I took a walk down by a train overpass near my apartment the other day which was - predictably enough - covered with graffitti, and it occurred to me how terribly annoying all of it was. Not its mere existence, no - I'm not particularly fond of graffitti, but I've come to accept it as an unavoidable part of the urban landscape. Rather, I was irritated by the low quality of the graffitti. I mean, who really cares "BILLY + LISA" intend to maintain their "LUV 4EVA" or that "TOMMY" presumably was there? And "TRUST JESUS" - come on, people!
I think the same standards we use here should apply to graffitti. After all, isn't something painted on that overpass that'll still be legible in a decade or two as close to "for the ages" as we get these days? Granted, some graffitti is intended as an affront to someone else's territory - as a play in some sort of dominance game. That's okay; it's like a day log, nobody really cares what's in it. But as for the rest: put some effort into it! People are going to be reading it - make it useful, or at least interesting! Sure, there are length constraints, but a few words can mean a lot to someone. For example, instead of,
"TONJA IS A HO"
why not write something helpful like
CALL YOUR MOTHER
EAT YOUR VEGETABLES?
If I have no idea who Tonja is when your graffitti is brand new, what meaning is it likely to have to someone else, in 10 years? And chances are, your average reader isn't going to care about Tonja's sexual proclivities. He or she probably will, however, be overdue in calling mom, and probably isn't eating as well as he or she should. Likewise:
only makes me think about what a loser you are. Why not try
"THIS SENTENCE IS A LIE"
instead? Sure, I've seen it before, but it's cute and worth a little thought, especially because it's up on an overpass! Take advantage of your medium! Finally, if you just have to make some reference to mass culture, don't bother with dogs like
Bah. It's trite, overdone, and uninteresting to just about everyone. Dig deeper, go with something like
Many people won't get it, it'll make some angry, and others will think it's the coolest thing they've ever seen. Isn't that what writing is all about?
If all else fails, take your cue from the ancient masters. For example, look at the walls in Pompeii:
Admiror, paries, te non cedidisse ruina,
qui tot scriptorum taedia sustineas
I'm amazed, wall, that you haven't fallen down in ruin
since you hold up the wearisome scratches of so many writers!
It's relatively clever, and it's an elegiac couplet (dactylic hexameter in the first line, pentameter in the second.) I doubt BILLY + LISA have even heard of an elegiac couplet.1 Or, if you aren't into rhyme or meter, how about haiku?
IN MY CAN AND MIND
TWO DESOLATE WASTELANDS LIE
NO MORE WORDS WILL COME
Obviously, I'm not asking for Shakespeare. All I'm saying is this: that overpass is not a BBS. It needs more actual content - get to work!
Of course, there were also plenty of examples like Stronnius nil scit ("Stronnius knows nothing") so perhaps it's just human nature to do a half-assed job when defacing public property.