Graffiti Is The Poor Man's Advertising Campaign

Too Tall Jahmal, who we featured in this week's Web Original video "Ad-Buster," argues that graffiti and billboard advertising are two sides of an unequal coin.


As long as our cities are filled with advertising they will be filled with graffiti. Graffiti is the poor man's ad campaign. You can argue about one campaign being legal and the other illegal but the visual difference is purely academic.

Some companies spend millions (and make millions) to put their message in front of the public, while some individuals risk everything doing the same. They are both violating our public space, but most of the time I prefer the message I get from the individual.

Unlike "legal" advertising, in graffiti messaging there is no hidden obligation, no fine print, no contract to get out, no computerized customer service line. The marketing message is not informed by massive amounts of data collection and studies that try to figure out how society will react "positively" to their message, fine tuning it so that eventually society caves and buys their product. The individual operates on impulse and spontaneity. Their ideas are not approved by process of committee.

Keep in mind that many billboard advertisements are actually illegal. In fact CBS and Viacom both lost an LA court case recently in which they finally (after litigation and appeals causing likely millions in wasted taxpayer expenses) agreed to take down 99 illegally placed billboards. That figure is the tip of the iceberg. A recent LA Weekly article sited thousands of suspected illegal billboards in the LA area and billboard companies have gone through great efforts in keeping the roster a secret from regulators. The cost to the public in terms of the strain on our legal system is considerable. These companies make billions and they have powerful lobbyists in local, state and federal governments in this country and many others to bend and twist our society so that their messages are displayed to the people. The very idea that someone with money is far more capable than someone with no money of spreading ideas and messages in our society means that the system itself is inherently corrupt.

Because of that corruption, it means nothing to me to see a piece of property vandalized, a building, a public space or otherwise. It's all individualist advertising in my mind and it competes with money-interest advertising. As the saying goes "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," and in this case the enemy is the money interest advertising bludgeoning my visual senses at every corner. Graffiti becomes an equalizer of voices, and as the senior-citizen freight train vandal Bozo Texino once said, graffiti is an indicator that big brother hasn't fully locked down the individual thinker yet.

A kid growing up searching for their own way to get their “brand” out is a direct result of advertising on our society. If people want to fix the “problem” of graffiti they will have to address what literally inspires it. You would have to address the imbalance of between private and corporate voices or remove the voices all together. American style fame graffiti didn’t birth until the late 60's. Coincidentally it was around this same time that laws passed in Congress such as the Highway Beautification act, a reaction to the seemingly hapless smattering of ad messages and billboards everywhere. Laws like this are clear indicators that graffiti arose just as billboard advertising mass outdoor advertising did.

Graffiti is a direct result of our consumer-based culture. Live with it. Consider it another economic indicator in a society where some have few resources and some have many.

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