The writing is (still) on the wall
I’m fascinated by history and its continuing effect and influence on modern life and recently I bought a book about life in Pompeii by Mary Beard, which looks at the way Romans lived their lives all those centuries ago.
Pompeii was the Roman city built below the Vesuvius volcano near modern day Naples, Italy that was covered by lava and ash as a result of an eruption in 79 AD. The result, an almost complete time capsule that has survived showing us how life was when it was stopped in almost one day.
The book details almost every aspect of Roman life and shows that in many respects we have haven’t changed much as a society in the way we live, operate and interact. We still have many of the same problems; some I wish we had lost or forgotten, and one of them is graffiti!
I live in a city desecrated by graffiti. The buildings are lovely and the neighbourhoods old and attractive but some people think they need improving or decorating. Even new buildings are not exempt. Someone has to tag them and spray their personalised signature or name to claim the building for themselves.
In Roman times graffiti (graffiti is a Latin word meaning ‘scratched’) was a way of communicating to the masses – well at least those in your neighbourhood - from the profane to the amusing to the informative – for example, reporting the behaviour of your neighbour, politician or moneylender.
Through the centuries it has moved on to express social dissatisfaction, complain about oppressive rule or even incite revolution but today it seems as though graffiti is merely an occupation, and sadly there are too many who just buy a can or two of spray paint and set out on a dark night to decorate the city where they live. But are they all just urban hoodies with nothing else to do?
Often they are hard to ‘catch’, which is why the police never seem to arrest any and the problem just keeps getting worse, but only ones I have ever seen in action were clearly middle class, well dressed and with their girlfriends keeping lookout and their BMW still running in order to make a swift get away.
Some people look on them as works of art elevated to almost gallery status with the likes of Bansky whose works are protected, and even restored, by one London council and maybe if graffiti was elevated to this status more people would enjoy and appreciate it.
So, is it art, a social problem we should understand and tolerate or just plain vandalism?
At the moment I think most people regard it as an eyesore to the urban landscape; uncontrolled and ugly it is a depressing feature of modern city life. Lets hope we can think of a better way of decorating our cities for the future.
A famous example found in Pompeii is the innocent proclamation: “Celadus the Thracian makes the girls sigh.”
If it were all so simple - maybe the Romans got it right!