Streets of San Francisco: In praise of the old, the new, and the terribly offensive
History lesson: Street kids baptized vandalism in the slums, reconfiguring our country's criminal policies of benign neglect into an acrobatic dance. They spun windmills into the future and set their gaze on the heavens. Among buildings reduced to rubble — a bombed out third world — they flipped the script and defined vandalism as bombing. The kids crucified monotony and sacrificed the crushing industrial rhythm of authority. They called themselves writers and painted their neon-tinted altar egos onto the shining armor of the behemoth subway trains and all over the walls. The names projected a faith in identity among the noise of polluted prayers.
Writers became pseudonymous in an abysmal well of city hustlers trying to make a legacy for themselves — billboard important and newsworthy. Writers preferred this life, fleeting and necessary and beautiful in the quixotic eternity of the now. The indifferent had no choice but to reckon with the writers.
Over 40 years strong, the writers still scour the marrow of their bones to re-enchant the lifeblood of the city. They craft enigmas out of the geometric lines and curves of the alphabet, making ferocious animals out of huge letters, feral and gunning in the jungle. The animals promulgate like bacteria, spawning writers-turned-shamans who cast spells of cryptic iconography wherever they go. Mummies, giraffes, and spaceships populate the jungle. An aura of prophecy emerges in the streets.
Writers wage war against the ubiquitous icons of worship mounted across the empire: those branded images manufacturing a spectacle of insurmountable desire and Sisyphean frustration. The marketers might have the money to buy permission to assault your eyes and make you feel bad about yourself; writers have the courage to forgo bureaucratic approval, stake claim on what rightfully belongs to all of us and conjure up a moveable feast. We believe in innocent pleasures, impulsive and vibrant, in order to dismantle the tyranny of monotony! More air horn, please.
Vandalism is degenerate. It's not here to promote cleanliness and genteel manners of etiquette. Vandalism will replace honorifics with its own stamp of affirmation: Vandal Basquiat, Vandal Futura 2000, Vandal Taki 183, Vandal Debord, Haring, Burrows and Proudhon. But more than any of that, all the lower-case vandals on Muni set to burn their names on your retina.
Vandalism doesn't care about rights to property. Vandalism stands by this ancient principle: property is theft. Vandalism doesn't care about copyright. Copyright smacks of self-indulgence and greed. Quote me on that. Vandalism is universal and limitless, unwieldy and unbalanced, completely unhinged and frighteningly beautiful. It's dangerous but welcoming. Come on. Give vandalism a try. Vandalism is the new gentrification; everyone's doing it. It's pushing emptiness and dullness out of the city and raising the quality of life to unpredictable heights of magnanimity. Your neutral walls do violence to our integrity. Whatcha got against color?
How does one live well and good? By doing vandalism. How does one become anonymously famous? By doing vandalism. With a flick of the wrists and a swagger of the step. Til' one can't stop and certainly won't stop. It's a terrible habit, an awfully time-consuming obsession. How can one get rid of everything grotesque and in bad taste? Vandalism. How do we reassert ourselves in the midst of corporate homogeny and increasing pressure to normalize? Vandalism. By what means do we establish our will to communicate freely and openly in the public sphere? Vandalism.
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