A white car with “Graffiti Management” on its door driving in the dirt beside McCauly Station with a wall of solid graffiti behind it. The derelict switchbox near Coburg Station where the graffiti is assiduously painted over but the building has been allowed to stand derelict for decades. Managing graffiti and allowing a hundred-year old brick buildings to slowly crumble is like the proverbial dog in a manger. Melbourne’s railways are being covered in anti-graffiti grey paint. The preference for grey graffiti proof paint over the multi-colour calligraphy of graffiti is a strange preference. The grey monotone symbolizes control that is considered good and therefore aesthetically preferable to graffiti, even if in an industrial wasteland like McCauly Station. On the other hand graffiti is a symbol of loss of control that is considered bad and therefore ugly, despite being superficially appealing to the uninformed.
Know your enemy. And the hardcore extreme enemy of graffiti everywhere is Steve Beardon, Councillor for the City of Casey (2003, 2005 – present) and the president of a community group called “Residents Against Graffiti Everywhere”. Cr Steve Beardon associates graffiti with gang membership and chroming without citing any evidence. His rhetoric is full of phrases like “blight, “wage war” and “zero tolerance”. He believes that he can speak for the community, as if ‘the community’ was a genuinely coherent group. I presume that I am not part of Beardon’s community and nor are the little children who enjoy the cartoon character graffiti that they see from the train.
“Residents Against Graffiti Everywhere” is an extreme position and they are either potential vandals themselves or not really against graffiti everywhere. For if they advocate the removal of Roman graffiti or other graffiti of historic value then they would be potential vandals. I asked Steve Beardon some questions via email and within a day he had responded with five lengthy emails, from which I have found the answers to my questions amidst his electronic diarrhoea. It is clear these emails that Beardon is both obsessed and extreme in his anti-graffiti views.
I asked about the ‘tolerance zones’ established by Melbourne City Council? Beardon replied: “Its my belief that Melbourne council is wasting money and denying all of us a clean city free of graffiti. Tolerance zones send a mixed message that graffiti is acceptable and clearly has failed to stop the blight.”
I asked about the use of aerosol art for decoration of shop fronts etc. or, galleries that specialize in aerosol art? Beardon replied: “I advocate street art not be the standard used for murals. It needs to be remembered that the majority of graffiti is perfected illegally on residents front fences, walls etc.” And Beardon sent me an email with images of the kind of kitsch; tromp l’oeil and historicized murals that he advocates.
Laws and other forces can influence the quality and type of graffiti but it is extremely unlikely, given the millennia of graffiti history, that anyone could eliminate it. A realistic response to graffiti problems has to acknowledge that graffiti is an ancient human behaviour. A realist response also has to acknowledge that the current street art style is an attractive and successful graphic style. Beardon and his ignorant, unimaginative, extremist views will not eliminate graffiti, as he is part of the problem and not the solution.
(This blog entry is an edited version of two entries published in my old blog, Culture Critic @ Melbourne. My old blog has since been taken down for reasons beyond my control but I thought that this entry was worth republishing.)