The Corner

American Graffiti

Impromptus today is a bunch of notes from Boston, where we NR folk held a fundraising party last week. In one note, I discuss the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Boston Common. Here are a few lines:

Needless to say, there are graffiti on the monument — obnoxious, foul, totally expected, humdrum graffiti. Is there anything in America that’s not defaced with graffiti? The Grand Canyon, maybe? Travel the world, and you are unlikely to see important monuments, or even unimportant ones, defaced or profaned or ruined by graffiti. But this is an American signature, I’m afraid — one of our character defects, and one we accept too unprotestingly, I think.

This remark has occasioned a fair amount of mail, including,

Jay,

The red-trolley system in San Diego is kept pristine. Suspect that the cars are occasionally tagged but are immediately cleaned. Really a source of pride for the transit authority. You come out here and we’ll ride the trolley on the way to some good Mexican food.

Sounds great. Rudy Giuliani, when he became mayor of New York, declared a war on graffiti, as well as a general war on crime. In truth, the graffiti thing was a battle in the big war. The thinking had always been that a graffito was a means of self-expression, a fruit of our glorious First Amendment, a matter of a person’s very soul. Also, it was racist to object to graffiti, because graffiti were “street art,” or “people’s art,” or “the art and press of the poor.”

Nonsense. The scrawling of graffiti is one of those things that corrode society, blight daily living, and say to criminals and would-be criminals, “Do as you like.”

By the way, the heading of this here post? The title of a 1973 movie, once a big deal, but now maybe a footnote.

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