Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What Does Graffiti Reveal?

I'm a member of the Practice workshop of the Internet Writer's Workshop, an excellent place to improve your writing, and have a little fun turning out short exercises written to order.

The topic to write on this week was a 400-word story in which the conflict revolves around graffiti, an interesting topic. The stories trickled in, as they always do, and I read each one with interest. Then I noted a definite trend.

Almost every story had an underlying thread of violence. Murder, abuse, suicide, rape. And I wondered why.

I've seen graffiti that was beautiful. I've stopped to smile at graffiti that was humorous. And yes, there were some that depicted violence, racial slurs and hate. But in a mix of stories about this topic, I expected a like mixture of themes. Why wasn't this so?

Perhaps the violent graffiti had more of an impact and remained in the memories of the writers longer. Perhaps, because a lot of the time, spray painting walls, cars, and fences is illegal, so the resulting stories referenced illegal and violent activity.

Whatever the reason, I found the trend a bit unsettling. Is violence taking the place of beauty and humor in our world? If so, we have lost a great deal of what makes life a pleasure.


Carter said...

I didn't read them all, Florence, and didn't sub. But the exercise made me think of cave art, like the gorgeous pictures at Lascaux. That, too, qualifies as graffiti, I guess. And the other day I saw one on a fence--"Jesus saves!" Some of the scholars think the cave art was religious, but the one I saw certainly was.

I suspect the belief that it's usually violent--and, course, it may be nowadays--comes from all of us writers, nearly all brought up to be nice middle-class kids, who wouldn't think of writing on a wall except in Facebook. Somebody told us a long time ago it was bad form, so we don't do it and think those who do are anti-social.

Who knows? Somebody needs to do some research.


Ruth D~ said...

Interesting thoughts, Flo, and a potential dissertation idea for some sociologist to be. Or perhaps it's been done.

sc morgan said...

There is a wonderful submission in this month's Orion magazine, showing a man's "reverse graffiti" work in California. I assume he used some sort of cleaning agent to remove the grime of exhaust and other pollutants, leaving behind a stencil of disappearing and extinct animals on freeway walls. They are stunning. I also think of Keith Haring who made graffiti so famous in the 80s and 90s. So, yes. I also have a different view of graffiti--it's everyman's art.

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