Thursday, December 20, 2012

Surprises, wanted and not

I went for a long run through Red Hook on Sunday. It’s a meandering route that I’ve made my go-to for longer runs. I like it because it’s relatively desolate and therefore easy to navigate, and also because well, I’ve just gotten used to it. I’m familiar with it. As I’ve documented before, it’s the site of some really cool street art, so some of the familiarity stems from specific landmarks that I like to check up on from time to time. After all, this is a most fleeting, form of expression; here today, gone within  a day or a week.

Some of my journey is along the lines of ‘Cool, the Swoon is still there. Ah, another wacky wheat paste has joined collection of marks on that derelict, collapsing apartment building. Rats, the shark painting is gone, but now there’s some sort of portrait of a woman in its place. And oh, hey, how have I missed all this time this kick ass carving into the sidewalk of a shadow of a tree nearby?!? (Sorry, no pics yet)

That, my friends is the essence of living to me. I have found that I have such a short attention span, that I crave the random surprises that pop up from time to time, even in places that I think I know so well. It's like walking through an endless field of green grass blades and suddenly stumbling on a bright yellow dandelion.

[Spoiler Alert: I'm tacking into something very different now, but will return to this in time]

But not all surprises are good ones. When it comes to some situations, I'm very grateful that I already know the answers. For instance, I am 99 percent certain that on any given day, no one around me has the ability to kill me without some serious effort on their part. They may be carrying the occasional knife, but I know they’re not armed with a firearm that is capable of ending my life or anyone I love with the simple squeeze of a trigger.
And yet…

After 27 people, including 20 small children, were massacred in Newtown on Friday, I have to wonder. Maybe there really are more people out there with arsenals stored in their basements, just waiting for the moment when civilization collapses, or some synapse in their head snaps. After all, Newtown is less than two hours away from here, and much closer to my home town, where a great number of people I treasure reside.

So what’s to be done then? The answer, it has been suggested in some quarters, is for folks like myself to be armed. After all, if I am armed, then it goes to reason that no one else who is armed will peg me as a target. Might makes right, an eye for an eye, and all that, right? And just five years ago, the Supreme Court cleared the way for me to own my very own gun, should I really want one.

Now, I could prattle on forever about gun control, mental health, the second amendment and the unique way that violence is enshrined in American culture. Indeed, all the above subjects have been rattling around in my head to the point of distraction ever since those poor people were mowed down in a hail of bullets. Save for a few token posts, I’ve even refrained from social media since then, as I felt no response could possibly due justice to the grief, confusion, rage and helplessness I’ve felt since then. Were it possible to translate all those thoughts into words on a screen, it might be….let’s just say it would not be pretty.

In any case, many others have already spoken so eloquently on the issue. I think of Nicholas Kristof, Gary Wills, Fordham's Saul Cornell, and of course my cousin Mary Beth.

But hey, just for shits and giggles, let's go in the opposite direction of the gun control crowd. Instead of limiting the purchase of AR-15’s and the kinds of high capacity clips that make slaughtering babies as simple as turning on a light switch, let’s suppose we even the score. Let's assume that the proper way to protect  children in schools is to give everyone in the vicinity permission to carry lethal weapons, preferably fully loaded, and holstered for quick access. No one ever will talk back to Ms. Jones again, right?

Fast forward to 2017. We’re there now. Every teacher has a pistol and knows how to use it. Presumably they’ve been given a break on the cost of buying it and ammunition, as well as the training they would need, because we all know what teacher’s salaries are like, right? Then what? I suppose the logic is supposed to work like this: The Newtown fuckwad-shithead-asshat-douchenozzle, having decided he’s going to kill someone, realizes that since he can’t kill many people at the school, he should kill elsewhere. Victory! Or not, since there’s still the town library. And the park. And the mall. And the town hall. And any public space, really!

'Ah, but Patrick,' I hear myself saying, 'You missed the point here. Once the teachers are armed, then it stands to reason that everyone would be armed. You, me, your sister, that guy who lives down the block, the gas station attendant, you name it. The way this sort of system would work would be if it were some sort of cold war—You don’t shoot me, because someone around me might shoot you.

I think the Cold War analogy is a great one, because we basically bankrupted the Soviet Union by forcing them to devote more and more resources toward weapons, until they could deploy no more. And so too, would we be sucked into a black hole of ever increasing expenditures to protect ourselves. After all, there are guns, and then there are GUNS, like the aforementioned AR-15. I don’t pretend to be an expert in fire arms, but I do know that some of them shoot faster, some of them shoot more accurately, and some of them shoot bullets that are much more efficient at ripping flesh to shreds. Newtown fuckface exterminated 27 out of the 29 people he shot, so if nothing else, he was a great example of efficiency. If you were a teacher determined to protect yourself and your students, you’d have to take time out of your day mapping your lesson plan for the ABC’s to figure out how you’d counter that.

