Illustrated City Part 5

Vicious Circle

In September of 2011, I was riding on the Barton Street bus in Hamilton and eavesdropped on a one-way conversation that a guy, possibly in his early twenties, was having with two other passengers. He said that he “used to tag” and was bragging to them how tagging is a good thing but “used to really mean something”. He explained, “I could put my name (likely his street name) on a bus stop, and it meant that I owned it!” I remembered hearing a statement like that from watching a TV program back in the 80’s on graffiti. Experts were saying, back then, that this was a prevalent notion amongst many who do unethical graffiti on the street. Apparently, it’s still a prevalent narrow perception of entitlement on the succeeding generations of taggers.

The individual went on to explain how “Belio was the greatest tagger in the city”. The person he was referring to, Chillen Belio, probably was indeed the most invasive and destructive tagger in Hamilton for a number of years. For quite some time; as he often tagged with only “Chillen”, “Chill’n” or “Belio” (allegedly pronounced bEE-lEE-Oh), the authorities thought his work may have been that of two taggers. He’s been quite low key since 2010 but I’ve noticed that street photographers and graffiti admirers as far south as Texas have taken notice of his output on the sides of freight trains. Other high target Hamilton taggers have included Belio’s buddies KTA, MVP, NAV Crew, Poke, Relic and Cosmo.

Just from listening in on this passenger’s declarations, I could easily tell that this individual was totally enamored with unethical graffiti. It’s such a remarkable departure from social propriety that he views as proper conduct.

As for the image above; I agonized over naming this piece. I played around with names like “Media Circus” and “Bad Behaviour Criticising Bad Behaviour” just so that I wouldn’t have to name the image the same as my favourite painting by Jacek Malczewski. This unfortunately long-winded and looping story should explain why this turned out to be the best title after all.

“The Future is X-Rated” is the name of a song by Matthew Good. It and a few other songs from the Beautiful Midnight CD (1999) are said to be responsible for making the Matthew Good Band one of the most successful alternative rock bands in Canadian music history. The fame that came with the success is said to have often been difficult to bear for at least Matthew and likely the other band members and lead to tense media conferences and interviews. It is said to be partly the reason why Matthew dissolved the band in 2002.

This sort of hype that smothers all sorts of artists, politicians, tax payers and what have you is the leading reason why the hugely successful Euro-Techno-Pop duo known as Daft Punk (they remind me so much of the Earons from back in the 1980’s) have always worn sci-fi-looking helmets during performances and public appearances. I completely appreciate the desire of so many artists to have their creativity become far better known than themselves.

It seems that Matthew Good’s song is a protest against not just vice but society’s propensity to perpetually create and reabsorb it and that it’s likely to only get worse as time goes on. Apparently, some tagger liked the song and/or its message so much that he or she annoyingly spray painted its title on the side of someone’s garage in Hamilton’s Landsdale neighbourhood. This is an area that certainly appears to have an X-Rated future.

So there I go, photographing someone’s desecration as art.

I am an admirer of all the paintings of Jacek Malczewski. His “Thanatos” series and piece “Melancholia” are aesthetically incredible but I am most inspired by his metaphysical tornado of birth, aging, sexuality, death, and all the other goodness and badness of living known as “Vicious Circle”. That symbolic swirling sense of motion witnessed by a seemingly innocent observer or antihero, Matthew Good’s song and the fact that someone would pollute yet prove the song’s meaning by tagging a wall inspired me to make this image. Additional inspiration came months before seeing this graffiti. I just never knew that it would wind up in an urban photograph.

In 2008, amidst news reports of Beijing Olympic controversies, the Canadian General Election, US Presidential Election, O. J. Simpson finally being found guilty of a crime, US economic crisis and ensuing world economic crisis, murders and many other gems of current events, my wife and I were having a conversation with a friend of ours about the media. It was really about media hype in general but especially about hype from the news media. We agreed that there is always a necessity of being extremely careful about what we absorb, even when sensationalized news is actually broadcast or published with a considerable amount of truth to it.

We fully recognized, as many have before, that much of society is completely enthralled with upheaval. Not just the committing of it but the hearing about it, sharing of it and talking about it. I have met some who feel so helpless and distraught, even numb just from watching TV news that they adamantly refuse to continue watching it. I’ve met some who genuinely just like to know what is going on in the world around them, even if most of what they learn will have no direct or long lasting effect on their lives or will be impacted by them in any way. Most, still, always seem to be aroused by reports of who died or was ill-treated, how heinously, who’s sleeping with whom, and in what manner. The amount of attention given to these reports by readers, television watchers, radio listeners and the reporters themselves is seldom proportionate to the event being covered.

We weren’t exactly achieving new considerations about this phenomenon in our little discussion but when I spontaneously referred to it as a “vicious circle”, a common enough term that always makes me automatically recall Malczewski’s painting regardless of context, I had an idea for a new art project. I just couldn’t figure out if it was going to become a painting, drawing, street photo or some contrived photographic art.

It’s unfair to put the blame completely on the mass media because the media, perhaps especially in Western cultures, is actually the “news business”, like it or not. They are satisfying the marketing principle of opportunity cost. Clearly, if the news was all or even mostly about the good things in life, those organizations wouldn’t survive. From this, I think that the main culprits of media circuses are the voyeurs of publicized scandal and mayhem. I think we are the origin of the dilemma:

Through viewer and readership data we tell the mass media what we want to see and read about—sometimes even making ourselves part of those spectacles, and then the mass media hurriedly sets about packaging up those stories just to sell them back to us.

As with most things, fixing this salacious problem is a matter of collectively changing our attitude to focus mainly on what’s positive in the world. This is a thinking and moral revolution which many of us are unable to do, and many more of us flat out refuse to do.

These are the reasons why I settled on the name “Vicious Circle” for this image.

The perversion of sensationalism is a pervasive machine. It’s in business, economics, science, art, entertainment, culture, politics, forms of government and everything else. The further we go into tomorrow, the stronger it gets. Sometimes it disgusts us so much that we yearn to find a way to eliminate it–although it’s too big of a phenomenon to do so, yet we literally rely on it so heavily as if our survival depends on it.


3 thoughts on “Illustrated City Part 5

  1. I remember talking to some teens some years ago about tagging, they felt that they had the right to do it because the wall was there. When asked if they had owned it the response was… No…. it was only a wall…what’s the big deal. They don’t know/care who owns it, has to clean it off….. the only thing that was of interest was that they did what they wanted, when they wanted. A clear statement if there ever was one. My hope is that now many years later they now understand why I asked them.
    If only people would wait for gratification not have to everything instantaneously. Oh the marketing of today…..what will the future bring?

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