Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Is The Reaction Against Graffiti Justified?

Los Angeles has recently slashed funding across the board to help balance the budget and one of the services that must now do more with less is the long-standing graffiti removal program.  This has led to alarmed reactions among some citizens of L.A. who see graffiti as an indication of gangs and violence.  But how much of graffiti is really gang related and should anyone care or should all graffiti be considered acts of aggression and vandalism?

Within the world of graffiti there are two distinct categories: taggers and gang-bangers.  For the most part, the similarities between the two groups are far and few between.  Although both groups use paint and are considered vandals by most, the reasons behind their actions are often radically different.  If you have ever heard someone say that "Graffiti is art," then chances are that they were talking about a piece done by a tagger such as Banksy or Gonzo247.  A tagger is someone who graffiti's to make a point or even just to throw up a badass piece and will employ anything from stencils to Wildstyle.

Gang-bangers on the other hand are an entirely different story.  These are the people who typically graffiti as a way of marking their territory without any real attention to artistic intent.  Almost exclusively these tags are done in what is known as handstyle.  Handstyle is used by most taggers as a way of signing their work but is used by bangers because of how quick it is to do and because of its intimidating nature.  The point of these tags are to simply say "I was here," or to provide news to members.

There are a significant amount of problems between the two groups as neither are particularly fond of the other.  The taggers are typically filled with disdain and disrespect for the bangers because of the simplicity of the tags and the violence.  That's not to say that they don't have problems themselves.  The fact is that you don't become a tagger because you are comfortable with authority.  More so, there are graffiti beefs that typically begin as a result of one tagger covering anothers piece or "crossing it out."  But, unlike the bangers, this will not often end in violence but instead in the eruption of a "style war."

It is important to note though that the reason for these "style wars" is not simply because taggers are more civil  but rather because of the fact that it's damn hard to know who a tagger is unless you catch them in the act.  In those instances it isn't uncommon for a beat down to ensue but there is almost never any escalation beyond that between taggers.

As much as I hate to admit it, given the way that graffiti is employed by nearly every gang and the undeniable correlation between the prevalence of graffiti and crime within a neighborhood it would seem that the citizens of L.A. do have a point.  However, do we disregard all of the artistic talent and appeal of taggers simply because some choose to use the medium for socially unacceptable reasons or do we look for some way to integrate it into society?

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