I'm a fan of graffiti. Not so much the randomly scrawled potty-word, or ‘so and so was here/so and so loves so and so’, but a fan of the ornate and anarchical stuff you can find in the cities, or--for the latte crowd--in anthologies of Banksy’s work. I can make a case that this kind of graffiti is a positive sign of a working democracy: Every voice can be heard, even if it be on unauthorized surfaces. Good for us to allow our sensibilities to be challenged in such a way, and good for our government for not curb-stomping the offending artist.
A problem has arisen for me lately, however. I am a young father with a young family. My wife and I just bought our first house in a small suburb last year, and have been refurbishing it slowly but surely, making it our own. We have two boys, one three years old, and one seven. I’ve turned my seven year old on to Banksy (aha! Busted. But I take my latte breve.), and have encouraged art, pluralism, skepticism, and awe in their lives. I encourage them to be themselves, and to ask questions.
These attitudes and encouragements have been effective tools in allowing them to explore the world around and within them. But as I said, My wife and I are in the process of redecorating our house, and my two year old has begun drawing on the walls.
The first offense was with a big, blue sharpie he had gotten off of my work bench in the basement when I wasn’t looking. He drew a line all the way up the stairs, through the kitchen (over the fridge, paused for a loop-de-loop on the oven), and down the hall, ending the piece in a chaotic scramble of sheer existential bliss on the front of the door. I called the piece ‘Quagmire’, and thought it was an insightful commentary on current American foreign policy.
The problem was, we had just painted the living room. Sandpiper brown. It looked really good with the hardwood floors we had just installed.
Okay, I said. I love your art buddy, but don’t draw on the walls, okay? I’m going to have to paint over it if you put it on the walls. I want to keep your art, so could you put it on paper buddy? He shook his head yes, and we repainted the living room.
Then he did it again (luckily that time with dry-erase marker). Then again. We sat him down for a serious talk on the subject of respecting other people’s property, and reminding him of which surfaces were correct surfaces for him to express himself on. We confiscated all of the crayons, colored pencils, markers and finger paint, and put them up on top of the fridge. We would make them available only during ‘art time’, when we could monitor our little revolutionary’s activity.
I tried to rationalize my actions in my head. I’m not ‘the man’, so what I’m doing is reasonable. I’m not oppressing anyone, I don’t need to be taught a lesson by a clever vandal. Besides, he’s just a kid. He needs to respect other people’s things.
But it still felt weird. I felt the tang of hypocrisy, even if it was slight. My wife and I have bought a piece of the system. I own land, I pay taxes. We even joined a fitness club: We’ve got a stake in making this thing run smoothly now.
So no more Black Flag, no more Banksy. It’s all John Mayer and paintings of bowls of fruit I pick up in the art aisle at Target. My punk rock days are over. From making the kids do their homework, to seeing that they wash behind their ears, I am now part of the establishment. I am the man.