<body> Public Ad Campaign: Graffiti, Billboards, and Reclaiming Public Space Appropriated by Illegal Advertising
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Graffiti, Billboards, and Reclaiming Public Space Appropriated by Illegal Advertising

The most recent post written by Dennis on Ban Billboard blight asks what the difference is between illegal advertising and graffiti, or what I would refer to as scrawl since I know many extremely talented graffiti artists. After citing LA Municipal code's definition of graffiti he comes to the conclusion that they are indeed very similar despite one being a serious crime punishable by serious jail time, while the other often seems to be quietly tolerated by most cities in our country.

I would add that there is another huge difference which I think is often overlooked and which makes graffiti the lesser crime, or at least the one done out of neccessity or survival, while advertising is done for pure profit. Many sociological looks at graffiti practitioners, including several wonderful books by Jeff Ferrell, make the point that graffiti is an outlet of expression for many youth which find themselves unable to assert their identity in our society. Constantly bombarded by corporate iconography and invisible in a cities of millions flying from one place to the next, tagging your surroundings becomes a way to integrate yourself into the city's fabric. Tagging may not be the best way to do so but we have to admit that there might be a social failure at work here, instead of seeing it as an aggressive act of destruction at the hands of deranged youth, that so often describes graffiti practice.

In fact here at PublicAdCampaign we have come to believe that actively altering your public space has enormous psychological benefits for those participating in the act. The act of altering your public space creates a link between the person who made the alteration and the space in which that alteration was made. This bond engenders a sense of responsibility for that space. Someone who feels responsibility for parts of the city will protect that space because in fact that space is now a representation of yourself.

Graffiti may not be the best or most appreciated way for individuals to create psychic connections with their public environment but we think it is just that. If we accept this fact then we might do better spending our tax dollars on programs which allow youth to create meaningful bonds with their city environment instead of hunting them down and throwing them in jail. If we do this we might even find our city beautified by public mural projects, community gardens, neighborhood festivities and a more lively public space that pleases the senses instead of insulting our intelligence.

VIA Ban Billboard Blight

What is the difference between those who spray paint gang slogans and other kinds of graffiti on public walls and companies that put up illegal billboards and supergraphic signs? What is the difference, fundamentally, between graffiti and illegal outdoor advertising? Both make a claim on public space, saying “Look at this!” without observing any laws or considering that citizens might deserve a voice in what they’re forced to see when they drive, walk, or otherwise experience their urban environment.[MORE]

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