This is why we can't have nice things.
May 9, 2010 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Less than 24 hours after it was opened, Detroit's $5M Bagley Avenue Pedestrian Bridge was vandalized.

Detroit's Mexicantown has been divided by I-75 for 40-some years. One of the vandals caught on tape was Detroit Free Press copy editor and blogger Oneita Jackson. Despite the rampant defacing, the bridge is just one part of the Gateway Project, which will provide easier access to the Ambassador Bridge , the busiest international border in North America in terms of trade volume.
posted by Oriole Adams (146 comments total)

 
This is why Detroit can't have nice things.

somebody had to say it.
posted by contessa at 12:28 PM on May 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


So, no one is familiar with urban spaces and what generally happens to public space in cities? People are surprised by this?
posted by fuq at 12:34 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh no! They got the Palatine Hill, too!
posted by griphus at 12:34 PM on May 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Build it, and they will come.

This is why Detroit can't have nice things.

Look up!
posted by djgh at 12:35 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't wait to visit New York City, where things are so much cleaner and tagging is unheard-of.
posted by ardgedee at 12:35 PM on May 9, 2010 [14 favorites]


One thing I was suprised about when I visited the Netherlands is the abundance of graf. I remember taking the train past a picturesque farm and in the middle of the field an hour outside of Amsterdam was a barn that was so covered in tags you couldn't see the paint anymore.
posted by PenDevil at 12:39 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Rev. Tom Sepulveda, pastor of southwest Detroit's historic St. Anne de Detroit Church, spoke about community pride at the ceremony Wednesday, which also marked the 200th anniversary of Mexican Independence.

oh really
posted by Electrius at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2010 [12 favorites]


This is one of the unadvertised side effects of having an organised healthcare system, emergency response and so forth. Really stupid people now have a much higher chance of making it into adulthood where they get to advertise their stupidity in many wonderful ways.

In the past, they'd have got their head stuck in a threshing machine, or got run over by a trolley bus.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:50 PM on May 9, 2010 [11 favorites]


I really hate tagging. There's just something so brutishly stupid about it.

Construction workers make real the plans of engineers and architects. Businessmen directly or indirectly pay for it and it is to serve some sort of purpose in the pursuit of making lives better. All part of what makes a civilization a civilization.

And then some mook, some god-damned pinhead, comes along and has to deface it. Maybe with paint, maybe with a marker, maybe carving it up. I even remember scratchitti carved into the windows of Seattle buses.

Sometimes I just want to move to Singapore.
posted by codswallop at 12:53 PM on May 9, 2010 [35 favorites]


Another "dysfunctional Detroit" complete non-story brought to you by the failing newspapers. Print something that matters.
posted by ofthestrait at 12:54 PM on May 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oneita Jackson's apology.
posted by Ljubljana at 1:00 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sometimes I just want to move to Singapore.

After a few months of that sterile fascist Disneyworld, you'll be begging for grafitti like a burn victim crying for salve.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:05 PM on May 9, 2010 [26 favorites]


40 whole minutes and no oversensitive MetaTalk callout? Heavens to Murgatroyd!
posted by stavrogin at 1:05 PM on May 9, 2010


DetroitFilter...... sigh

good lord... the last "detroit sucks" fpp is still open... do we need another one?

this isn't even news... graffiti on a public structure... bet this didn't happen anyplace else today OTHER THAN EVERY OTHER DAMN MEDIUM TO LARGE CITY IN THE FRIGGING WORLD!
posted by HuronBob at 1:07 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


A group of pinheads decided their crap had to be scrawled about for all the world to see.
Waste (to me) of perfectly good ink.
And a tree.
posted by hal9k at 1:07 PM on May 9, 2010


Oneita Jackson's apology.

this would read better if at the end it said she WAS a copy editor who WROTE....
posted by timsteil at 1:07 PM on May 9, 2010


Wednesday, which also marked the 200th anniversary of Mexican Independence.


Wednesday was Dies y sies de septiembre? I thought it was may.
posted by djduckie at 1:08 PM on May 9, 2010


Cameras + beat cops + 'broken windows' policing = those same schmucks with paintbrushes and/or scrub brushes cleaning up their verbal poo-flinging.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2010


Construction workers make real the plans of engineers and architects. Businessmen directly or indirectly pay for it and it is to serve some sort of purpose in the pursuit of making lives better. All part of what makes a civilization a civilization.
Yes, god forbid unsightly plebes RUIN THE PLANS OF THESE GREAT MEN OF INDUSTRY with their disgusting vernacular! Just because these things are made for people doesn't mean they should have any say in what they look like. Just shut up and admire them!

I think those stupid anti-suicide (or whatever) they put on the bridges are a lot uglier then grafiti.
posted by delmoi at 1:13 PM on May 9, 2010 [16 favorites]


Define "vandalize". The urge to "put my name to it" might be seen, in another context, as that of a signal of community ownership. A celebratory impulse, even.
posted by jokeefe at 1:14 PM on May 9, 2010 [16 favorites]


This is one of the unadvertised side effects of having an organised healthcare system, emergency response and so forth. Really stupid people now have a much higher chance of making it into adulthood where they get to advertise their stupidity in many wonderful ways.
Because obviously smart people are never selfish or put their own interests above those of the community.
posted by delmoi at 1:15 PM on May 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm normally a fan of a lot of modern architecture, but what I saw in that video wasn't so much a bridge as a maximum-security prison spanning a road.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:17 PM on May 9, 2010 [14 favorites]


I really don't understand the hate. I like graffiti, as long as it doesn't ruin the functionality of a structure.
posted by angrycat at 1:21 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another "dysfunctional Detroit" complete non-story brought to you by the failing newspapers. Print something that matters.

The problem is that "dysfunctional Detroit" is an interesting American story: a large US city, once the center and symbol of US industrial might, is now a huge pile of imploding suck, a place where nothing seems to go right and everyone who can leave has left or is leaving. If you want to change the conversation, you'll have to counter it with something more interesting. The right-sizing effort is interesting, but that story is of course built on the Detroit-as-huge-pile-of-imploding-suck story.
posted by pracowity at 1:21 PM on May 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


What I saw on the video really didn't seem like proper grafitti, it was just idiots writing their names with Sharpies. Turk 182 is rolling his eyes.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:22 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, god forbid unsightly plebes RUIN THE PLANS OF THESE GREAT MEN OF INDUSTRY with their disgusting vernacular! Just because these things are made for people doesn't mean they should have any say in what they look like. Just shut up and admire them!

