The issue of graffiti and tagging is just such an issue.
Graffiti and tagging are seen as blemishes on the face of most cities and there is a desire on the part of officialdom to remove, cleanse, stop and/or punish. Will this desire ever translate into cities without graffiti or tagging? My short answer is no. That is because the desire to remove graffiti is predicated on a very shallow analysis of human psychology and a less than comprehensive socio-political perspective on the phenomenon.
The question often arises about the motivation behind graffiti/tagging. What is the psychology? Why is it done? The research suggests that the psychology of graffiti/tagging has the following features:
- Graffiti art is a desire to express one’s creativity in a public space.
- Tagging is often a desire to stamp ones mark or to mark out territory, often obtaining prestige from other taggers or cohort groups.
- Many taggers are lacking in self-esteem.
Many other socially condoned tags can also be recognised. Indeed, the marketing strategy of branding may be seen synonymously with tagging. We all recognise these brands/tags: Macdonald’s, IBM, Coca-Cola etc.
|Cave painting in Lascaux, France|
Graffiti art too, is not dissimilar to condoned public art – all the way from pre-historic cave drawings to the massive carvings on Mt Rushmore. Why condone one form and condemn the other? Some of the oldest known cave drawings found in France date back well over 30,000 years. Drawings are found in all continents of the world and are often protected as archaeological and cultural sites. Amongst the various theories put forward as to the meaning of these drawings is that some of them are the result of fantasies of adolescent males. Sound familiar?
|Mt Rushmore - still controversial.|
In the more modern era who amongst us has not heard of Kilroy was Here? This global mark had its roots with US servicemen during World War II. Not only have marks such as the Kilroy one become famous, but so too have some of the graffiti artists. The work of Banksy in the UK is now sought after worldwide.
All this suggests that graffiti and tagging are not new social phenomena. Humankind has sought to place its mark wherever we have gone throughout history and space. Branding as a form of tagging questions our social acceptance of relationships of power. Why is it that those with the authority of corporate power are allowed to foist their tag upon our eyes whereas those without are labelled as criminal and their tag must be eliminated as quickly as possible?
I am not suggesting that this excuses graffiti/tagging, but it certainly questions the social desire for cleansing our environment of one form of graffiti/tagging yet allowing other forms of expression that basically stem from a similar human need or desire. Furthermore, it suggests that our social desire to cleanse our environment of graffiti and tagging is bound to fail. If we don’t reconsider our individual consumerism and the motivation of marketeers to stimulate and capitalise on that consumerism then we will continue to fail.