Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Graffiti and the Unpopular or Intolerant Sentiment

Gonos, George, Virginia Mulkern, and Nicholas Poushinsky.  “Anonymous Expression:  A Structuralist View of Graffiti.”  The Journal of American Folklore 89.351 (1976):  40-48.  Print.  
This article presents research into the content of bathroom graffiti in a variety of contexts.  The authors collected graffiti examples from universities, high schools and public locations.  They specifically examined the occurrence of these stall scrawls that contained racist or homophobic language.  Their findings suggest that this anonymous form “serves a special expressive need for some of its users” (47). 
They demonstrate that graffiti on these specific topics is more commonly present in contexts wherein the social norm is intolerant of public displays of these offensive types of language.  They explain that during times when racism and homophobia were considered accepted by the majority, there was no need to express these sentiments in an anonymous medium.  
The authors acknowledge that their research provides only a glimpse into the complexity of the issue of these special expressive occasions and only examines the occurrences in select contexts.  They suggest that to create better understanding of this issue they would need to continue this type of study as society values and acceptance continue to evolve.
This article gives a unique look into the exigence of graffiti.  It clearly demonstrates that at least one motive for graffiti writing is to give individuals an avenue to express the unpopular or unheard opinion.  Unfortunately, this article, like many others, focuses on graffiti used for unflattering purposes.  Since one of my interests is in re-imagining how we talk about graffiti work, I chafe at this article’s emphasis upon these graffiti writers with negative messages.  However, it does make me ask an important question:  what types of graffiti occur during times of uniform tolerance of a oppressive concept?  are positive graffiti instances always a sign that something negative is occurring in society at large?  Overall, I think this article gives me a firm starting place from which I can continue to explore the exigences that motivate graffiti writing.  
Recently in one women’s bathroom stall at the college where I teach numerous graffiti scrawlings have appeared over a short period of time.   Their appearance has been the subject of a number of office discussions about graffiti and the need to control it.  What interests me about these discussions (which I have yet not participated in) is that I have not heard anyone address the fact that the expressions are largely of a positive nature, including quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt, for example. I wonder what the exigence for this positive expression might be, but more so, I wonder what is implied in the desire to censor positive messages.  It seems that McLuhan is right in these contexts:  the medium is the message.  The content is overlooked as a result of the form.  

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