I have been doing a lot of thinking about graffiti lately, especially since viewing the graffiti in the Middle East that started hitting the walls during the Arab Spring.
Many of the images were political in nature, attacking a regime or ideology, or were likenesses of martyrs. In essense, it was one of the methods in which an active and disatisfied sub-culture who lacked access to mainstream media and who were dealing with the suppression of their ideas, utilized to propogate messages. And when I saw this collective and active revolt against the system wherein, the suppression of ideas was not tolerated, I thought it was beautiful and inspiring.
Then, I looked around Seattle for those same types of messages, but mostly all I found were names, tags, monikers and so forth, unless they were sanctioned by some business or institution. And at first, I was dissapointed because I was looking for what I saw in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. But then I asked why all I was seeing were names, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
The society in the United States is a credential society, that is, without documentation like a bachelor’s degree or higher, this society disregards our credibility. Entailed in that classicist ideology is the profound impact of a name: Kendrick Lamar, Jerry Springer, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, BarakObama, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, and so on. Microsoft, Google, Wells Fargo, Chase, Levi, Ross, Nike, etc. It seems readily apparent how important it is to have a popular name.
Another phenomenon that is entailed in both the credential and nomenclature society is alienation. Without credentials, and without a name a person may grow to feel less than average and dislocated from their fellow citizens. Most importantly, people in this group are often ignored by mainstream society and lack any real means to be noticed by society at large.
I think all this reveals something, although not asimmediately apparent as with the Arab Spring, but nonetheless, simarlarly profound in its own yet, different way. What we observed about the graffiti in the Middle East, was it was a means to overcome the suppression of a message. And I am suggesting that the repeated and reiterated tagging of one’s name is just that; a revolt against society as a whole and battling against the suppression, battling against not mattering, of being forgotten. The tagging of their names on as many walls and in as many places as they can find is an active protest against society treating them as insignificant and sending the message that their name and by extension, they themselves, the graph-artist, do matter.