Whilst walking home on Friday night, I was fortunate enough to witness three guys perform a stealth operation right in front of my very eyes: one was the designated tip-tagger, and the other two were lookouts. Once the deed had been done they bolted down the street as if the armed forces were breathing bullets down their necks. I shook my head and then laughed out loud as I considered how bored and unstimulated one must feel to find the act of signing a rubbish bin so enthralling. The whole adolescent, gangster-wannabe thing seems just a tad … um … pointless. If I wanted to mark my territory I would find a more attractive way of doing it. Challenging authority through art or intellect seems to be far more useful than vandalising public property with some lame-ass signature. But dawgs will be dogs – at least urine wasn’t involved.
Of course, a little graffiti-experimentation in the pursuit of greater knowledge should always be tolerated. It seems that a vast number of teens in the UK are particularly interested in the following question: What size would a penis need to be to be detected by Google Earth? After using logic to ascertain that the average appendage will not be picked up by roaming satellite, teenager Rory McInnes, inspired by the 6m penis crafted onto a Southhampton school playing field with weed killer, attempted to answer the question by painting a giant phallus on the roof of his parents’ West Berkshire mansion in the hope that it would be picked up by Google Earth. Conclusion: pretty big.
The subversive essence of graffiti, although inherent in its very nature, has been largely undermined by its tacit reclassification as an art form. Graffiti may still serve as the vehicle for a political statement or social comment but tagging merely serves as an annoyance that provides municipal workers with jobs unvandalising the vandalism. There are taggers out there who have embraced the spirit of modern urban graffiti and tag for art’s sake – for the sake of aesthetic and commentary. One of my favourite places in London is the urban canvas that sprawls the walls of ‘graffiti tunnel’ in Waterloo. The ever-changing graffiti appearing on the tunnel walls reflects the transient and cosmopolitan nature of the city to which the canvas belongs.
Graffiti remains an integral part of popular culture and makes a poignant statement about the society of which it is a part. A tag is a manifestation of the attitude of its creator. It is the abstract identity of its owner. Sometimes it’s easier to mark one’s identity by signing a rubbish bin than to self-express via personality, art or intellect.