A couple of quick points about the elections: while I’m disappointed by the AV result (made inevitable by a campaign run by liberal leftists who took the ‘progressive majority’ as axiomatic and spoke only to other liberal leftists who were going to vote for it anyway), I am pleased about three things in particular. First: the overdue collapse of the arrogant, cynical Tammany Hall machine that was the Scottish Labour Party. Second: the failure of George Galloway to get elected (which has gone a long way towards restoring my faith in my home town). Third: the collapse, even greater than the Lib Dems’, of the BNP in English local authorities. Would it be opportunistic to suggest this is a welcome result of Cameron’s more populist stance on immigration and multiculturalism?
Naturally, if perhaps hypocritically, I will celebrate all of the above by stocking up on cheap booze while I still can. That is one issue on which I hope moral conservatism will eventually trump big business conservatism.
I turn rather awkwardly to an unrelated issue which sort of fits that description: graffiti and its role in contemporary art. Before I do so, have a read of these two pieces in City Journal which skewer a cruel form of decadence very eloquently.
The articles remind me of Orwell’s piece pondering why ‘if you threw dead donkeys at people, they threw money back’. The difference is that rich people can throw whatever expensive crap they want at each other, but this new form of ‘art’ is an obviously hypocritical celebration of a destructive selfishness that exclusively harms the non-rich.
I have to confess to being slightly pleased that the Greens’ Martha Wardrop failed to get herself elected to the Scottish Parliament: purely because, as a councillor (see blogs passim on why multi-member single transferable voting is so great) she has been helpful and responsive in pestering the Council to clean up our own various neighbourhood works of low art, as well as other quotidia like litter.
What is it about graffiti that annoys me? Perhaps the same things that make decadent people enjoy it: that it is a rejection of the rule of law. A moment’s thought — and clearly the graffiti artists and their novelty-seeking propagandists have wasted very few moments on thinking — shows why this is a bad thing. Leave aside the debate over the broken windows theory, and the practical problems of having street signs and public information notices covered in writing or paint. The graffitist explicitly says: I don’t care about your private property, therefore I don’t care about your economic wellbeing. From this it seems logical to infer that he is also saying, more subtly: I don’t care about your physical wellbeing, your safety or your health either. In sum, the graffiti artist says: I don’t care about other people.
I make one or two exceptions for warranted and clever political statements: the enormous ‘ONE NATION UNDER CCTV’ painted on the side of a tall building in central London was impressive; but for every one example like this (and for every community mural, which are a far better use of young people’s artistic talent and of which there are several good examples, like the one beside Kelvinbridge Underground) there are a million annoying and disfiguring tags and scrawls.
I say private property, but more often than not the vandalism targets public property (usually postboxes, bins, etc) and has to be cleaned up at public expense, if it is at all. Am I autistically out-of-touch, or do other people find it as incredible as I do that it needs to be explained to otherwise intelligent and educated people — the mainstream of the contemporary art world — why destruction of both public space and private property, and a general disrespect towards other people, and especially towards people in more deprived communities, is bad?
Perhaps the best response — an explicitly petty-bourgeois Marxist one — to the barbaric-decadent underclass-overclass axis, buggering those of us in between who still aspire to something better, would be to graffiti-bomb the museum, or the homes of its directors, and see how they like it. I think it would be legitimate, in the spirit and tradition of situationist direct action against powerful elites, to call such an action a subversive work of art in itself.
It’s tempting to blame the excuse-making, poverty-blaming, bed-wetting liberal left for this, or perhaps that section of the left (these days best represented by Laurie Penny, who may or may not be a rightwing satirist) that romanticises violence and disorder on the streets (the right generally only romanticise violence in or against other countries). But I suspect the egoism, and denial of delayed gratification, inherent in consumerism also have quite a lot to do with it. The confluence of the two, I suggest, is at the heart of our modern anomie; hence my sympathy for the emerging Blue Labour school of thought that addresses both.
If the new SNP majority government can give minor offenders (eg those who do graffiti) community sentences that actually involve their removing this damage, that will probably be a better bet than sending them to prison. Whether these community sentences actually do that, or become like ASBOs a laughable and easily ignored stunt, remains to be seen.
Finally, you may have noticed a while ago that, while Brown presented Obama with “an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet” (and got a set of region 1 DVDs in return!), Cameron, when it was his turn, gave Obama “a painting by a graffiti artist with three convictions for criminal damage”. This suggests to me, unfortunately, that our prime minister has rather more in common with the curators of the LA Museum of Contemporary Art than with most of the rest of us.