Graffiti and freedom of expression

By Kevin Xiong

I was exploring the grate the other day, and that sentence really stood out to me. If there was ever a point to graffiti, it would be to express yourself to an audience you might never meet, just for the sake of sharing a thought that deserves to be heard. As a guy who has written similar messages at certain weird points in my life, I can say that there’s real catharsis in writing exactly what you want to say and leaving it anonymously for the world– even if normal people would look at you weird and think you’re moody for doing it, which is a debatable accusation in my case. But! Let’s get down to the recent graffiti incidents. If expressing yourself really is such a wonderful feeling, why can’t people just write whatever? Including things full of slurs and hate messages. It’s weird. I read something by Joan Didion the other day, that if you think your crazy passions are more “right” and “moral” than someone else’s, you’re basically kidding yourself. Because the people who wrote anti-Semitic, homophobic, and racist statements around the Grate and Dupre, might have had the same uncontrollable desire to write as the person who wrote “Oh God, I feel so alone.” But then again, even if these hate messengers were hypothetically compelled to write what they did… In a world where you live and share experiences with everybody else, if everybody else says this or that is out of line, it’s out of line. People can shape right or wrong like that. Which is weird (4th time I’ve said weird). Anyway, in my mind, I kind of saw a bunch of kids (or students) who were “just having fun,” when they decided to spray around graffiti, so I’m probably over-thinking it. But in an abstract plane, I guess it’s still a legitimate question, the line between free expression and being offensive. “I’ll know it when I see it,” a quote related to me by Jim Hoppe, which in itself is a quote in this op-ed, seems to relay the only real way to tell the difference between free expression and free expression that people want to paint over. And I guess that goes along with what I was saying earlier, how community perspectives shape right or wrong, not individuals. (By the way, that still sounds a lot like what Joan Didion was saying in her essay. A community morality—morality defined by knowing what everyone else would want, not what you would have wanted or needed. Sorry. I’m not even a big fan, but you caught me at a bad time, reading her stuff). One last thing, then, leaving on a profound, original, college-y, existential note. If one day the sun is going to expand and vaporize the Earth and destroy all life, what’s the big deal of having to share your thoughts with other people? Someday, a billion years from now, Shakespeare, Frank Sinatra, the Teletubbies, and even well written op-eds about graffiti will be as nothing as painted-over-free-expression. Loosen up a bit, and write crazy conclusions just for the heck of it, I say. Why not. refresh –>