Thursday, December 10, 2009

NY Show Feeds Graffiti Vandal B.N.E.'s Criminal Ego

This isn't the first time that a graffiti vandal gets glory. But it may be the first time one gets a Big Apple "art" show, sponsored by the New York office of a British advertising agency.

The tagger called B.N.E.--who's less a tagger than a paster, because he plasters 10,000 printed stickers monthly, with "iron grip adhesive," in selected cities internationally--put his unexplained three initials on a 15-foot wall in Manhattan as part of his exhibit. Seems hypocritical that he's challenging corporations ("You have these billion-dollar companies, and I've got to look at their logos every day. Why can't I put mine up?") but sponsored by an agency called "Mother" happy to exploit his "globally recognized and valued brand."

And he got an interview in the New York Times today, too. And for what? For sullying private and public surfaces from Japan to Bangkok, Prague and San Francisco, where liberal mayor Gavin Newsom, who you'd think would approve such added "art," is offering a $2,500 reward for his capture.

I can understand ad agencies trying to boost clients with edgy appeal, in itself not the most original of strategies.  They probably adore conventional folks' publicity-generating disdain.

But come on--all this does is fuel egomaniacs, whose "art" has the sole aim of increasing their personal domain, leaving evidence of their existence in much the same way dogs lift their legs to mark their turfs.  Dog urine, however, is a biodegradable substance, legal, and doesn't require human costs of time and expense to correct.  Nor does it stir neighborhood consternation and police action.

  In some cases, owners of homes or small businesses scarred by this smug defacement lack the wherewithal to remove it.  Santa Monica, California, where I used to live, provided property owners paint to cover the blight. Like many cities, it has a "graffiti removal team," and on its City website asks, "Which of the following impacts does the appearance of graffiti have on a neighborhood? 1.Decreases property values 2. Increases residents' fear of crime 3. Attracts more graffiti "artists" 4. All of the above.  If you answered '4, All of the above,' you're correct."

 Promoters who abet this community disfigurement, like the ironically named "Mother" and organizers of commercially-sponsored "jams" are responsible for its increased proliferation.  A program called "Graffiti Hurts," started in 1996 by paint-makers Sherwin-Williams (probably hoping their Krylon spray-paints wouldn't be banned or restricted, as many cities proposed) offers prevention and eradication information as well as school curricula to shape kids' attitudes.  They provide statistics showing that Jams for graffiti vandals, sponsored by video game makers, clothing companies, artists' agencies and even Hawaiian Punch, cause an increase in output in the surrounding neighborhood within hours of the events.
This doesn't bother ad agencies one bit.
Now, I support the free market system; the creativity of advertising agencies fosters the supply and demand that enlarges our options and makes our economy thrive.  But "pushing the envelope" by encouraging destruction of property, criminality and visual intrusion on the landscape ultimately doesn't get clients more business. Hawaiian Punch pulled the plug on a 2006 Houston jam because the community expressed its concern.
When my husband sees a new tag on a freeway wall, he goes into a funk. If the tag stays there more than a week, he phones the mayor's office to urge its removal.  Seattle applied for $547,000 from Pres. Obama's stimulus package to fund a Graffiti Investigation and Prosecution office with a dedicated detective, City Prosecutor and aides, to promply paint over and address the problem.  The plan wasn't funded, but clearly our town sees the increasing amount of audacious freeway and street tags as a plague.
When Paul Allen's vanity rock museum, the Experience Music Project, opened in Seattle Center in 2000, it featured an exhibit glorifying graffiti, showcasing a real New York Subway car whose original gray lay deep under wall-to-wall spray-paint. Photos of early taggers and their imprints appeared in glass cases for school kids to admire.  With fancy lighting and interactive videos, the show legitimized trashing somebody else's property and environment. I don't think the EMP would mount that display today.
B.N.E. knows he's a fugitive, and I think that's part of the allure--getting away with something despised by the establishment (governments, homeowners, businessmen) and lauded by a fringe underground.  Vandals splash their tags conspicuously as proof they can foil rules.  "I've always rebelled against authority," B.N.E. boasts. "Like any kid, I wanted to write the whole neighborhood. Most kids like that would then want to go out and do the whole city.  In my case, I wanted to do the whole planet."  Well, we're encouraging him, with glitzy ad agency "shows" and features in the New York Times.
B.N.E. arrogantly suggests his despoiling urban environments is freedom of speech:  "This is my voice," he insists, "and if you try to remove it, you're shutting me up."  (OK then, shut up.) Thus the super-tacky adhesive on his stickers. He loves being a famous snot.
The chairman of the Queens, New York, City Council Public Safety Committee, Peter F. Vallone, Jr. is right: "This is an unrepentant criminal who has cost honest taxpayers a lot of money, and he's profited from it." Times writer Corey Kilgannon as well as Mother brass know who this guy is and could end his career. But they wouldn't betray B.N.E., because they think cool and edgy trumps respecting the law.


  1. Love the comparison to dogs marking their turfs. Haha.....

  2. In honor of Michael Medved's new book which champions capitalism (The Five Big Lies About American Business), I have posted a little story on my blog about Medved stuck on an island with 11 prominent liberals!

    It's called "Medved Shrugged" and it's my latest blog entry. I know this isn't the best place to announce it, but it's as good as any. I hope everyone likes it.

  3. Um.. the comment after mine is spam, please don't mistake mine for spam. I really did write a Michael Medved story, and I really do hope you enjoy it.