There has been a great evolution in my mind concerning the concept of graffiti. When young, I associated it with a disrespectful ugliness that surfaced on trips to see my grandma on the south side of Chicago or my aunt in Logan Square. Overpasses and freight trains were covered with bold, clashing primary colors in a distended script that conjured hood rats and foggy alleys in my mind.
As I grew older though (despite Daley’s Graffiti Blasters), I began to consider it an art form and a kind of social protest against Lockean edicts of private property. This actually became a frequent argument with a friend of mine. Tagging was neither cool nor art. It was impudent and a burden. The City of Chicago’s official website corroborates this thought reminding its citizens that “[g]raffiti is vandalism, it scars the community, hurts property values and diminishes our quality of life.” I could say that the use of comma splices might also hurt our community, and a little copy editing might help your argument, but I won’t. Instead, I will simply ask: is this entirely true?
The urges to tag, I think, are all twisted and coiled up with the urges to write. We write for a few reasons. The most obvious reason is that our teachers tell us to. There is an authoritarian demand from the academy for students to write. Yes, this is different from the demands a gang will have on its members to mark their haunts on the streets, but all I am noting is that the ideas of demand and obligation run along the same trajectory in a gang as in the academy. And what is the academy really other than a bunch of scholarly toughs inducted into basement offices in a uniform of elbow pads and leather mules, given grades and red pens as their tools of enforcement?
The other motivations to write are what I’m more interested in here though. We write to comment on what we see. We write to put our ideas out into the public realm and see how others respond. We write to make a mark. Thus, are tagging and conventional writing really so different?
This brings me to the real subject of this post, which is to share with you a bit of vandalism I saw on the Blue Line this week. No, it was not your typical run of the mill gang marking; nor was it some disparaging drawing near a female model’s mouth. Rather it was a critical comment that 1) forced the viewer to reevaluate the function of writing on public spaces and 2) reminded of the way people sell and think in our society.
Some of you may have seen the sexually suggestive ads that GrubHub puts around the city: a man and a woman in bed seeking “Something Spicy!” and more recently, a hot dog (must I even note that this image is phallic?) and a bun. The hot dog presents a flower to the bun just as she thinks, “I hope he brought condiments, too.” Har-dee-har-har. They’re talking about sex! Hot dog sex! Too clever GrubHub, too clever. If I weren’t a vegetarian, I would never eat hot dogs the same way again.
Well, one CTA rider did not think this image clever at all. S/he was so disappointed that s/he dug into hir purse/pocket, grabbed a pen, and decided to “scar the community” and “diminish our quality of life” by writing the following:
What do you make of this written commentary dear reader? Certainly, the graffiti is an adequate appraisal of the ad. The comedy of the ad relies on a heteronormative perspective, and the tagger urges us to note the hegemony of this perspective. Are the gender biases that s/he points out a problem? Did s/he diminish our quality of life, or is GrubHub diminishing ours? Further, is it art? One thing I can say for sure is that this vandal wrote. S/he put her ideas out into the public realm, and this reader commented. What do you think?