<body> Public Ad Campaign: Vandalism or An Illegal Labor of Love?
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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vandalism or An Illegal Labor of Love?

A while back it was suggested that I look into the etymology of the word Vandal. I never found a good enough reason to post my findings until now.

The word Vandal originates from the name of the Germanic tribe "Wandal" or "Wanderer." It seems they were held responsible for the sacking of Rome in 455 A.D., "and were notorious for destroying the monuments of art and literature." As with much of history, this isn't the only accepted view. In fact it seems some attribute the fall of Rome at this time to economic troubles and less to wanton destruction caused by roaming tribes.

Some believe the Wandal tribe was integrated knowingly into the social fabric of Rome as the city became less powerful and unable to keep others outside of the city walls. Ultimately, "Although they were not notably more destructive than others, the high regard which later European cultures held for ancient Rome led to the association of the name of the tribe with persons who cause senseless destruction, particularly in diminution of aesthetic appeal or destruction of objects that were completed with great effort." [source]

The word Vandal has changed over the years and today has less to do with the destruction of our sacred cultural objects and more with defacement of public and private property. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law defining the noun as "a person who willfully destroys, damages, or defaces property belonging to another or to the public."

Graffiti is often regarded as vandalism and I have been confronted with many occasions where this was the case. Just the other night I was on Grand street in Williamsburg when I came across an Atlantic Maintenance crew buffing graffiti one door at a time as they made their way through the Grand Street Business Improvement District. Clearly local shop owners as well as residents had agreed to the large scale removal, a clear indication of their feelings on the subject. No more than two blocks away I came across a man on a ladder outside his house spray painting the side of his house white, trying to cover a large black throw up. Not really knowing what to say, I asked what he was doing and he answered very quickly "Removing this fucking graffiti and I'm fucking pissed."

An act of vandalism is destructive, not constructive and yet despite little evidence otherwise, I can't say graffiti is vandalism. I started testing my notion of this by paying a lot more attention to the scrawl on the streets. What I have begun noticing is a lot of tags which I can only describe as heartfelt attempts to communicate feelings of sincerity. Below are some images I have found to support this notion.

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