The Null Device

Growing old disgracefully: the taggers

New York is facing an onslaught of middle-aged subway taggers; latchkey kids from the 1970s and 1980s who never put graffiti vandalism behind them, or else who decided to recapture their lost youth, spurred on by one thing or another to pick up their spraycans and get back into the game:
In torn jeans and saddled with a black backpack, Andrew Witten glances up and down the street for police. The 51-year-old then whips out a black marker scribbles "Zephyr" on a wall covered with movie posters. He admires his work for a few seconds before his tattooed arms reach for his daughter, holding her hand as he briskly walks away.
Witten's brush with fame now often comes with his freelance art writing and his sporadic visits to his daughter's school, where he teaches her classmates how to draw. Lulu knows her father draws "crazy art," a term she picked up from seeing graffiti on trains.
For decades, Ortiz, 45, has been known on Manhattan's Lower East Side as LA II. A traumatic loss of a girlfriend brought him out of a 14-year hiatus from graffiti writing. He has since been caught three times spraying his tag on property, each time while walking a friend's dog. "Everywhere that dog stopped to pee I would write my name," Ortiz says. "The streets were like my canvases. I just started writing my name everywhere."
Alternatively, it could be argued that he and his dog bonded by participating in territory-marking activities together.

There are 7 comments on "Growing old disgracefully: the taggers":

Posted by: Peta Mon Sep 3 19:08:21 2012

Do you think this generation invented 'youth culture'? Maybe they're just doing what they've always done.

Posted by: Peta Mon Sep 3 19:35:52 2012

I don't get into developmental narratives. Because i've never conformed to them, they don't seem to represent experience adequately.

Posted by: acb Tue Sep 4 00:20:59 2012

That's the question, though, isn't it; the usual narrative ties antisocial/risk-taking activities to adolescence and the need to test boundaries/individuate oneself from parental authority/find one's own place; once the hormonal maelstrom dies down, so does the subway tagging/extreme sports/listening to loud rock'n'roll/&c. Though, of course, we've seen sixtysomethings in blue jeans listening to (and playing) rock music, and late thirtysomethings skateboarding, resulting in theories about “extended adolescence” being floated. One question this raises is whether it makes sense to think of something like this as regression to a more youthful phase.

OTOH, the other things I've mentioned (rock music, extreme sports, &c.) are at most antisocial only symbolically and are in reality easily domesticable, and adaptable as totems of one's youth one can take into middle age and beyond. Vandalising property and risking criminal prosecution crosses that gentrified barrier by some distance.

Posted by: fuddlemark Tue Sep 4 03:01:45 2012

That's fascinating, Peta - and I'm ashamed to say I never considered it before. What if the narrative Andrew describes is wrong and this "extended adolescence" is just recognition that some behaviours (say, skateboarding) are NOT a part of "youth culture" to be outgrown, but just another way to behave, equally mature/appropriate but not necessarily mainstream.

Goes back to the old idea - which *still* doesn't seem to be mainstream - that I can grow up without rejecting the hobbies I enjoyed as a teen; and I can continue to emphasise enjoying life without rejecting adult responsibilities and behaviours.

Posted by: acb Tue Sep 4 10:10:26 2012

<i>Goes back to the old idea - which *still* doesn't seem to be mainstream - that I can grow up without rejecting the hobbies I enjoyed as a teen; and I can continue to emphasise enjoying life without rejecting adult responsibilities and behaviours.</i>

For that to work, the hobbies have to be reconcilable with the adult responsibilities and behaviours one takes on. Rock music, video games, extreme sports, &c., are, being largely consumer recreational activities. Even punk rock can adapt from angry adolescence to cranky middle age (see a band named Punks Not Dad, who sing songs about spending time in their sheds). Subway tagging sits a bit uneasily there; either one adopts a radically bohemian definition of adulthood or one maintains a volatile balance between one's respectable life and one's secret antisocial activities, much like a wealthy pillar of the community who shoplifts for the thrill.

Posted by: Winona Ryder Tue Sep 4 11:42:16 2012

I believe in karma.

Posted by: Greg Tue Sep 4 13:18:11 2012

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