Sweet, we're on the same page then.
posted by codswallop at 1:29 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


this would read better if at the end it said she WAS a copy editor who WROTE....

Are you fucking serious?
posted by enn at 1:34 PM on May 9, 2010


I wish someone would use this argument about all of the graffiti along the Los Angeles river as a reason to get rid of the concrete.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:39 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


to all the future citizens of singapore: thank you for being so upset over some ink.
we needed the room and a populace who have more important things to worry about.

p.s. no visitation rights! enjoy your new home!
posted by artof.mulata at 1:40 PM on May 9, 2010


Does anyone else think that Detroit may have something better to spend 5M on than a footbridge? Like schools or emergency services? I would have tagged it too. I mean, really...People Mover?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:44 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


as I posted in the previous Detroit thread:
the Detroit treasure
posted by robbyrobs at 1:45 PM on May 9, 2010


Graffiti isn't something new, I know that. There are examples from Roman monuments, and from settlers on the Oregon Trail. The tagging and the urban art might be something new, well if you keep the age of civilization in mind, sixty years is new. And I guess what we now call urban is new too; a hundred years ago a city population over a hundred thousand was a metropolis, now it's a town. That probably has a lot to do with tagging and urban art; it is possible to erect a monument and still remain anonymous and unprosecuted. However, the ability to get away with something isn't the motivation.

Not so much a hundred years ago, but two hundred years ago bridges, cathedrals, levees and dams, courthouses, and sometimes barns and banks, were real community projects. People did sacrifice personally for the engineering and/or architectural wonder to come. Now days, not so much, huh?

Which is of course strange, because then the bodies that managed, decided and ran those structures were, in theory, the theory the people living there accepted, separate from the community as a whole. Now we are the City of Detroit -- well, not me but the residents are. Yet they don't have the participation, aren't even asked for the commitment, in creating these new structures. Sure, a community outcry can stop an atrocity - sometimes, not always - and, perhaps, there will be community meetings, but they're proforma, none in the community really has the expertise to contribute the the detailed decisions.

So when these things are done, built, they dominate communities, they are imposed on the day to day life of more people than lived in Paris when Notre Dame was built, but they aren't the communities. Is it really such a surprise that the people that have to live with these new structures seek to make them their own?

They (those not of the community, call it vandalism, or they call it destruction. Is the bridge unusable now?? Graf can be used to wipe out, or at least mitigate, an imposition by an outside force, but it can also be use to claim something as one's own, as an act of pride, an attachment of self to an accomplishment. Maybe the latter is what happened in Detroit.
posted by Some1 at 1:47 PM on May 9, 2010 [20 favorites]


Does anyone else think that Detroit may have something better to spend 5M on than a footbridge?

Maybe the citizens of Detroit have something better to spend their welfare cheques on than automobiles, gasoline and tollbooths. Christ what an asshole.
posted by furtive at 1:51 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem is that "dysfunctional Detroit" is an interesting American story: a large US city, once the center and symbol of US industrial might, is now a huge pile of imploding suck, a place where nothing seems to go right
Dude come on. Even if that were true, people write on bridges everywhere.
Does anyone else think that Detroit may have something better to spend 5M on than a footbridge? Like schools or emergency services? I would have tagged it too. I mean, really...People Mover?
And how are people supposed to get to these schools/hospitals without being able to cross roads?
posted by delmoi at 1:51 PM on May 9, 2010


what I saw in that video wasn't so much a bridge as a maximum-security prison spanning a road.

It looks like they designed it to be easy to pay for, hard to wreck, hard to steal, and hard to jump from. Basic requirements, one would imagine.
posted by pracowity at 1:52 PM on May 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


It speaks to the gulf in local cultures in the US that I can't imagine my local newspaper anyone doing something like this and then copping to it without expressing remorse, or being roundly called a jerk.

I'm not saying one way is better than the other, however.

and it's always amused me that grafitti on a concrete structure is often seen as more of an offense than the thing that is marked, when many of the concrete structures have more permanently blighted and changed the soil they sit on.
posted by zippy at 1:52 PM on May 9, 2010


One thing I was suprised about when I visited the Netherlands is the abundance of graf.

Aarhus Denmark was were I was surprised to find so much of it

(Singapore's showing signs of controlled "creative" disarray of late btw but the cleaner uppers move too fast ;p)
posted by infini at 1:53 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


That bridge seemed to be designed to look like a prison walkway, it's not something that encourages community ownership or citizen engagement.

I see le morte de bea arthur pointed it out already, so I'll just quote:
I'm normally a fan of a lot of modern architecture, but what I saw in that video wasn't so much a bridge as a maximum-security prison spanning a road.
posted by knapah at 1:54 PM on May 9, 2010


"Just because these things are made for people doesn't mean they should have any say in what they look like. Just shut up and admire them!"

You really think a poll of the populace is going to lean pro initials carved into bridge in any significant way?
posted by Mitheral at 1:56 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


The tagging and the urban art might be something new

How are you distinguishing tagging from the Roman graffiti which you acknowledge?
posted by Justinian at 1:57 PM on May 9, 2010


Well, if nothing else, this helps me and my fellow Clevelanders feel better about ourselves.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:58 PM on May 9, 2010


I was in Rome last August, and with a personal (folr our family) tour guide, a nice guy who knew the states and comes here on and off. I noted that there was as much graffitti on the building and perobably more than in our country (and on occupied business buildings!). His answer:
that is something we learned from your country!

ps: Ms Jackson...had you not been caught tagging, would you have apologized?
tag this....
posted by Postroad at 2:00 PM on May 9, 2010


Define "vandalize". The urge to "put my name to it" might be seen, in another context, as that of a signal of community ownership. A celebratory impulse, even.

Because people celebrate buying new cars by carving their names into the hood? Or a new house by spray-painting their tag on the front?
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 2:03 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


It speaks to the gulf in local cultures in the US that I can't imagine my local newspaper anyone doing something like this and then copping to it without expressing remorse
Uh, did you read her apology?
You really think a poll of the populace is going to lean pro initials carved into bridge in any significant way?
I don't know. I don't see what the problem is with marking drab, ugly, utilitarian surfaces. I wouldn't want to see beautiful works of art or creative designs defaced, but something like a gray cement wall? Who cares?

Also, all she did was write her name with a felt tip pen, which washed away in the rain.
posted by delmoi at 2:05 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why don't they design bridges in anticipation of graffiti?
posted by graventy at 2:06 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is one of the unadvertised side effects of having an organised healthcare system, emergency response and so forth. Really stupid people now have a much higher chance of making it into adulthood where they get to advertise their stupidity in many wonderful ways.

