EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/The writing’s on the wall, and we want it off
Taz loves Trena. I know this because it is written in red spray paint on a concrete abutment near my house. It could have been the product of an unbridled burst of passion to celebrate a love as true and deep as that of, say, Romeo and Juliet, Bogie and Bacall, Celine Dion and Celine Dion. Or maybe it was just stupidity. That’s the direction I’m leaning in.
Those who indulge in graffiti (they call themselves artists, I call them self-indulgent twerps) claim a lineage that goes back to our cave-painting ancestors. The fallacy of that is our ancestors had no paper and no Bics, and, thus, no choice if they wanted to leave a record of themselves. And whatever useful purpose graffiti has served throughout history (it has been used by various civilizations to leave coded messages), it is now used primarily to mark territory. (Dogs, lions and other mammals do this as well, but in a much less permanent way.) In fact, rightly or wrongly, graffiti has become so identified with gangs that many cities that want to crack down on gang activity attack graffiti first.
For example, in an attempt to hamper gang communication, Smyrna, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, recently became the first city in the state to ban the sale of “graffiti tools,” spray paint, felt tip pens, etc., to anyone under 18. Under the ordinance, which mirrored a failed statewide law, those items are treated like dirty magazines and must be behind or under the counter.
Based on past experience, Smyrna’s ordinance might not pass constitutional muster. A federal court struck down a similar ordinance in Chicago, although laws prohibiting the sale of graffiti tools to minors remain on the books in New York and numerous other cities.
Chicago fought back with a national program called Graffiti Blasters. Acting on the suspicion that part of the fascination of graffiti is its perceived permanence, the $3.5 million program aims to remove graffiti as quickly as possible. Since the program began eight years ago, more than 250,000 buildings have been rendered graffiti-clean. About half of those remained graffiti-free after one cleaning; on many others, it took two or three cleanings before the perpetrators were convinced that the city was serious.
Like Smyrna and Chicago, cities and counties across the country are fed up with graffiti. According to a listing of local government anti-graffiti efforts on www.dougweb.com/grlinks.html#CITY, cities and counties are tapping kids, neighborhood groups, churches, police and even, in Santa Clara County, Calif., lawyers, in their efforts to stamp out what they consider the ultimate in lack of respect for the property of others.
Graffiti, it seems, is something virtually everybody hates. That means, for people like Taz, the writing’s on the wall.