Saturday, April 24, 2010

Amateur Graffiti & You

Several weeks ago on a beautiful spring day, my wife and I decided to take a leisurely stroll at a local nature park. Surrounded by the calming breeze and the stir of seasonal awakenings we took to one of the many wooden boardwalks that dissect the park. As we walked along I noticed that one of the handrails had recently been replaced and a budding young artist had adorned it with a poem. Upon further review however, I found that it was not a poem at all but rather a vicious personal attack:

I began to wonder what type of person would plan a trip to a nature park in order to spread the word about someone else’s supposed sexual promiscuity. If maximizing foot traffic was the goal I could think of much more effective areas than the handrail on trail #3 at a secluded nature park. Perhaps that very trail is where the two paramours first met or shared their first kiss before their mutual affection soured; or perhaps this was just a maladjusted adolescent who had been turned down for prom. Whatever the reason, it got me thinking about other arenas that showcased amateur graffiti.  
Over the years my unparalleled skill at combining interstate travel with mild Irritable Bowel Syndrome has granted me the privilege of viewing the interiors of many gas station restroom stalls. What I have observed over the years is that most of them have something in common, other than a lingering odor of shame and defeat; they are all covered in novice graffiti. Some are phone numbers, a few are declarations of affection, but by and large they are expressions of hatred. The question is; who are these people, who do they hate, and how do they express it?
When reading a message, I often wonder who these individuals are. Do they always have a chisel-tipped Sharpie on stand-by in case of an intestinal away-game? Are angry people drawn to public restrooms or are they angry because they have been reduced to using said restrooms? Unfortunately, I could find no exhaustive studies on the correlation between hatred and making a number 2 so we are left with only idle speculation; which happens to be a specialty of mine.
While it is usually impossible to identify the stereotypical graffiti artist, we can make several assumptions based on their handy work. In order to do these we must establish a pattern of how the work is presented and its subject matter.
The Call to Action
This usually consists of a series of instructions bookended by a racial slur and encourages like-minded stall dwellers to take up the cause. In the world of public oration, this is commonly known as a persuasive speech.
Example A – Kill all the Ruffles* or send them back where they came from!
In this example, the author intends to incite a localized ethnic cleansing campaign. The strategy is somewhat flawed as the originator of the comment did not leave any contact information thereby undermining his chance at forming a cohesive movement. However, one must applaud his use of deportation as a viable alternative for those who are still morally opposed to homicide.
Example B -White Power!
Like many calls to action, this one is based on race. Given the lack of a specific context, it would seem that the responsible parties intend to make a case for generalized intellectual superiority based on a Caucasian heritage. Certainly if there is any action that demonstrates cognitive prowess, it is intentionally defacing stall number four at a south Alabama rest area. Occasionally the artist will undermine their claim of extraordinary intelligence by substituting “Arian” for “Aryan” when referencing a specific ideology. For the record, Arianism refers to the teachings of Arius, an ancient Christian theologian that held somewhat controversial beliefs about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Aryanism loosely refers to the idea of practicing eugenics to form a “master race” that would populate the Earth (and presumably continue to misspell words as they defaced restroom walls.)
The Statement of Fact
In these situations, the originator of the graffiti wishes to broadcast information that they feel is pertinent to the populace as a whole. Since we can safely assume that many of them do not have access to mainstream media outlets (TV, radio, etc.) they have selected the next best thing: the wall.
Example A  – Lisa is a skanky Dorito
Here the author clearly intends to disseminate the information that Lisa is no longer a woman beyond moral reproach. Her hygiene, countenance, and general moral character have been called into question and the message simply wishes to alert others of this discovery so that they might avoid undesirable personal entanglements. Barely even registering as graffiti, this type of message is more akin to an impromptu community bulletin board.
Example B - Your Girlfriend Fritos people’s Tostitos for Quarters.
 Not nearly as informative as the previous entry, it would seem that this artist is making a generalized statement meant to broadly offend. In these cases “Your Girlfriend” is often substituted for “Your Mom”, “Your Granny”, or the occasional “Your Face.” On an economic note, in the context of a financial recession, reduction of price for services rendered can be a powerful catalyst for new customers. When seen in this light, the derogatory message could be sound entrepreneurial advice for a struggling small business owner.
The Conversation
Visitor 1: Gargle on my Sun Chips
Visitor 2:  I am busy at your mom’s house
Visitor 3: Both of your moms gargle my Sun Chips
 Visitor 1: Pringle you, Cheeto Puff!

Unlike the previous entries, these tend to be collaborative efforts that often involve three or more people. The content of the original post elicits a reaction from the next pen-wielding motorist with the squirts and a communiqué is born. The downside to this structure is that the conversation tends to escalate unnecessarily. We can safely assume that visitor 2 has never been acquainted with visitor 1’s momma thus making it even less likely that visitor 3 is a mutual associate of both mothers.
These conversations tend to continue until one of three situations presents itself:
·         The participants run out of wall space and are forced to continue their conversation at another establishment with a public restroom.
·         The owner of the current establishment renovates the bathroom and the archived statements are no longer visible.
·         All participants feel that the discussion has come to satisfactory conclusion (or the list of relatives to insult has been exhausted.)
Regardless of the form utilized, stall-based amateur graffiti will continue to provide intestinally-challenged travelers with a welcome distraction from wondering what microscopic organisms are currently chewing their way through the delicate barrier of single-ply toilet paper that separates them from the remnants of someone else’s poor culinary choices.
*Please note that in order to prevent further proliferation of racial slurs and unnecessary profanity I have replaced all offensive words with popular brands of potato chips.

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