There Is No “Debate”: Graffiti Artists Are Vandals, And The First Step To Stopping Them Is To Eliminate The Myth That They Might Be Anything Else

Rattlesnake Canyon "art": Breathtaking!

Rattlesnake Canyon “art”:

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.

From the L.A. Times:

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.


32 thoughts on “There Is No “Debate”: Graffiti Artists Are Vandals, And The First Step To Stopping Them Is To Eliminate The Myth That They Might Be Anything Else

  1. You know by now, how I read about this kind of thing, and immediately project to ever grander renditions of the wrongdoing. Yes, I can see them now: former BASE jumpers, converted to graffiti “artists,” leaving murals on the Hoover Dam, walls of the Grand Canyon, El Capitan, Rushmore…true heroes of defacement and destruction. And wait till you see what the graffiti will actually say and depict!

    I am not-so-secretly praying that someone with Tit-for-Tat vengeance and sufficient determination to school such Golden Rule-ignorers as Andre Saraiva will install “art” on every precious piece of property that he owns and ever will own – without his permission, of course.

  2. I was one of the last tourists to get to walk through Stonehenge before they fenced it off. Why? Vandalism of “Mr. A’s” variety. The cliff dwellings of the Hohakim in the American southwest are largely inaccessible now due to the same thing. It’s not limited to “bon vivants” and juvenile idiots, either, in all fairness. Early “Egyptologists” had no scruples about scrawling their own “Kilroy Was Here” messages in pyramids and other structures. The common factor is an overwhelming sense of “me” and the corresponding lack of respect for the property and heritage of others. That mentality is what must be dealt with. It may never have been more prevalent, though, then in our sorry times. How to combat it? Education in ethics might help! There’s not only little of that in evidence today, but quite a bit of the opposite being preached in schools. Some hard nosed enforcement along the line of “You break it, you pay for it” is another part of the answer.

  3. No arguments here, Jack, but, let me ask you this: what about so-called “plowshares” defacement, meaning peace activists vandalizing a missile silo or a ship or a plane? Let’s assume it doesn’t rise to the level of sabotage, but only to the level of pouring blood in the shape of a cross on a missile silo or spray-painting a peace slogan on a docked submarine. Moral but unethical, immoral and unethical, or something else?

    • Still a felony, Steve… but for a different reason. To access those places means to place the security of America in peril by the act alone. Those signs around national defense resources that say “Lethal force authorized” mean exactly that.

      • Believe me, I agree with you wholeheartedly, and I think the previous administration did the right thing in ceasing to let those engaged in such activity off with just a slap on the wrist and actually pushing forward with prosecutions that landed, for example a trio of very elderly nuns in prison for between 30 and 41 months. That’s not a huge amount of time, but it’s not nothing either. During the Cold War it was fairly common to just arrest such people, then later drop the charges, or just toss them off the property since vandalism could be cleaned up or painted over within an hour and the US attorneys had bigger fish to fry, like the war on drugs. With 9/11 and the realization that even one or two people could do a lot of damage, that had to be revised. Being “for peace” and expecting not to be punished is simply a moral gloss.

        • Speaking as one who actually guarded high priority resources (yes, to include nuclear weapons) I can tell you that anyone attempting an unauthorized access of the site, who refused a command to halt and/or was carrying anything on him was going to get shot. The standing order was shoot to wound, of course. The hard reality, however, was shoot to stop- whatever it took.

    • Being an ex-submariner, and after standing many topside sentry watches and nuclear weapons security watches during missile transactions, I can tell you that persisting in approaching a submarine, especially a boomer, is a good way to get shot dead very quickly. No need to worry about jail.

      • I once had charge of a detail covering part of a B-52 ready line at Biggs Army Airfield, Fort Bliss (a former SAC base) during a dispersal exercise. Those big BUFFs were uploaded with enough megatonnage to make a continent uninhabitable!

        • I once caught a guard asleep at his position (in broad daylight) next to a lone B-52. All I had was my vehicle; he had an impressive gun. I didn’t disturb him. The aircraft and the surrounding tarmac appeared otherwise secure. I can give no other details, except to say that there was “no other apparent adverse incident,” either in real time or afterward.

      • My best buddy was the quartermaster on the Lafayette, then transferred to a diesel boat. Never could see it as a career choice. So, instead, I elected to become a tank crewman.

  4. ““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.”

    This isn’t that much removed from the same forces that say we can’t call thugs thugs if they happen to be black. We can’t call Ebonics really bad grammar, and any other number of behaviors that are valueless but protected because they belong to certain subsets of the greater community that no longer seek assimilation…

  5. I cannot help but wonder what Mr. Saraiva’s reaction would be if Banksy painted “oatmeal cookie” across the front of his New York nightclub.

  6. Jonathan Turley said “We need new laws that impose jail time for these felons”. Are there not already laws outlawing vandalism? Instead of making new laws, why not enforce the laws that already exist.
    To keep making all these extra laws rather than using existing laws leads to such a plethora of laws that no-one can possibly know all the laws which makes it therefore too easy to unintentionally break them.

  7. Jack,
    Great article, though “those acts infuriate outdoor enthusiasts” isn’t at all misleading. As you pointed out, there are a number of people NOT outraged by the continued defacement and countless more who are either unaware or don’t care. Take it from someone who does find their way down the ole hiking trail, this debate has been long running (there were similar debates over the construction of cairns) and there is far from a consensus, even amongst “outdoor enthusiasts.”

    I’m confused as to how it could have been worded less misleadingly?

    Also ““GOP critics assail Hillary Clinton for foreign donors” is misleading, I’ll grant you, but it does NOT suggest that ONLY Clinton haters should be appalled. It merely suggests that only Clinton-haters are the ones making the most noise (they are) and there are scores of (misguided) others who don’t care (there are).

    Whatever the case, I hope this finds you well and of good cheer!


    • Maybe deceitful is a better word. Saying “the GOP is critical” or “outdoor enthusiasts are critical” is literally true, but suggests a narrow interest from objection where one might not and should not exist. “Many are troubled by this conduct, especially (including) outdoor enthusiasts” is fairer, more accurate , and not misleading in any way.

  8. Many years ago, at Amistad Reservoir north of Del Rio, cave dwellings were found, complete with pictographs. These were subsequently opened to the public, and were open for almost 6 months before some juvenile IDIOT spray painted his street name and girlfriends name OVER the pictographs. It took the State of Texas several months of labor-intensive work to restore the pictographs. The cave is now fenced-off, but can be viewed from a distance. Fortunately, the IDIOT was stupid enough to leave his girlfriends name, so the Rangers tracked her down, she identified the IDIOT and he received a guided tour of Huntsville, as well as a fine he will be awhile paying.

    • I hope they put him to work painting everything in the prison, the college and the whole damn town that needed it… so that after he got out, he’d never want to look at paint again.

    • Is this satire or toungue-in-cheek quipping?

      I know the blatant difference between Mt Rushmore or Hoover Dam and spray painting someone else’s property is obvious to you.

  9. Jack, just sent you an e-mail regarding the State’s Attorney for Baltimore. Don’t know2 if you’ll get it or if it’ll go to spam.

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