Since I don’t get out to the ol’ hiking trail that often, being chained to my desk, I was blissfully unaware that a group of lawless and arrogant vandals masquerading as “graffitti artists” are moving their ugly misappropriation of public spaces to the wild.
Andre Saraiva is an internationally known graffiti artist. He owns nightclubs in Paris and New York, works as a top editor of the men’s fashion magazine L’Officiel Hommes and has appeared in countless glossy magazines as a tastemaker and bon vivant. Two months ago he showed up on the decidedly un-fashionista website Modern Hiker, along with a photo of a boulder he tagged in Joshua Tree National Park. Since then, Saraiva, who lives in France and is known by his fans as Mr. Andre and Mr. A., has been scorned by American nature lovers and thrust into a highly charged debate. Saraiva is of a new generation of graffiti artists who regard nature — not just the built environment — as their canvas. They tag national parks, then post photos of their work on the Internet.
The Times—they are so open-minded in California!—goes on to say that “those acts infuriate outdoor enthusiasts,” as if there is any reason for the acts not to infuriate every thinking and reasoning human being on the planet. This is the awful journalistic device I have flagged in a political context, minimizing clearly unethical conduct by suggesting that only those with an agenda see it as wrong. “GOP critics assail Hillary Clinton for foreign donors,” for example, is a misleading characterization suggesting that one would and should only object to blatantly unethical conduct if one was a Clinton foe. Wrong. There is something ethically rotten about anyone who doesn’t see Clinton’s conduct as seriously unethical, just as everyone, not just “outdoor enthusiasts,” should recognize that defacing rocks, trees and landscapes is indefensible, ethically and legally.
Andre Saraiva is a fick–a person who acts unethically and celebrates it shamelessly. He is an art fick, a sub-species Ethics Alarms has not encountered often.
Jonathan Turley, a hiking enthusiast as well as a Constitutional scholar, makes his conclusion crystal clear, in the embodiment of the Ethics Alarms principle that “where ethics fail, law steps in”:
“We need new laws that impose jail time for these felons. There is a long-standing theory that deterrence is a balance of the size of the penalty and the rate of detection. As detection rates fell, penalties are increased to maintain the level of deference. Since these are often remote areas, detection is very low. Without serious punishment, creeps like Saraiva will continue to destroy our natural areas in senseless acts of juvenile vanity.”
“Senseless acts of juvenile vanity” also accurately describes urban graffiti, and it is the foolish tolerance of that unethical conduct, aided by multiple rationalizations, that opened the door for Andre Saraiva and his arrogant ilk to hoist the liberal, street art-celebrating crowd by their own, self-made petard.
Noting that many of the nature-lovers appalled at National Park vandalism are otherwise fans of graffiti art, the Times quotes Casey Schreiner, editer of “Modern Hiker”, who says, fatuously, “This is a very complex issue. How different is graffiti in national parks than street art? If street art is OK, is this OK? Is there a correlation?” Ah! Now I know why I don’t go on the ol’ hiking trail: I might run into people like Casey:
1. It’s not “a complex issue” at all. Nature graffiti is unethical by any ethics system or measure. It is wrong for an individual to intentionally change, mark, deface or alter public property without proper permission, whether that individual thinks it is art or not. Golden Rule? No. Universality? No. Stake-holder analysis? No. Utilitarianism? No way.
2. “How different is graffiti in national parks than street art?” Not different at all—obviously—except that Casey and his hypocrite readers only care about the great outdoors, so if inner city dwellers have to live with drawings of skulls, breasts and gang symbols on their environment, that’s just wonderful free expression, because the nature crowd wouldn’t be caught dead on those streets.
3. “If street art is OK, is this OK?” Street art isn’t OK. It is the destruction of property. I hope that solves the mystery for you, Casey.
Still, defacing natural landscapes is worse. Let’s be clear, in the way that sometimes only vulgarity can accomplish: Andre Saraiva is an asshole, and so is anyone who encourages him, and those like him, by rationalizing vandalism anywhere.