Yes, yes. If we can't do away with organized heath care completely, thereby ensuring the survival of only the fittest (we apologize in advance to the intelligent victims of stupid perpetrators), then we should certainly ration health care on the basis of I.Q.

And srsly, those poor people really mess up everything we give them, don't they??
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:06 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I was more replying to codswallop's annoying "How dare they interfere with these great men's work" attitude.
posted by delmoi at 2:07 PM on May 9, 2010


What is this "tagging"? Is that when you're playing chasies in the park and you tap your fellow on the shoulder and he becomes "it"? Jolly fun!
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:08 PM on May 9, 2010


might be seen, in another context, as that of a signal of community ownership. A celebratory impulse, even.

Or like dogs pissing on hydrants.
posted by pracowity at 2:09 PM on May 9, 2010 [19 favorites]


Uhhh ... the rampant defacing (oxymoron!!) of gray concrete slabs and surfaces is the only way to make them interesting and, as someone's already said, to take some ownership. To put it another way: this new a utilitarian-looking (I think I'm being generous here) structure gets used, and begins to show some wear, and people get pissed off? We should always sigh with relief when the new car gets a scratch or a dent. Then we can stop worshiping it, and get on with using it.

In light of the "Requiem" post yesterday, this kind of bridging of communities should be seen as upbeat and positive. Winnipeg has a similar-looking bridge that had similar angsty moments with skaters, etc. at the beginning. That crap's over now, and people just use it. The way they should. A sharpie isn't going to take the thing down prematurely.
posted by kneecapped at 2:11 PM on May 9, 2010 [8 favorites]


A celebratory impulse, even.

People think a lot of stupid things, and I really don't give a shit whether vandals are celebrating their specialness or trying to stick it to the man, when the end result is ruining shit I community-own too.

There's some beautiful graffiti out there. This isn't that, it's just ruining shit.
posted by floam at 2:16 PM on May 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


Taking "ownership" of a public space or accommodation does not mean dispensing with it as one pleases, it means recognizing that it is shared and thus also belongs to others and should be afforded the same respect one gives to the private property of others.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 2:18 PM on May 9, 2010 [11 favorites]


You sold us out, Officer Duffy!
posted by specialbrew at 2:18 PM on May 9, 2010


A whole 24 hours?! We usually manage it a bit quicker than that in England....
posted by MajorDundee at 2:24 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This isn't that, it's just ruining shit.

How did the bridge stop working after someone wrote on it with a sharpie?

I may viscerally agree that tagging isn't aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn't ruin structures. It makes them uglier.
posted by brokkr at 2:35 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]



I really don't understand the hate. I like graffiti, as long as it doesn't ruin the functionality of a structure


I like it when it doesn't look like total shit scrawl, which is rare.
posted by Liquidwolf at 2:37 PM on May 9, 2010


After a few months of that sterile fascist Disneyworld, you'll be begging for grafitti like a burn victim crying for salve.

I live in Singapore, and "Disneyworld" doesn't really belong in the bucket labelled "Epithets I Would Call This Place".

Some graffiti artists are actually good at what they do, and some graffiti creations are interesting and beautiful and worth looking at. The vast majority is simply ugly shit. That Singapore has so little graffiti is a good thing. Ditto the relative lack of chewing-gum stains all over the pavements.

Some people actually enjoy having a cleanish city to live in. Maybe you could give it a go sometime.
posted by WalterMitty at 2:42 PM on May 9, 2010 [8 favorites]


When I heard 'vandalised' I was thinking smashed glass, broken beams, maybe makeshift baracades.

Instead its people writing their name or whatever on it with pen, paint or whatever. I know this is technically vandalism, but it really doesn't feel like it to me. Especially when the architecture ain't that delicate to start with.

and I was so ready to get all angry about this and make a stand about civic pride...
posted by litleozy at 2:43 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


posted by graventy Why don't they design bridges in anticipation of graffiti?

Why don't you design one?
posted by mattdidthat at 2:45 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


i'm glad i live in kalamazoo where i never, ever, ever see graffiti and tags

*yawns*
posted by pyramid termite at 2:46 PM on May 9, 2010


I don't see what the problem is with marking drab, ugly, utilitarian surfaces. I wouldn't want to see beautiful works of art or creative designs defaced, but something like a gray cement wall? Who cares?

The problem is that your idea of what is drab and ugly, of what is beautiful, isn't going to be the same as mine, or his, or hers. How would you feel if you created something you were proud of, that you thought was beautiful....but then I came along, decided it was ugly and drab, and scrawled something I thought was beautiful all over it?

As an artist, I can't help but believe that you *don't* fuck with someone else's work, because I don't want anyone fucking with mine.

And that goes for "drab, utilitarian" public surfaces. Which are created and paid for by people who are probably capable of being both "unsightly plebes" and "great men of industry." Which are then defaced by people who are probably capable of being both "unsightly plebes" and "great men of industry."

((And this is irrelevant, but this unsightly plebe actually does think a lot of the graffiti she sees IS beautiful....))
posted by Squee at 2:46 PM on May 9, 2010 [8 favorites]


Does it seem that those yelling loudest about all of this, are the ones who would yell "NAMBI", loudest too, and among the few who would expect their cries to be heeded?
posted by Some1 at 2:52 PM on May 9, 2010


The damn bridge is ugly. I saw the video and my first thought was about how graffiti would at least give it some life. Hell, I'd love to see the city invite the locals to come and add their own "graffiti" as a community event/opening ceremony for the bridge. I suspect it would look a lot nicer than it does now anyway, and it would really offer a sense of ownership to the people in the area.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:53 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


If only they had a robotic cop.
posted by MrLint at 2:55 PM on May 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


NAMBI?
posted by idiopath at 2:58 PM on May 9, 2010


I live in a suburban Calgary neighbourhood inhabited by a few idiots who like to use spray paint and giant markers to put their tag on everything with a reasonably flat surface - light poles, fences, utility boxes, street signs, playground equipment - everything.

