An Occassion For A Deep Dive Into Graffiti
We have visited Barcelona a number of times over the past few years and love this city. We have been watching the reports on the Free Catalonia movement and the harsh reaction of the central Spanish government and have been concerned. This last visit revealed what we think is a significant change in the city. While there has always been graffiti, this time it seemed to have exploded without much of it being political. The neighborhood around the university was literally wall to wall graffiti. While the most common political statement we saw was the flying of Catalonian flags from houses and apartments. The new high levels of graffiti may demonstrate a growing disrespect for a culture or even its city and perhaps that is what we were seeing.
As we travel we are attracted to street art and often find it an art form that adds to the character of a place. Crude graffiti is becoming another issue all together.
The Faces And Causes Of Graffiti
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…”
United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart 1964
The Supreme Court Justice was talking about pornography but the exact same argument has also been used regarding art, unethical conduct and conduct designed to generally show disrespect towards others.
For every citizen, morality and integrity are important characteristics identifying a worthy culture. We instinctively know that it is good to be moral and act with integrity, but more importantly it is the foundational principle that makes most societies better. Universally when we help make society better, we are rewarded by improving our own lives and the lives of our families and neighbors. Even more than laws, without moral conduct, society would degenerate into a miserable place.
Ethics Surrendered – There are those that will defend graffiti, saying it is artistic expression (much like defending pornography) or that it has been with civilization for thousands of years (like murder?). They will say that it provides a voice for politically suppressed groups (like facism?) or that it is simply protesting against social or institutional injustice (street gangs?). These are all common misstatements of ethical principles. Some of these are honest misconceptions, some are intentional distortions, while some are simple rationalizations, but they are all gross avoidance or even surrender of basic civic responsibility. Street art? Vandalism? Cultural decay? Political speech? It doesn’t matter what you call it. It is mostly a degradation of a community in general and individual’s property committed by cowards. If a community decides to encourage “street art” it can and often should, but the decision does not belong to a single individual misappropriating someone else’s property.
Graffiti has been termed a “quality of life” crime and the impacts graffiti has on a community are numerous. Property values — Neighborhoods containing graffiti are less appealing to those who may be looking to buy or rent property. Property becomes more difficult to sell and values are reduced. Retail sales — Graffiti can contribute to lost retail sales – people tend to feel less safe in areas with a lot of graffiti and are therefore less likely to shop in those areas. Public impact — Graffiti reduces enjoyment of public spaces such as parkland and civic areas. It also causes the area to look unsafe and makes people concerned about their personal safety. Impact on tourism — Tourists feel unsafe in areas where graffiti is abundant. Impact on business — business owners feel victimized and frustrated when they discover their business premises have been tagged with graffiti. Graffiti breeds more graffiti — If graffiti is not removed promptly, the space invites more graffiti.
Eradicating graffiti is costly and stopping it requires concentrated effort and there is a lot of disagreement about how harsh a penalty can reasonably be applied. Regarding punishment, why is it fair to arrest and imprison someone who robs an individual but not right to do the same to someone who defaces someone’s property or even a whole community?