Why are so many kids these days into tagging and graffiti? The Times‘ Adam Nagourney has some ideas: because pop culture glamorizes graffiti artists; because high culture has accepted graffiti as art; because advertisers have co-opted graffiti for youth marketing; it only seems that way because cities no longer have the money to pay for graffiti removal; because school’s out; because of high unemployment; because people are unhappy.
Ramona Findley, the detective who heads the LAPD’s graffiti task force, brings together all the guilty parties in one brilliant quotation:
It’s because of the pop culture. It’s very interesting; with your violent crime going down, it seems like your mischievous crime is going up. The art world has accepted it. People make money from graffiti T-shirts. I was in Wal-Mart on Easter, and I saw graffiti Easter eggs.
We should’ve known Walmart was behind all this!
The interesting story here, if we concede that any part of the story really merits interest (debatable), is that graffiti is being done more and more outside of the cities with which it’s typically associated—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other large metropolitan areas—and increasingly by people other than those presumed to be the primary perpetrators of graffiti, gang members. The director of L.A.’s Office of Community Beautification, Paul Racs, comments: “I get calls all the time from little cities in Iowa and Indiana that have never had a graffiti issue before.”
Unexpected locales for graffiti problems surveyed in the piece include Santa Monica, Albuquerque, Portland, Oregon, and little Florence, Alabama, where the owner of a downtown hair salon offers the article’s most affecting plea against graffiti. What the article hints at but never states is that teens everywhere are angry/confused/anxious/unhappy (shocker!), but at least they finally have a shared visual language through which to express that discontent.
In classic symptom-treating knee-jerk fashion though, the article is more concerned with the shortage of resources set aside for police departments’ graffiti removal forces, rather than, say, funding for public art spaces to accommodate graffiti legally (as are shown thriving in L.A. in the accompanying slideshow), or fostering partnerships with local businesses to use their wall space with business-owners’ consent. No, instead it’s all, “kids these days,” and “shame on museums for glorifying graffiti,” and so on. 35 years later and so little has changed.