The city and police don't care - they arrested a kid and charged him with however many counts of vandalism but didn't clean up after him. I spent 4 hours yesterday with about 20 volunteers cleaning up the community. Felt good about it but time I'd rather spend doing pretty much anything else. Fuck these people.
posted by jeffmik at 2:58 PM on May 9, 2010 [11 favorites]


And, of course that should be "yell, NAMBY', loudest... geez
posted by Some1 at 2:59 PM on May 9, 2010


NAMBY?
posted by floam at 3:05 PM on May 9, 2010


NIMBY. Not Bambi. Not nimbus. Not NAMBLA.
posted by pracowity at 3:09 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


all right --- nimby -- whatever, I started drinking early today, alright? It's not obscure or something. You want ability to type? You won't ability to spell, and distinguish homophones? OK, can't blame you, but it's just not who I am all the time. Back to the better discussion, huh? It was a good on IMJO -- IMHP -- IMHO -- yeah the last one.
posted by Some1 at 3:14 PM on May 9, 2010


Not NAMBLA.

Definitely not NAMBLA. Unless you're from the Catholic Church.
posted by WalterMitty at 3:22 PM on May 9, 2010


In fact, an MDOT employee's video camera caught one woman as she used a colored pen to scrawl on a bench in the middle of the 400-foot-long bridge.

And the racial insensitivity of the article is not helping matters, either. Are they stuck in the 60's or something?

It is an African-American pen.
posted by flarbuse at 3:26 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


mattdidthat: "Why don't you design one?"

Because I'm not an architect or civil engineer?

The article makes it sound like this bridge is meant to build and unite communities, so why not let the community take part? Have a 'Paint the Bridge' day, or hire local artists to muralize the fuck out of it. The consensus of the thread seems to be that it's an ugly blight of functionality, which is too bad.
posted by graventy at 3:52 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Uhhh ... the rampant defacing (oxymoron!!) of gray concrete slabs and surfaces is the only way to make them interesting and, as someone's already said, to take some ownership.

It's weird how upset the public library gets when I take some ownership of the books I borrow by writing my name all over them. Those were bought with my tax dollars, after all. I like to take some ownership of the bus I ride on too, by spilling my Big Gulp all over the seats and floor. The perpetual stickiness is a notice to everyone who boards after me that a small part of the bus is mine, even though they have no idea who I am and could frankly care less. I've also been taking some ownership of the street in front of my house by chipping potholes out of it in the shape of my profile. Sure, it's an annoying hazard for skateboarders, but I live here, so I can do what I want.

The best thing about all this ownership of things around me is that I don't have to take any responsibility for them! No one can blame me for anything that goes wrong, and I don't have to make any hard decisions about anything important. It's like owning something, but not really owning it, because I don't have to do any of the hard part of owning things.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:59 PM on May 9, 2010 [27 favorites]


It is an African-American pen.

Actually it was a green pen.
posted by delmoi at 4:06 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's weird how upset the public library gets when I take some ownership of the books I borrow by writing my name all over them.

You know, if the public library made a video of you writing in their book and sent it to the newspaper which then published an article excoriating you on the internet to a chorus of strangers calling out for you to be fired, yes, that would be pretty weird and disproportionate.
posted by enn at 4:11 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Judnic said MDOT had no intention to take legal action against the vandals.

Well, there's your problem right there. There aren't any consequences, so why not scrawl DESJARDINS WUZ HERE on the concrete?
posted by desjardins at 4:14 PM on May 9, 2010


Well, at least she didn't pee on it.
posted by anniecat at 4:16 PM on May 9, 2010


Because people celebrate buying new cars by carving their names into the hood? Or a new house by spray-painting their tag on the front?

Carving their names? Not usually. But adding bumper stickers and hideous tschotschkes, painting the walls and the siding and adding landscaping, yes. People like to make places their own. Painting the walls of my room/apartment (where permitted) is one of the first things I do when I move to a new space, and yeah, it's partly celebratory and partly to personalize and take ownership of what's otherwise just another bland square white-walled apartment.

Of course, I'm one of those assholes who actually likes well done, interesting graffiti as something that makes urban space more alive, and who thinks that draconian anti-graffiti laws actually just end up encouraging crappy tagging over the nicer stuff, because it's quicker and less likely to get you caught.
posted by ubersturm at 4:24 PM on May 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's weird how upset the public library gets when I take some ownership of the books I borrow by writing my name all over them. Those were bought with my tax dollars, after all. I like to take some ownership of the bus I ride on too, by spilling my Big Gulp all over the seats and floor. The perpetual stickiness is a notice to everyone who boards after me that a small part of the bus is mine, even though they have no idea who I am and could frankly care less. I've also been taking some ownership of the street in front of my house by chipping potholes out of it in the shape of my profile. Sure, it's an annoying hazard for skateboarders, but I live here, so I can do what I want.

You don't really do these things, do you?
posted by Hicksu at 4:34 PM on May 9, 2010


Does anyone else think that Detroit may have something better to spend 5M on than a footbridge? Like schools or emergency services?

When Berkeley and the Bay Area start spending money in eminently responsible ways, you'll maybe have a point.
posted by blucevalo at 4:38 PM on May 9, 2010


I spent 4 hours yesterday with about 20 volunteers cleaning up the community. Felt good about it but time I'd rather spend doing pretty much anything else.

Were you a volunteer too? If so, that last part is pretty chuckleworthy.

It's weird how upset the public library gets when I take some ownership of the books I borrow by writing my name all over them. Those were bought with my tax dollars, after all. I like to take some ownership of the bus I ride on too, by spilling my Big Gulp all over the seats and floor. The perpetual stickiness is a notice to everyone who boards after me that a small part of the bus is mine, even though they have no idea who I am and could frankly care less. I've also been taking some ownership of the street in front of my house by chipping potholes out of it in the shape of my profile. Sure, it's an annoying hazard for skateboarders, but I live here, so I can do what I want.

Your latter two examples, and possibly the first, actively interfere with the utility of those items, which writing ONEITA 2GOOD 2BE 4GOTTEN on a bench does not.

Should you tag, carve, or spraypaint public structures or anything that doesn't belong to you? No. Of course not. But this is about 85,412th on my list of outrages, especially since I would HOPE most of us can at least relate to the impulse and take into account whether it really impacts the usage of said item (in this instance; I highlighted two above but I see flaws in just about every comparison offered in this thread).
posted by mreleganza at 4:39 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Really? Did this really merit a post, Oriole? I know it seems like you have a hefty axe to grind against the city of Detroit but what possible good will come of this? Apologies if I am blaming the messenger here (though I still wonder why you think this is best of the web but whatever) but I just got done wading through the ignorant, racist slime of the Free Press (and Detroit News) comments sections on this story. I need a dozen hot showers and a face-punching machine, stat.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:39 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only graffiti thing I've ever done was scrawling some message on the informal mass memorial at 14th Street after 9/11. There was chalk out for people to write whatever they wanted. Lots of folks did.

