When I was in high school, there existed a series of independently-produced video cassettes called Video Graf. They chronicled various graffiti scenes of the time, including footage of people bombing and interviews with writers. Attempts were made to disguise the identities of these writers, but I suspect the New York Police Department’s Vandal Squad scrutinized each frame of these VHS tapes, and much of the footage could have been used to prosecute, if not be admissible in a court trial.
Even in the earliest days of graffiti, writers’ need to capture and catalog their work was part of the experience. I always say that there are two basic components to writing: getting up, and then seeing yourself up later on. A photograph or film will help extend these transient experiences, it helps to make them more durable–and portable, for what that’s worth. I wonder how many graffiti scenes began when a writer took his piece book with him on summer vacation and showed hand styles to the locals.
I first became aware of graffiti on YouTube when a clip by Above1 was recommended by the site’s recommendation bots. Most clips of graffiti I had seen on YouTube to that point were either very old (and often footage from VideoGraf itself) or of unknown writers from other continents. Above1 was the first guy who was filming himself making clean bombs, hitting freights and walls with tags and various competent throw-ups. His style is both well-developed and well-executed, and though the clips don’t depict him risking life and limb for incredible spots, it’s still nice to watch someone who is good at his craft go to work. Plus, I like a lot of the music he uses in his videos.
After watching Above1′s whole queue, I was determined to find similar footage on YouTube. Most of it was absolutely ridiculous, a lot of badly-filmed video of ten year-olds slathering spray paint from a model car kit onto their parents’ garages and driveways. It’s amazing how many people love to show others footage of themselves doing things poorly. I am of the mind that one should practice on their own time before going public, so to speak, but here you’ve got pre-teen doofuses, all giddy with excitement that they’ve stolen their neighbor’s half-full can of Rustoleum, filming their first tag, which invariably looks like shit. The number of missteps inherent in that solitary act are so many that it would require a separate volume to define them all. Suffice to say, there are a lot.
Then I landed on some videos for oinkartltd.com. I was already aware that there existed brands of spray paint which catered to graffiti writers. What I didn’t know was that an entire, and seemingly robust industry exists to mass produce graffiti supplies for modern writers. It’s really mind-blowing to think about, that this once secret world of apprenticeships has been completely wiped away, everything laid bare. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, really, if wikileaks can erode U.S. diplomacy then showing people how to mix indelible ink isn’t that big of a deal. It’s just that there was once a real proprietary sense about graffiti, you took your lumps until you got up enough to start doling them out. Now it seems like graffiti is encouraged for everyone, as James of oinkartltd.com says, “go out and write on shit.”
And I’m not against commercial graffiti supplies, mind you. Really, I could care less. The mark made by an eraser mop is not inherently better than the mark made by a wide design marker. Whether you poked an aerosol cap with a hot pin for an hour or went out and bought a fat cap, the result is the same–probably better, when buying your supplies. It’s just the availability of it all, it kind of negates the outlaw aspect of graffiti. It’s more like weed in much of this country, where it’s technically illegal, but tolerated in the backs of counterculture magazines and through the creepy winks of head shop hippies. oinkartltd.com and other sites like it imply that “cool” parents everywhere are getting their sons and daughters their first cans of spray paint, and allowing them to tag the work shed only after their homework is done. You need to be a murderous junkie just to get some decent rebellion in these days.
I watched a lot of product review on YouTube, both by oinkartltd and by customers who have taken it upon themselves to display the qualities of their purchases. This is nothing new on YouTube, it’s full of people doing product reviews for practically everything. But again, it was strange for me to watch these young kids show me how various paint pens work on different surfaces. Just go fucking write already! I don’t really give a shit about how you hold your PenTel, I want to see your tag. If you’re not ready to show that, then don’t act like a knowledgeable graffiti artist!
The final straw was when I found a set of videos by WickiyWickiy. This guy is so thorough, that when you search for “oink art” on YouTube, his videos are the first to show up. His videos consist mainly of him opening boxes of graffiti supplies and testing them for the camera. At no point have I seen him write a word, much less a tag, though he claims to write. I don’t buy it, though. Graffiti supplies are disposable and usually last for a very limited time. One should be ready to ditch their markers and caps should the authorities show up. But these videos by WickiyWickiy, they exhibit a total fetishization of these supplies, so that the receiving and opening of a package trumps actually getting up on a wall. The guy might as well be showing off his Pokemon for all I care. On top of that, he shows an inability to grasp the mechanics of many commercial graffiti supplies. Perhaps he should learn to make flow pens.
So what does this all mean? Is getting graffiti fame through YouTube some toy shit? It certainly could be argued that it is, but at the same time you can broadcast your simple tags worldwide and become more well-known than anyone. It’s safe to say that more kids around the world know about Above1 than Los Angeles-based Above, who has been doing his thing for about ten years now. Writers uploading video of themselves tagging are taking a bigger risk than writers who hit it and quit it, essentially amassing evidence which could eventually be used against them in a court of law. I’ve got no problem with commercial graffiti supplies, but if you buy them, you should use them. If you don’t want to show yourself tagging for obvious legal reasons, then don’t post videos of yourself fondling Magnum markers! It’s like taking all of the risk in posting personal YouTube videos without netting any of the fame. And if I ever see you testing supplies in my area, I’m taking your shit.