Underground Diaries, Part 26
As noted in previous entries, much controversy surrounds the Venice Public Art Walls, which are now open only on weekends and only to those who obtain permits. Enough harrumphing was made by pseudo-bohemian neighbors to put a stop to the free-for-all atmosphere that once surrounded the walls.
I should probably publish this discovery in Nature or some other peer-reviewed journal. But what a hassle, so here goes: Graffiti is visible only in black or white. Yes, people often appear to see red when their homes and workplaces are bombed by graffiti taggers. But that’s a metaphor and further proof that, despite what you may think you see, there is no gray area where graffiti’s concerned, let alone color.
I was polling locals about the public graffiti walls at the Venice Beach Pits in California when I came to my breakthrough conclusion: We’re all pretty much colorblind when it comes to graffiti. You either live for it or want to kill those who do.
The Venice Pits are blamed — at least indirectly — for the rampant, regular tagging of South Venice: Its homes, street signs, sculptures, sea walls, sidewalks, businesses, baby carriages — its what-have-you’s. Never mind that reports show graffiti vandalism is up all over Los Angeles, including tony Pacific Palisades and Malibu.
The local story goes that some who come to write at the (legal) public graffiti walls can’t stop themselves from vandalizing the surrounding ‘hood as they leave.
Even people writing at the Pits acknowledge that’s the case.
What is in dispute is whether the walls should be torn down to stop the trashing of the ‘hood by a few bad apples.
Venice is home to a host of hard-core lefties. (I ought to know, it’s my neighborhood.) Yet, pretty much everyone I spoke to about the public walls was really down on them. Many are longtime residents who originally advocated for these legal walls. Very few or them are doing so now.
Residents are over the rampant tagging of their ‘hood. It’s ugly, it’s vandalism. Many consider it hateful and threatening. They are unable or unwilling to differentiate between stupid kid taggers, actual graffiti artists and gangsters. They want the walls torn down and literally don’t want to talk about it: Many insisted I not identify them for fear of reprisal (as did the majority of kids writing at the wall).
So I brought up the subject to a coolish local cop, thinking his experiences dealing with gangs who tag their territories would give him a more sympathetic view of the mostly non-gangster kids who patronize the Pits. I thought he was going to taser me.
Graffiti — despite being a vital aspect of Dogtown skating-surfing-art culture — despite bringing tourists to the ‘hood to load up on knock-off sunglasses and henna tattoos — is all bad and those who do it should be caned. That was the vibe I got pretty much across the boards from people I talked to, except for the legion of misunderstood youth (including the occasional artist) doing graffiti at the wall.
That legion is passionately pro-graffiti and so disciplined at flogging talking points (particularly the “self-expression” one), they’d do Grover Norquist proud. In fact, in these media-savvy times, the writers at the walls hit all the right notes: Graffiti is an important outlet for at-risk kids — not all of them can afford snowboarding, the vast majority of graffiti writers are not gangsters — many are aspiring artists, there aren’t a lot of legal places to do their work or to display their skills. They all admit tagging other peoples’ property is beat. But they also agree people are going to keep doing graffiti whether it’s legal or not. Compromise was not an option.
In a perfect world, corporations that cash in by exploiting graffiti for its cachet would come to the rescue. They’d provide legal graffiti yards because it’s the right thing to do… business-wise (I wouldn’t dream of suggesting altruism). Forget sponsoring sports arenas for name recognition. Imagine the play a brand would get sponsoring public graffiti venues that are photographed and posted to the web as much as the Pits… Viral shmiral — I’m talkin’ empiral!
Yeah, right. Probably best to look to something other than graffiti for such colorful synergy. Flipping out and saying “How am I supposed to look at something other than graffiti — it’s everywhere!” only serves to make my point. For the foreseeable future, people will almost surely continue to see graffiti in black or white. Otherwise how are they going to go on defacing some grandmother’s garage door with tags? Or tearing down graffiti walls for the many because of the few?
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