There's a guy in Harlem who sets out graffiti on the sidewalks -- math problems, spelling problems, for whomever to solve. He does it in chalk too.

Even if graffiti is borne of the same instinct of a dog peeing, it can still be more than that. Granted, at lot of graffiti is crap, but there's non-crap stuff too.
posted by angrycat at 4:42 PM on May 9, 2010


a place where nothing seems to go right and everyone who can leave has left or is leaving.

... aaaaand fuck you very much, sir.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:42 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else think that Detroit may have something better to spend 5M on than a footbridge? Like schools or emergency services?

The footbridge is part of the Gateway Project, which is a Federally funded project aimed at diverting trucking away from freeways, generally improving traffic flow, and facilitating access with the Canadian border (Canada is the US's largest trading partner, the two countries' economies are tightly integrated, and the Ambassador Bridge is a strategically important economic corridor).

In short, the Gateway Project will help pay for schools and emergency services.

Besides, a fucking freeway has cleaved an entire community in two for forty years. Anything that allows regular folks to get out of their cars and actually walk is a good thing.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:47 PM on May 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


The problem is that "dysfunctional Detroit" is an interesting American story: a large US city, once the center and symbol of US industrial might, is now a huge pile of imploding suck, a place where nothing seems to go right and everyone who can leave has left or is leaving.

There are some cities in Poland that can no doubt be labelled with the same description. It's an interesting Polish story.
posted by blucevalo at 4:48 PM on May 9, 2010


I would have to say that I agree that graffiti is mindless and ugly, and that whoever does it should spend five days in an orange jumpsuit chained to a powerwasher. There are more proactive ways to claim ownership over something than to misspell your name in black felt-tip marker.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:49 PM on May 9, 2010


I would HOPE most of us can at least relate to the impulse

Well, I've had a lot of impulses, but I've never had an itching to deface public property. I would like to think the majority of everyone else is pretty close to me on this, because although there's graffiti around me, there's only enough that'd I'd guess a very small percentage of the population is an offender.
posted by floam at 4:49 PM on May 9, 2010


I also thought it was a dirty trick to print the name of "a copy editor at the Detroit Free Press and author of Sunday's "O Street" blog" in the linked article (as well as in an FPP). She did something sort of ignorant, but it's no reason to be Googlebombed.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:53 PM on May 9, 2010


Writing your name on a bridge with a sharpie isn't unique to Detroit or even urban areas. I was in Winterset, Iowa -the town where the bridges of The Bridges of Madison County are located- a couple of days ago. All four of the bridges I saw were covered by people's tags. These aren't hardcore criminals or career vandals, they are just people wanting to let the world know they were someplace.
posted by plastic_animals at 5:11 PM on May 9, 2010


As a die-hard Detroit Lions fan, I am both impressed and flabbergasted that this entire post about 'something bad in Detroit' has not once referenced my beloved Honolulu Blue and Silver.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:12 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm a little mixed on graffiti, always have been. Most of it is simple defacement, and ought to be punished. But sometimes, the tagger is actually trying to make something nice, trying to improve the neighborhood. Many buildings really are terribly ugly, and some irreverent art breaks up the monotony. Solid gray concrete everywhere is just dreary, and it can be very nice to see something colorful added.

I see, however, no sign of art in what happened here. This was simple defacement. Writing your name in Sharpie, or carving your initials into the bench, makes the bridge worse, not better. Shame on anyone involved. I hope the local DOT changes its mind and fines those people. Detroit is just too poor to tolerate that kind of nonsense. Fixing that damage takes money, money that can't be used to, say, plant flowers or pick up trash, or even to clean up ugly graffiti elsewhere.

Particularly for the assholes doing the carving: what the fuck do you people think you're doing? They're gonna end up replacing that thing with a concrete bench instead, or just pulling it out completely. Fuckheads.
posted by Malor at 5:22 PM on May 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, this isn't exactly surprising. The tallest bridge in the state of Arkansas had graffiti on it several years before it opened. Personally, I wouldn't have been so interested in hanging over the side of a bridge multiple hundreds of feet in the air, but some people will do anything to broadcast their love or stupidity.

Worst of all, it was redneck graffiti, not awesome street art.
posted by wierdo at 5:38 PM on May 9, 2010


I've also been taking some ownership of the street in front of my house by chipping potholes out of it in the shape of my profile. Sure, it's an annoying hazard for skateboarders, but I live here, so I can do what I want.

Your latter two examples, and possibly the first, actively interfere with the utility of those items, which writing ONEITA 2GOOD 2BE 4GOTTEN on a bench does not.


I'm not riffing on how much utility may or may not be decreased by tagging- I'm amused by the notion that somehow "some ownership" is conferred on someone by their marking things. I tend to think ownership of public stuff is actually demonstrated by taking some sort of responsibility, not just leaving a snail trail everywhere you go.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:02 PM on May 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


When it's street art, it's awesome. When it's just bullshit scrawl, it's ugly.

Maybe the bridge designers could have sectioned off the flat concrete areas and invited street artists and people wanting to sign their names to do their thing; that might have even made the bridge more interesting and part of the community.

Of course that doesn't mean some dickhead tagger won't come along later and spray over someone's art on behalf of his crew, but maybe said dickhead would be reluctant to do so if he knows the artist is from his neighbourhood.

As for Singapore, they'll simply cane your ass if you're caught tagging.
posted by bwg at 6:07 PM on May 9, 2010


Paul Graham had this to say about graffiti:
Graffiti happens at the intersection of ambition and incompetence: people want to make their mark on the world, but have no other way to do it than literally making a mark on the world.
posted by mbatch at 6:10 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm wondering if anyone slagging Singapore in this thread has actually ever been to Singapore (layover in the airport don't count).
posted by KokuRyu at 6:12 PM on May 9, 2010


I'm wondering if anyone slagging Singapore in this thread has actually ever been to Singapore (layover in the airport don't count).

Yup. It's lovely. I don't want to move there.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:16 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, at least she didn't pee on it.

That we know of. Anyway, someone will soon (if they haven't already).
posted by MikeMc at 6:21 PM on May 9, 2010


Locally, there are some decent graffiti artists who do actual painting and then there's this other guy.

When I first saw this other guys tag - and he only tags a single word, presumably his graffiti name - it was over other graffiti, so I assumed he or she was making a comment on those artists. Then I started to see that person's tag game by itself with no other graffiti around.

Not to mince words, the guy's (or gal's) tag name is "Cunt," sprayed in an unsuccessful attempt at flowery script using a star for the "t."

