Graffiti, Art and war crimes
This morning MLive posted a story about some new graffiti on the wall of the S-curve in Grand Rapids near the Gerald Ford Museum.
The article is interesting on many levels. The MLive reporter begins by asking the readers if this is graffiti or art, which in some ways is a legitimate question. The problem, however, is that this would not be a question that an MLive reporter asked if the painted images on the side of highway walls were an anti-war or anti-gentrification message.
Not content to end the charade there, the MLive reporter then talks to an employee of the Ford Museum to get his take on the “unsanctioned art.” The Museum spokesperson tries to remain neutral, but in no way does he condemn the graffiti. Imagine if there was a US Out of Afghanistan slogan spray painted at the same location. Do you think that anyone from the Ford Museum would remain neutral if asked about that?
The MLive article continues with the reporter citing the Grand Rapids City policy on graffiti and then followed up with commentary from a Kendall College professor who also considers the stencil of Ford to be art.
There are two issues here to consider on the art v. graffiti issue. First, as we have already pointed out there are clearly double standards about how MLive would report on graffiti that could be considered art, particularly if it affirms the dominant narratives………in this case celebrating Grand Rapids’ own Gerald Ford.
Second, for those who want to condemn graffiti no matter what the message is, you automatically demonize those who often do not have the means to communicate with a mass audience…….ie, those that use graffiti to make a statement. Much of the graffiti created in this community isn’t unlike the kind one would find in most urban centers, which is graffiti that is overtly political in nature (anti-war, anti-capitalist) or the graffiti of those who are economically and socially marginalized……..those we often lump into the “gang” category.
This second point underscores clear class differences, since it reflects how we think about negative social behavior. If a young person of color tags a building with a message we are all supposed to condemn it and say it is criminal behavior. However, if Bank of America puts up a billboard ad in the city, that is generally considered legal free speech. However, who does more harm to people, a street gang or a bank that engaged in massive fraud and then got bailout out by taxpayers who had no say in the matter?
One last point worth making about the contradictory nature of the MLive story has to do with Ford himself. The MLive reporter cites the quote that accompanies the graffiti and then provides a hyperlink to the context of this statement. However, a serious look at the historical record would show that while Ford was President and Vice President, he presided over the torture and murder of thousands of people in countries like Vietnam and Indonesia. We produced a short video that gives an overview of Ford’s foreign policy, but an additionally good source is 895 Days that Changed the World: The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford, by Graeme S. Mount.
Again, the contradictions are quite apparent. It’s not ok to have anti-war graffiti, but it’s ok to have graffiti of a war criminal.