That’s Entertainment?


Graffiti is not new. Archaeologists have found graffiti in many of the oldest of civilisations; the Greeks; the Romans, and even in the ruins of Pompeii. Much of this was political comment, or even notes of a more ‘base’ nature. Whatever the era, clearly something motivates people to deface property; in the past it was often the victors defacing the environment of the vanquished, to leave their mark on newly claimed territory. Is there a similar motivation today? An oppressed youth indicating that whatever the powers that be may thing, the streets are still the territory of the young. Or is it something more fundamental? Is it simply a generation of bored people looking for entertainment?


Graffiti is a serious civic problem for many areas. The cost of covering or removing such works can be high, eating significantly into local budgets; and there is evidence to suggest that once an area becomes subject to graffiti or vandalism, the likelihood of further crime is increased. No surprise then that much investigation has gone into the causes of graffiti.


One of the more plausible reasons offered is anger and hostility towards society. An individual, or group, feeling alienated from ‘normal’ society feels the need to strike out. Of course society itself is an abstract, difficult to define and therefore attack; the next best thing being the fabric of that society, the infrastructure, buildings, walls or lampposts. Hence this is daubed with imagery of meaning to the perpetrator, showing that society cannot oppress them and reclaiming the territory apparently possessed by the government or authorities.


This may be re-enforced by other factors such as boredom or frustration. Frustrated at not having a voice or being recognised in the community graffiti is a public form of expression, writ large in the world so that it cannot be ignored. In similar vein it has been suggested that perpetrators may be people of low self esteem, and that the undercover creation of graffiti may be their public statement, boosting their self confidence.


Other motives may be somewhat more arcane. The act of creating a large public statement, often with stolen materials, and getting away with it, creates a thrill in the perpetrator. The larger and more daring the ‘work’ the greater the thrill, and perhaps the greater the status within their social group. Whilst on the subject of social groups there is little doubt that much graffiti is performed as a result of a need to belong to a peer group of similar conviction; it is well documented that a significant amount of youth misbehaviour is performed in order to create a sense of belonging to a group.


For others graffiti is considered a valid form of urban art, and a valid expression of youth culture. In this case the landscape is considered as youth territory, and there to decorate, or deface, depending on your point of view, at will. The youth ‘own’ the streets, and the streets are therefore theirs to mark at will. This is distinct from the territorial marking of gangs, where specific tags use used to denote territory or turf.


In writing this short piece I did much research into the causes of graffiti, and didn’t find any consensus of opinion on a common motivation. The best that I can say is that graffiti is clearly a human expression, and as such has motivations as varied and diverse as humans themselves.


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