So far, he or she has claimed ownership of a local mexican restaurant, a Dodge dealership, a children's hospital, and dozens and dozens of overpasses, bridges and signs.

Arguably the best known local calligraphy artist working today. If I could convert it into a font, I would, but only locals would get why it is an awesome font.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:22 PM on May 9, 2010


Oriole Adam's Detroit posts are always the cheapest, lowest, most sneering imaginable, but pissing on Detroit for graffiti really takes the cake. Oakland County is part and parcel of the civic collapse that is happening all around them, but they only manage to see it when they look across 8 Mile Road.
posted by BinGregory at 6:24 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


MikeMc wrote: "That we know of. Anyway, someone will soon (if they haven't already)."

Animals have been peeing on it since the materials were laid out on the jobsite before construction began.
posted by wierdo at 6:25 PM on May 9, 2010


posted by graventy Because I'm not an architect or civil engineer? The article makes it sound like this bridge is meant to build and unite communities, so why not let the community take part? Have a 'Paint the Bridge' day, or hire local artists to muralize the fuck out of it.

Then you apparently have no ideas on how to "design bridges in anticipation of graffiti", especially since graffiti will appear on any surface upon which a person can write, carve, paint, mark, or etch. If you do, I'd love to hear them--"designing bridges in anticipation of graffiti" is, quite frankly, an intriguing and challenging idea, and the architects and engineers with whom I work are always looking for ways to thwart, mitigate, or discourage all types of vandalism, of which graffiti is only a part.

With regards to building a bridge and letting everyone paint it willy-nilly, I don't know how well you'll be able to control the content. Can people paint swastikas all over it? How about hardcore pornography? What about gang territory-marking symbols? How will you allow everyone to participate and guarantee that everyone has a place to paint? What happens if someone decides to do a mural all over someone else's piece? "Letting the community take part," is one of those ideas that sounds great, but unfortunately we hear it all the time--it's not as easy or feasible as you may think, and the end result of letting everyone paint the bridge willy-nilly, well, that technique often winds up looking a lot like . . . graffiti.

As far as "letting the community take part" in a civic project such as a bridge--well, we do, in the form of inviting the public to comment on the designs, suggest options, and engage in a dialogue with the designers at city council meeting design reviews. We also use funding for programs such as Art In Public Places, wherein artists are invited to submit proposals and ideas for art projects to be incorporated as part of the finished structure.

Whenever I hear people complain or suggest the designers, engineers, and architects, "should have consulted the public beforehand," I always wonder why these people weren't at the public design reviews, and how they voted on the bond measure(s) which fund the projects on which they think they weren't consulted.
posted by mattdidthat at 6:39 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


On Fisher, which this bridge connects, both my girlfriend and I have seen on separate occasions, dead bodies. What struck us was the similarity—both times, it was black men lying face down a good yard out into the street, with lawnchairs draped over them. Mine was in the summer, hers was in the winter, but both times, the men were shirtless and in shorts.

Mexicantown is one of the most obvious failures of urban renewal and Michigan racism, where highways were drawn across a thriving immigrant neighborhood explicitly to split it, but also a place where Detroit is having some resurgence. There are more jobs there, new building, and some of the ugliest edges have been torn under and redeveloped. It's one of Detroit's biggest historical mistakes, being patched over a little bit and frankly giving some hope.

I know that for some folks, graffiti is ugly. I'm not really one of them, but I understand it. I'd rather have seen this post framed as celebrating the opening of this pedestrian bridge—one small step toward a functional Detroit—than worrying about a little bit of graffiti. And were I the judge in Ms. Jackson's case, I'd sentence her to 80 hours of copy editing graffiti, because God knows most of the burners around here could use someone correcting their subjunctives and eliminating errant apostrophes.
posted by klangklangston at 6:50 PM on May 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


The only way to eliminate graffiti would be having a living, shedding bridge. Perhaps out of some horrible vat-grown flesh?
posted by klangklangston at 6:51 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Graffiti Bridge is my favorite Prince movie.
posted by box at 6:56 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't understand any of the comments here that suggest this vandalism is somehow alright.

Some art is based on graffiti. Some murals even
Graffiti does not "destroy the functionality" of a structure most of the time. (Don't get me started on graffiti'd out freeway signs.)
Some public structures are not beautiful.
Some people feel disenfranchised and want a way to feel like they belong.
Some people get excited when they see that other people are doing it.

None of this makes it alright for anyone to spraypaint, ink, or carve anything on the corner grocery, the public library, a bridge, a bench, my house, or a tree in the park.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:00 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


SLC Mom wrote: "None of this makes it alright for anyone to spraypaint, ink, or carve anything on the corner grocery, the public library, a bridge, a bench, my house, or a tree in the park."

Surely you can see that there is a vast difference in degree between graffiti on a bridge and graffiti on your house or the corner store.
posted by wierdo at 7:25 PM on May 9, 2010



Surely you can see that there is a vast difference in degree between graffiti on a bridge and graffiti on your house or the corner store.


Nope. Not really.

Cats pee. People graffiti.

I can do without both.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:32 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can't see how some graffiti is acceptable? But you quoted reasons right there!

And, while it's a separate reason, cats gotta pee. Arguing that graffiti shouldn't exist is exactly as practical as arguing that cats shouldn't pee.
posted by klangklangston at 7:36 PM on May 9, 2010


But you quoted reasons right there!
No. I cited the excuses.

Let's change the language.
Cats spray.
People are really above this.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:58 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Paul Graham had this to say about graffiti: Graffiti happens at the intersection of ambition and incompetence

I've seen a similar statement somewhere about how crime is the intersection of ambition, motivation, and ... perhaps not incompetence, but something similar. I wish I could find the original, but my search-fu is failing me.
posted by zippy at 8:07 PM on May 9, 2010


Opportunity?
posted by BinGregory at 8:13 PM on May 9, 2010


Worst of all, it was redneck graffiti, not awesome street art.
posted by wierdo at 7:38 PM on May 9 [+] [!]



"I love you Betty Sue Allen 4 EVR !!!"
posted by nola at 8:17 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


So for years a segment of the public is ill-served by its public-servants. This segment of the population gets minimal practice at civility, respect, and responsibility. They're basically just trying to get by. Suddenly "the man" shows up and gives them something. For "free." Something big and obvious. So, as a member of said population, you and your buds take a look. You take a close look. You think, shit, this ain't bad. Makes you feel like it should have been there before. Makes you feel like it's a bit like home. So you do what you've often done when you've been home. You mark it up. You say that you've been there. You want to let people know.

