories with each photos are in the readers’ own words (with some slight editing).