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Monday, June 26, 2006

Dealing with Anti-Social People?

Okay, I took some time to think more on the issue, and realized I was not getting to the point I wanted. To get to the point, allow me a little side-track.

Graffiti in New York City has been always been a problem, although its heyday has since come and gone. Hailed by art by some, derided as blight by others, I certainly agree with the latter. Covering bridges, buildings and subway cars, at one point the “art” seemed to grow like a fungus and spread all across the city. The spread of grafitti seemed a metaphor for the general spread of crime and disorder in many urban areas, not New York alone.

Image from

And, okay, a lot of it was art, no quotes, in the sense that some of it actually had some artistic merit and required some skill. In terms of quality, a good portion of it could be considered art, and it was a strange feeling to be both repulsed by the act of vandalism, but also admiring of the skill and/or talent involved. While still destructive, there at the same time was at least something creative in it; something marginally redeemable about it if tried hard enough to look.

Google Images

Over time, various factors saw the decline in the prevalence in grafitti. One, law enforcement targeting the vandalism itself, and other contributing lawlessness . Prevention also helped; the MTA no longer leaves rail cars unguarded overnight to be easy prey for vandals as they once did, for example.

Another factor was the adoption of paint-resistant materials. Used extensively on new subway cars, these new materials make it very hard for paint to stick to the cars in the first place, and made later removal much easier. The result has been that the era of fully adorned fleets of multi-colored subway cars is over.

Image from

However, what replaced it was far more insidious and ugly. Now denied the ability to easily paint a car extensively, and having whatever they "created" easily and quickly removed, the social misfits adopted another method.

Enter scratchitti.

If the vandals were denied their paint cans and even there markers for their “artwork”, they would use screwdrivers, files and sandpaper to make their mark. Now, instead of letters or pictures of dripping paint on a subway, you were treated to hasty and erratic gouges in glass and metal having no real merit except to announce, “Dickhead X was here.”

(This expenditure of millions of dollars to make the subways grafitti proof, is a great example of the problem with instituting technological solutions for social problems. )

Whereas you could at least TRY and make the case that the graffiti of an earlier area was some sort of attempt for the poor and disenfranchised to exercise artistic and social expression, scratchitti is none of that. It is graffiti boiled to its core essence, which is selfish destruction. There is nothing redeemable at all about it, no matter how you try to twist your perception to find it.

For that reason scratchitti riles me like plain old graffiti does not. While both are vandalism, scratchitti angers me far more, and the reason why has something to do with the fact that there is nothing in it. Nothing. It is a void; a completely vacant act of hatred. Its the mark of the something else, something darker.

I guess that is why my last past was off the mark. I thought the beef was with anti-social behavior, but it goes deeper than that. I realize now I am talking about nihilism.

*More later*

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