It's pretty obvious that we don't all share the same sensibilities about how to treat public space. I have concerns about the tragedy of the commons. But after years of neglect, some communities have to be allowed time to figure out what that level of common respect and good use looks like. It's not a library. It's not a toilet. But it is a public sidewalk and roadway. And if the public wants to use it, so be it. If the public-servants are concerned about how it's being used, they'll send someone along to make adjustment, and the "public-restroom graffiti dance" will begin. So it goes.
posted by kneecapped at 8:45 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm wondering if anyone slagging Singapore in this thread has actually ever been to Singapore (layover in the airport don't count).

Yup. It's lovely. I don't want to move there.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:16 AM on May 10 [+] [!]


This is basically the best description of Singapore I've ever come across. It really is a nice place, but it's also definitely somewhere that is nice to visit because you know you'll be back to somewhere a bit more laid back soon enough.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:47 PM on May 9, 2010


"But you quoted reasons right there!
No. I cited the excuses.

Let's change the language.
Cats spray.
People are really above this.
"

Do you really want to argue about this?

It's similar to file sharing—your tongue clucking's got no moral force for thems that do, thems that don't aren't unanimous in opposition, and there's plenty of context to consider. Likening it to cats spraying and calling reasons "excuses" just kinda makes you come off marmish.
posted by klangklangston at 9:20 PM on May 9, 2010


Cleveland's got you beat. It's so gangsta, bridges get tagged before they're completed.
posted by spamguy at 9:22 PM on May 9, 2010


All four of the bridges I saw were covered by people's tags. These aren't hardcore criminals or career vandals, they are just people wanting to let the world know they were someplace.

Senjya Fuda
posted by tss at 9:29 PM on May 9, 2010


DoctorFedora, I'll take your insightful and to the mark opinion of Singapore and raise you one, lovely place, nice to visit, wouldn't wanna move back in with the 'rents again ;p
posted by infini at 9:32 PM on May 9, 2010


nola wrote: ""I love you Betty Sue Allen 4 EVR !!!""

I can see you've been to Arkansas.
posted by wierdo at 9:37 PM on May 9, 2010


Most importantly, Xochis for life. (Even though I live in LA where we can get actual Mexican food made by not just one kind, but many kinds of Mexicans, I still crave Xochis, especially the chimichanga, which is all kinds of delicious wrong.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:54 PM on May 9, 2010


re: design bridges in anticipation of graffiti

Have a large flat area filled with the words "Taggers Suck!" set aside from whatever structure you want to avoid being tagged. It's a transparent ploy, to be sure, but taggers are just so stupid, they won't be able to resist.
posted by effwerd at 9:58 PM on May 9, 2010


I love street art. a bridge is a kind of street, but I'm not seeing the artistic contribution here.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:26 PM on May 9, 2010


Kilroy was here.
posted by mreleganza at 11:16 PM on May 9, 2010


Sounds just like Italy.
posted by aqsakal at 11:59 PM on May 9, 2010


I hate the beige square gang. They go around with their rollers and beige paint and cover up anything interesting, which means that the only grafitti that's left is the tagging.

There was a bit of grafitti on a bridge I drove under that was there for at least thirty years, an exploding skull with the words "I love my skull," to which someone had added "but oh you kidney" and the beige square assholes covered it over. If I knew who rolled that paint out, I would knock them down and kick them many times.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:36 AM on May 10, 2010


been to singapore, would try it for a further length of time if anyone wants to send me.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:45 AM on May 10, 2010


And then some mook, some god-damned pinhead, comes along and has to deface it.

Being from the Pittsburgh area originally, I found your choice of words amusing.
posted by rifflesby at 3:20 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some things that maybe got lost in the grumbling: You can have nice things.
posted by pracowity at 3:45 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


How did the bridge stop working after someone wrote on it with a sharpie?

I may viscerally agree that tagging isn't aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn't ruin structures. It makes them uglier.


Interesting distinction. Only structural damage is considered as ruining, while making them uglier does not. I guess we know which side of the functional/decorative architecture debate you come down on.
posted by fairmettle at 5:11 AM on May 10, 2010


spamguy: "Cleveland's got you beat. It's so gangsta, bridges get tagged before they're completed."

Great, now New York gangs are going to have to one-up Cleveland by tagging the architects.
posted by bwg at 6:27 AM on May 10, 2010


I wish someone would tag this bridge that I drive across every day. The view is interesting but the bridge itself is pretty bland.
posted by mareli at 7:12 AM on May 10, 2010


Some graffiti is art, done under the constraints of time and risk, with the aesthetic reward coming in large part from the amount of, and quality of, art that can be accomplished within those constraints.

And some is just people feeling the need to scratch that inner itch to make themselves happy; most of that scratching comes from other activities, but for some it occasionally (and for a few, it often) comes from adding a "mark", like taking a picture of yourself in front of a place you've visited, but inside-out.

Then you have the people that go way, way, way out of their way to deface and/or cause damage, for no reason other than to feel a bit more powerful than they felt before they did it.

I think many of us resent the last of those types, and/or feel sorry for them, and a lot of us seem appreciate the first of those types. The second type, though, the casual, touristy graffiti (as of the type expressed in the article) -- that's really polarizing. Some people admire self-expression, and some admire community conformance, and some people think they're mutually exclusive while others do not.

But ultimately, whatever the justification for it, and whatever the beauty or damage that results, I insist that graffiti is so annoying to so many people is that it is at core a selfish act, because it involves taking an element of the commons and conforming it to your own personal standards without care or concern for what other people using the commons will think of it.

Deface your car; deface your body; deface your house, and everyone will laugh because you have bad taste, but beyond that (most) folks won't care. But take something that belongs to all of us, and deface it? Now you're just being a selfish douche.

thought experiment: imagine that one day you arrived at your usual bus stop,with half an hour to wait for your bus -- only to find that someone unknown had painted a giant arrow with the word "DOUCHEBAG" on the wall behind, pointed right at the only place to sit. Would you sit, or stand?
posted by davejay at 10:40 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


posted by Jimmy Havok I hate the beige square gang. They go around with their rollers and beige paint and cover up anything interesting, which means that the only grafitti that's left is the tagging.

So, you object to someone ruining art by sloppily throwing paint over the work an artisan spent a substantial amount of time and effort creating?

Well, now you know how architects and building owners feel about graffiti.
posted by mattdidthat at 10:56 AM on May 10, 2010


The prominent tagger in my neighborhood uses ‘slut’ as his tag. I often find myself wondering what exact these inanimate objects have done to be labeled as slutty. The lamppost-on a corner, late a night, waiting for someone to walk by. That sidewalk, letting anybody walk right over it. And let’s not get into the fire hydrant with water sports.

