Commentary: When Taggers Aren’t That Bright
I live in that famed part of city called “West Downtown,” where the neighborhood is coming together to fight big-city urban issues in the small-town enclave of Santa Barbara. Thursday morning, while walking the dog, I noticed that city-owned property at the corner of De La Vina and Haley streets had been tagged overnight. I had walked the dog past that same spot about 11 p.m. Wednesday night, and the tag wasn’t there, so it was a late-night tag.
First, I dislike the term “tagging.” Tagging is a subset of graffiti, where the tagger develops a unique — usually unreadable — signature for his or her work. Lately, we seem to see less graffiti and a whole lot more indistinguishable scribbles as tags. But my issue with the moniker tagging is that it seems like a fun description for what is essentially defacing public buildings. Why not call it defacing or vandalizing, rather than tagging? Tagging seems so much more friendly and fun and far less irritating than the straight-out defacement it is.
When passing by the numerous tags in my neighborhood, I often wonder why the author, if so intent on making his or her mark on a wall, couldn’t have at least said something of importance? Graffiti has long been with us, as even Roman, Pompeiian and Greek ruins contained scratchings that advertised brothels or condemned bad tavern owners. The 20th-century graffiti around the world often spoke out against oppression, racism and political issues.
I understand that youths want to make their mark and have their dissidence felt by the blind masses, so to speak. If you’re going to take all the risk of writing on walls, hang yourself over bypasses and possibly get arrested, why not use the opportunity to say something a bit more profound than the unreadable gibberish that shows up?
I don’t want to get Santa Barbarans up in arms, as we all dislike graffiti in our fair city. I am not throwing down a challenge to taggers to come up with clever catchphrases to paint all over our city in a sort of graffiti version of “American Idol.” But, hey, if they’re going take all this risk and make all this effort, why not at least do something with some intelligence and thought behind it? Why not provoke some insight into our political and cultural woes as a nation, a state and a city?
The overnight tagger thought he or she was indeed making such a profound statement. Unfortunately, because of poor planning, the majority of the message is lost behind a bush on the sidewalk. Those driving by won’t get the gist of it at all. Since the tagger used the entire side of a house to paint the message, he or she obviously intended a billboard effect. But what is seen is meaningless scrawls that dissolve into ... shrubbery.
Instead of being annoyed that we had been tagged — or defaced — yet again, I found myself laughing over the tagger’s silly mistake.
This is probably not the reaction they were looking for, but if you’re going to do something, at least try to do it well. If you’re going to mark up our neighborhood, be prepared, as an urban artiste wannabe, to have your work admired or scorned in equal measure, especially if you’re not smart enough to plan it out properly.
— Sharon Byrne represents the West Downtown Neighborhood Group.