Vandalism Manifesto

Streets of San Francisco: In praise of the old, the new, and the terribly offensive

Whatcha got against color? Local crew ICP has been beautifying city walls for over 20 years

Editor's note: An earlier edition of this manifesto was scrawled onto the walls of an abandoned underground Muni tunnel somewhere in the Sunset District.

STREETS ISSUE The magic of the word — VANDALISM — is terribly offensive. Vandalism offends all the right people and launches an offensive against all the wrong people. Wait, vandalism converts our doublemoralspeak to honesty. Vandalism affirms a number of precarious values: freedom, justice, the art of unmediated living, etc.

Vandalism is not just a word. It's a gaseous engine powering subversion, all saturated in viscous honey. A lifestyle set on boundless hope. A toy monkey you can buy on Haight Street. A self-imagined adventure ride in your Disneyland theme city of choice. A movement determined to strategically undermine deceptive imagery in favor of immediate experience — the sort of primitive amoebic goo that inspires the gorgeous muck of truthfulness. Vandalism lives in dirt and filth — the only organic material left unadulterated.

Vandalism has a healthy diet: iIt devours the monopoly on spectacle and excretes into the vast wastelands of intergalactic oil spills. Vandalism likes thrills: It's a hyperdérive on the brink of the familiar, gathering as much intensity as possible before fluxing the rules of the game into a vortex of momentous vision. Vandalism wants to hold your hand. Vandalism is so charged that you might already feel an electric rage surging forth while reading this. If you don't, you will. Does it burn and singe and bend and twist into the antennae of your fingertips? Channel that rage into acts of vandalism.

Vandalism is an awfully new phenomenon. It takes up arms all over the world: in big cities like New York and London, and in not-so-famous towns like Bakersfield and Danville. Well, maybe not Danville. Just wait, Danville.

Vandalism is an awfully old phenomenon. You can see nature desecrated, I mean subliminally mysticized, in the caves of Lascaux. Since we no longer live in pure nature but in concrete labyrinths built on top of iron cage islands, we must bring the caves of Lascaux and beaches of Eden and tornados of Jupiter to bear on today's jungle city. We must subliminally mysticize the streets. Cue air horn.

Vandalism is so important that there are white wall guardians who repress it with nervous glances and waving arms. Byzantine policies regulate it. Laws have been established to punish transgressors. Yet vandalism doesn't go away. Too many dreams fuel it. Too many imaginations keep it vital. Word on the street is that Werner Herzog is making a movie about it.

Vandalism doesn't insist on art. It doesn't get involved in arguments about whether something is or isn't art. That conversation is terribly boring. Have you been to a modern museum lately? Didn't you get the joke? OK, I admit, that conversation is irresistible. Here's a clarification: Vandalism is an art form even if the graffiti itself is not artistic — a shrouded word meaning ultimately, technically savvy, or educated and properly executed. To this, I summon the ghost of a severe-faced vandal, Norman Mailer: Art is not peace but war! And war ain't always pretty, or concerned with legality, soljah.

Vandalism would prefer to mark its ephemeral existence on the city skin, gushing down the fermented joys of unsanctioned life, mummifying itself in the cold caverns of a culture mausoleum. It would prefer to make you smile and laugh and wonder mercilessly to what happens in galleries: first confusion, then self-consciousness, and finally, the lingering pain of feeling slightly cheated. (Confession: I kinda stole that from Banksy. VANDALIZED!) No, vandalism doesn't demand legitimacy in order to die in a sea of sterilized artifacts — all rotten fish skins and busted gall bladders in excessive frames. Museums sanctify the past. Vandalism prophesies the present.