Did you know that the word “graffiti” is actually Italian? Roughly translated, it means “ugly bullshit created by retards.” For decades a debate has been waged on whether or not it can fairly be counted as art, and personally I find the whole discussion almost as irritating and pointless as graffiti itself. Of course it’s art; it’s just one of the most moronic kinds of art still being created today, along with performance art and anything in which women paint, photograph, or Silly Putty their own vaginas. Yeah, I know. I sound like your dad. Guess what? Your dad is right sometimes.
I remember having a long and heated back-and-forth with a friend—an art student, no less—over the imprisonment of Kristian Holmes. Holmes, a 42-year-old married father, had been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for causing over $400,000 worth of damage during a decade-long vandalism spree. My friend was trying to assert that it was art and not vandalism, while I took the position that it was both and that it didn’t matter what you called it because—thanks to a grown man’s selfish desire to place his pathetic, adolescent hobby over his family and his livelihood—the taxpayer was now nearly a half a million in the hole.
“They don’t need to remove it. They don’t need to spend the money,” the art student insisted, which seems like a fair point until you remember that this middle-aged man didn’t need to spray his garish, psychedelic horseshit all over public property where other people would be forced to look at it. Much like my pal, self-loathing middle-class news rag The Guardian decided to eulogize Holmes’s graffiti career as though he were a member of one of the economically downtrodden minority groups they so cherish and not a well-off white man, their natural enemy in every other type of story. I guess that spraying eight-foot-high balloon letters on steam trains transcends all social barriers.
My friend and I never came to an amicable resolution; I wasn’t surprised, as the guy’s dad had been heavily involved in Bristol’s graffiti scene during the early eighties and so when I said things such as, “Graffiti is for shitheads, and I hope this guy gets backhanded in prison” he somehow took it to heart. The key difference in my mind was that his father had been spray-painting walls in abandoned warehouses and crustie-occupied squats, and so he was only defacing property that the rest of society gave less than a shit about. That’s worlds away from writing your idiotic fake name next to an enormous rendering of SpongeBob smoking a blunt or whatever on the bridges and pathways that ordinary people who don’t have the good fortune to live in affluent areas use every day.
You can tell me that graffiti is about self-expression and “brightening up the dull, urban landscape” until you’re blue in the face, but why should some timid elderly woman have to endure your handiwork on her housing block? Graffiti is often written under the pretense of making a political statement, but it is only ever a personal one, namely, “Look at what I did on that wall.” I see it, genius, and I hope you’re sliced in half by a train. I leave my mark on walls all the time; I just have the decency to do it with urine, which washes away with the next heavy downpour.
A few days ago another British man in his forties was imprisoned for spray-painting public property. Looking at his smug, puffy face in the mug shot reminds me of when I bumped into a notorious graffiti artist at a party during my late teens. I had known the guy through a mutual friend, and I was surprised when he told me that he was out on bail for a string of graffiti offenses and would be sentenced to a spell inside at a later date of that year.
What was even more surprising, however, was how pleased with himself he truly seemed, like he was living out some sweaty, white, middle-class version of the classic “rapper caught with a trunk full of drugs and illegal guns” story. Way to throw your life away on a whim, dipshit. There’s nothing noble or heroic about running around at three in the morning with a backpack full of paint cans and a hard-on in your pants, and anyone who disagrees deserves the Sean Penn treatment.