Why I Hate Graffiti
Have you noticed how lame graffiti in New York has become in 2013? Especially the one-liners you see more and more of, with their pseudo philosophy and visual impairment. Where exactly is the art? And what’s the message? The vast majority of the graffiti that’s out there pales in comparison to the classic Wild Style of the late 70s/early 80s, though how could it be any other way? Is it the same in other cities? Or is the increasing irrelevancy of graffiti related to just how deadly boring and commercial New York feels right now? And to how overly policed it’s become? If so, couldn’t it feed off of that? Why isn’t graffiti commenting on the shitty sad state of things? On its co-option? On being chased inside? Graffiti can be, or at least once was, an expedient way of inserting social, political, and cultural comment into public view. One of the best examples, a huge wall painting on a building alongside the BQE, visible to every passing motorist, ridiculing CON$ervative GovernMENt as nothing more than CON MEN.
As far back as the “talking statues” of ancient Rome, whose pedestals were inscribed with anonymous barbs aimed at the church and state, graffiti has been another way of spreading the news, sharing caustic opinions and cranky dissent for all to see. But nowadays, apart from the tags that kids still write, and probably always will, graffiti seems like an advertisement for itself, or for an overeducated, underemployed class that wants to use the street as a springboard to careers in art, advertising, and fashion. Or it’s a vivid backdrop for an otherwise forgettable product. You see a tag in the street and look it up. Within seconds you’re delivered to a gallery, a shop window, a clothing or skateboard line. You come face to face with the fact that the whole world is infinitely more professional and commodified than ever before, and it can only get worse. “Hip” will either go willingly or be taken forcibly, which translates as: You can sell it to us… or be ripped off. So don’t feel that you’ve sold out before you’ve been bought. That’s the writing on the wall, and it’s been there for some time now. I really don’t hate graffiti. I only despise what it, and almost everything else in this town, has become—a shadow of the shadow of its former self.
At the risk of waxing nostalgic for the supposedly good old days of graffiti covering every available surface, it’s worth recalling how it felt to enter a subway train that was totally bombed inside. For some, it was nothing less than an assault. It was visceral and it was violent, and it was hard to think of it as an expression of art or joy, especially if its acidy vibe was encountered at 7 AM on your way to work. (This was the era of “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”) For others, it was something wondrous to behold, to see a giant painting glide through a subway station, or along the tracks above the street. Whichever side you were on, it seemed as if there was no Escape From New York.