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Graffiti is defined as writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface on a public place. Its dictionary definition uses the word illicit which means that it is not permitted or is unlawful. This singular word conditions the general public to believe that it should not be permitted. Before people even fully understand the concept of graffiti, it has been decided for them whether it should be legal or not. Graffiti is an art form, although some people may not like it, and it should be widely accepted. Our perception of graffiti has been altered by the media, yet it challenges negative stereotypes and social norms. Graffiti should be legalized as it helps people to express themselves without violence and builds community as well as character.
Graffiti is usually viewed considering the broken window theory. The broken window theory says that once disorder and chaos begins, things get out of control no matter where it occurs. In Justifying Graffiti: (Re)Defining Societal Codes through Orders of Worth, Eyck explains just how media neglects to share the benefits of graffiti. “It is much more likely to find instances of news tying graffiti to crimes than stories of graffiti being used to build communities, a legacy of the broken window theory that has been part of the coverage of graffiti since at least the 1980s”. Media is a powerful tool and with enough exposure and the same message bombarding someone, people tend to sway their opinions to how it is portrayed in mass media. Where graffiti is portrayed as bad in America, in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil many street artists – also known as writers – use their pieces for social development and the betterment of communities. According to Ferro in “Can Graffiti Be Good for Cities?”, writers work alongside the police to paint murals in run down areas. They bring in tourists by hosting large events and festivals. You rarely, if ever, see stories like this broadcasted in media in the united states since news outlets constantly vilify writers and their pieces.
Although most times people read about graffiti in a negative light, there are always a few exceptions to every rule. Banksy is a famous anonymous writer from England whose works usually are political and satirical with a touch of dark humor. People tend to associate a writers’ worth with what their art depicts and how it aligns with their ideals. Recently, Banksy has become more popular with the general media because of his social and political messages. Banksy and other writers have changed people’s perceptions on what graffiti means and how it affects them. Some may think that graffiti leads to lower property values and less traffic that brings in customers to businesses, yet writers have started to gather fans. This diffusion of appreciating street art has led to others thinking that it conveys a creative aesthetic that lures people to spend their money or make a home there. People also generally believe that what benefits the community is of higher value than that which benefits the individual as described by Eyck. Stencils from Banksy are worth thousands of dollars, yet artists from America are treated like criminals while artists in other countries are worshipped. The general public tend to assume that graffiti are a sign of gang activity. More than ninety percent of graffiti is created by people who have no gang affiliation and is mostly created by kids and teenagers (twelve to nineteen years old). In fact, a poll conducted by CBS news shows that sixty-six percent of people between the ages eighteen to thirty-four believe that graffiti is a legitimate form of art. In contrast, as the age range increased to older people the number dwindled down. About twenty three percent of seniors (aged sixty-five plus) say that graffiti is art. In states like Nevada an artist can be charged with as much as five years in prison and a 10,000-dollar fine. In California fines are up to 50,000 dollars. What kind of world do we live in that it is okay to charge people expressing themselves and making communities more beautiful?
Graffiti and writers are constantly demonized in America. Graffiti challenges negative stereotypes. In Colorado, writers have created a program entitled “Granny Does Graffiti”. This program helps people with dementia express how they feel. It aims to challenge the negative stereotypes surrounding the capabilities of people with dementia. In this program, people who participate created their own tags. Tags are personalized artistic signatures for writers. They used shapes, symbols, and colors to express who they are. They got to create a mural in their community which helped them feel a sense of social inclusion that usually gets neglected. This event illustrates how “an often-misconceived art form can be used to raise awareness of an often-misunderstood population” (Hicks 815). Research on this program has demonstrated the benefits of graffiti for helping marginalized communities express who they are as well as confronting and informing others about the stigmas associated with mental health conditions. In Portugal senior citizens have been participating in graffiti workshops. They have been taught how to create their own tags. They were guided on how to create these tags so they could express their identity and they could display it on public walls to “reclaim an element of their community”. During the late 1990s it wasn’t uncommon for writers to be harassed by the police in Brazil. Today however, many of these same officers recognize the importance of this artform and that it helps make cities more beautiful. They realize that it provides a career opportunity for youth in low-income neighborhoods. As Olivero eloquently says in Graffiti Is a Public Good Even as It Challenges the Law, “The growth of graffiti in Brazil, and its role in challenging the status quo, demonstrates the power of art, and its ability to create dialogue.” Historically, writers were kids from poor neighborhoods, working class families, who didn’t have resources. For them, the city became their canvas. Graffiti is an important part of the ecology of the city and how one person relates to another and their environment.
Graffiti should be legalized for the betterment of communities. It helps minority groups and marginalized communities express themselves. Graffiti should not be judged based on predetermined definitions of generations before us. It shouldn’t only be okay for select few, it should be encouraged for all people across the globe.
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