But then again, maybe not, because as we know from the shit stain who pulled a similar stunt during a movie in Colorado, when you embark on a killing spree in the U.S., the hot new accessory is body armor. You too can be a one man Swat team now. The best offense is a good defense, amIright?

But back to the element of surprise. Of all the things you can do to maximize an all American slaughter, making the first move is key. That’s why even the stories you read about armed citizens thwarting mass shootings usually feature the slaughter of five or six poor slobs. If you’ve got the initiative, the NRA will make sure you can get the tools you need to make the first strike. I thought of this the other day when I guy was executed in broad daylight a block from my office with just one well-placed bullet to the back of his head, but thanks to Newtown, we now know just how much killing you can do if you put your mind to it. Given the kind of fire power he had at his disposal, who CARES if the teachers had been armed? They probably wouldn’t have A. Expected to be ambushed by a lunatic. B. Had time to react to his fussillade. Or C. Been able to go toe to toe with his firepower. Who knows, maybe one of them might have missed and shot a 6 year old instead…

The best offense is ALL defense, which to me means making it as hard as possible for anyone to mount an attack in the first place. If we can’t be sure deep down that we're safe, we will be forced to either turn this country into a literal police state, with armed guards stationed at every single public space in the land, or we'll will have to take up arms ourselves, and assume everyone else around has too.

So forget marveling at the newest graffiti production, wheat paste or sticker that has sprung up in a forgotten corner of my borough; I will be too damn busy worrying if the asshole I just bumped into on the subway is a mortal threat. Or worse yet, some other asshole is going to get the hairy eyeball from another jerk, exchange words, and let the bullets fly while I’m standing in the middle.

It already happens in places like the South Bronx, despite heroic efforts by the NYPD to stop it. And now it’s happened in Newtown, and five days later, I still feel waves of sadness role over me when I think of those poor women and children, ripped out of this life in as viciously a manner possible. I can do nothing to grant them a reprieve from the evil that befell them, but I hope to god I can help stop this escalation of death that is gripping us, and pummel this notion that violence can defeat violence back into whatever wretched place it came from.

I want my surprises to be good ones.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A word about context

A couple of days ago, the weirdest thing happened. I more of less finished the theis. Well, sort of. Although I still had to write a table of contents, a title page, and some acknowledgements I'd like thank um, Jesus, etc....), when I finished the chapter about the owner of a building in Gowanus, the heavy lifting was done. Kick ass!

Now, it's sort of a slog. First up, combine the different chapters into one document. One chapter, about Five Pointz, has pictures already, but the rest of the thesis does not. Still, it weighs in at 138 pages. Basically, I feel like I've run a third marathon with this puppy. Maybe this is mile 22 or so?

Next, re-reading the entire thing AGAIN. For some of the earlier chapters, this is probably the tenth time I've read them, since many started life as papers for classes I took as part of my masters' program. That's one of the nice things about this Urban Studies program—professors try to help you work your thesis into their classes whenever possible.

Anyway, I've now re-read and rejiggered the first nine chapters, or 43 pages, and I hope to be done with that, and picture selection, by December 12, so I can turn in the whole shebang by the 19th. Oh yes, this motherfucker will happen.

Now, about the "context" that I mention in the title. Perusing Wooster Collective a couple days ago, I ran into this. Wooster Collective is updated pretty infrequently, but every once in awhile, they really clear the air. This is a post about Banksy, who is arguably the most famous street artist around, and while I am writing about authorized graffiti murals, and not (mostly often) unauthorized street art, both phenomenon are weakened considerably when they are taken out of the contex in which they were created. The chap over at Vandalog likens it to telling a joke with just the punch line, and nothing else.

As chance would have it, I make a similar argument in my paper, by quoting from Walter Benjamin's  The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, which he wrote in 1939. To wit:

"The uniqueness of the work of art is identical to its embedded-ness in the context of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. What was equally evident to both was its uniqueness, its aura."

I delve into this quote a lot in my thesis, but the basic premise is that graffiti murals can't be anywhere BUT the street, because of their connection to the gritty reality that the street embodies. Likewise, if you only look at a piece like this: 


You will not understand that it is embedded in a scene like this:

Or this:


Or that another part of this scene is this:


Mmmmm, rotten produce....

These are a from my visit to Hunt's Point in the Bronx, the home of the TATs Cru, and they'll be a part of chapter ten of what will come to be known as either "New York City Graffiti Murals: Signs of Hope," "New York City Graffiti Murals: Marks of Distinction," or something else if inspiration strikes me.