I realize that it’s almost certainly some 15 year-old kid who thinks slut is a funny word, but I’d like to think the tagger is trying to start a conversation on the way we characterize female sexuality in a pejorative sense through the anthropomorphization of objects.

So, you know, tagging’s not all that bad.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:12 AM on May 10, 2010


I really hate tagging. There's just something so brutishly stupid about it.

This is how I feel about graffiti. Not a fan. I would classify myself as an anti-graffiti absolutist -- I don't see how it's anything but a violation, an act of self-centeredness and narcissism by people too uninteresting to be noticed for doing anything else.

I was thinking this about graffiti about five years ago while looking at some petroglyphs in extreme NE California. I was standing there in awe of the 'ancient' (or at least really, really old) rock carvings, fuming that a fence had been put up to keep the vandals -- some of whom had added their marks as early as the 1920s -- from defacing the defacement. The tags from the 80s through the 21st century pissed me off. Those from the 60s and 70s were kinda interesting in a could-have-been-my-parents way. Those from the 20s through the 50s almost felt historic too, and didn't bother me nearly as much as the newer ones. And, of course, carvings from hundreds of years ago, done by native peoples with an intent that wasn't really much different from that of today's taggers, was why I was there in the first place.

I still hate the graffiti I see today, but I can't help thinking that there must be a sort of kids-these-days thing behind it. At some point, graffiti becomes a historical artifact -- like the petroglyphs, or the writing on the wall at Ellis Island. I don't know when we cross that line, though, and it's hard (for me) to imagine the tags you see today ever reaching that point.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:31 AM on May 10, 2010


In a similar vein model railroaders often put a lot of thought into whether their layouts and trains incorporate graffiti. It is after all pretty well ubiquitous on rolling stock so from a detail modeller perspective it should be included. However it's also pretty well always ugly and why should one have to look at ugliness on their hobby. Enough people opt for realism though that graffiti decals are readily available.
posted by Mitheral at 12:18 PM on May 10, 2010


I was all prepared to be shocked when I discovered that my son (21 at the time) was buying spray cans to do graffiti. Then I overheard him talking to his friends before going out one evening, deciding what/where to paint. Simply tagging was beneath their dignity: that's despicable. He firmly rejected any suggestion of defacing any monuments, attractive buildings, tourist sites (we live in/near Rome), etc. That's vandalism, he told them; we should stick to boring old buildings/walls in run-down areas. He told Mrs aqsakal (he didn't dare tell me, knowing my probable take on this activity) where they had painted a giraffe on a totally grotty, boring wall in the Trastevere quarter. The next day I went to look. When I found it (wasn't easy - well off the beaten track) I found six Japanese tourists photographing it, or themselves next to it. I didn't know what else to say to him except for congratulations on (1) the artistic quality and (2) the discreet choice of location.

OK, so he's my son and I love him. But I think I would have had the same reaction for the work of a totally anonymous painter. You can all come down on me like a ton of bricks, but I still think that, in the context of a city where even the Roman ruins and the churches and Renaissance monuments are being defaced with spray paint, within the bounds of his peer group and contemporary attitude to graffiti, he and his gang made a decision I couldn't fault. The wall looked distinctly more handsome, and turned an otherwise boring, unsightly back-street into a pleasant surprise.

He and his gang have now (2 years on) quit this activity. But he still looks back on it as a time when they were bringing some beauty into an ugly part of town, and still rails against the kids who tag the Pantheon or the statues.

Just sayin'.
posted by aqsakal at 12:52 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


I still hate the graffiti I see today, but I can't help thinking that there must be a sort of kids-these-days thing behind it. At some point, graffiti becomes a historical artifact -- like the petroglyphs, or the writing on the wall at Ellis Island. I don't know when we cross that line, though, and it's hard (for me) to imagine the tags you see today ever reaching that point.

This seems to be a failure of imagination on your part, and not a failure of artistry/veracity on the part of the taggers. Do you prefer plain concrete? Can you image cities to be a vibrant color-scape, pulsing and changing with the pulse of the humanity residing within? Can you see a landscape of names and identities? Can you not engage tags as pieces of calligraphic performance?

Have you even tried to draw or write with a can of spray paint? It's not so easy to make controlled lines, and when working with multiple colors, there must be a consideration of layering. Cutting stencils is also a cultivated skill. Perhaps some people's visceral hatred of graf stems from the fact that it emphasizes that you were not the first person at the location, and you are not the only person in the world. It is a permanent reminder of other people, people who don't share your aesthetic values.

I don't share your aesthetic value. I think you live in a boring world because you have closed yourself off from an interesting form of expression.
posted by fuq at 1:39 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've seen some graf art I like. The graphic design students at Rutgers like to go down to a neglected pedestrian path and tag it. I don't think they belong to any gangs, they apparently just like the look of tags.

I think it's rather futile to prohibit this kind of expression. You may not like it, and it may be a nuisance, but it's the sort of thing you can do on any wall, so the people who want to do it will find somewhere they can.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:40 PM on May 10, 2010


aqsakal: that's exactly the kind of graffiti I like, the stuff that's being done to make an area nicer. I'll never see that giraffe, or probably anything else your son did, but I wish I could. And I honestly wish he was still doing it. Anything that gets the tourists taking pictures is probably worth having.

As I said upthread, most tagging is crap, but not all of it. I wish there was a way to encourage the good stuff while scaring off the idiots.
posted by Malor at 5:21 PM on May 10, 2010


Malor: Thanks for that comment! As it happens, you can see it; here.
posted by aqsakal at 1:04 AM on May 11, 2010


they were bringing some beauty into an ugly part of town>

Don't worry, the beige square gang will paint it over, and congratulate themselves for their good work.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:46 AM on May 11, 2010


I wish there was a way to encourage the good stuff while scaring off the idiots.

Painting over everything with beige squares has the exact opposite effect. The taggers don't care, it only took them a second to get up and they can re-tag in a second. The artists, on the other hand, are at risk for the entire time it takes them to create a project, and lose whatever effort they put out to the amplified ugliness of the beige square gang's tags.

The beige square gang make a lot of noise about how ugly graffiti is, but their tags are infinitely uglier than even the crudest attempts at art. They don't care about beauty, they just want their own tags up over everyone else's. It's territorial pissing of the lowest sort.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:56 AM on May 11, 2010


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