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the graffiti problem
in rome

 

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Picture (photo) Graffiti on doorway in Trastevere, Rome. Romebuddy.com guide to Rome - Graffiti in Rome page.

Rome has an astonishing graffiti problem.
In England and the US we are quite used to seeing graffiti, but not on elegant buildings hundreds or even thousands of years old.
It is hard for the visitor to Rome to grasp how such beautiful architecture and historic landmarks can be taken for granted in such a casual way as to think nothing of defacing them.

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Perhaps it is us in England who are the true Philistines for having torn down so much of our own architectural heritage in favour of faceless concrete shopping-malls and multi-storey car-parks.
One thing seems clear from Rome's example though - Considering the ambient architectural beauty of the city and the sublime pleasures of the healthy outdoor street-culture that mediterranean weather affords, decadent and irresponsible youth behaviour cannot wholly be blamed on environment. However, much of the spray-painted graffiti seen on the noble marble edifices of old Rome may indeed be rooted in anarchistic reaction to old values and centuries of government hypocrisy by youths living in slum tower-blocks on the outskirts of Rome; It is not the first time in history that Rome has been sacked, burned and flattened, or collapsed in on itself as a consequence of negligent and decadent self indulgence by successive governments.

Thus a nation and a culture such as Italy which has historically placed so high a value on art and sensual delight as first considerations when designing civic architecture or expressing the ideals of it's regime cannot be surprised if successive generations of Romans seek to imprint the city-scape with their own pet forms of contemporary art, in this case, graffiti.
However, it is at the same time disappointing that the perpetrators of this graffiti cannot conceive a more 'home-grown' style of expression. In general around Rome, and particularly on the sides of Rome's subway train carriages, the aerosol graffiti is nothing more than reverent plagiarism of the rap-culture aerosol lettering forms originating in black inner city areas of the United States: A culture which historically has absolutely nothing to do with the Mediterranean way of life.

If Italy hopes to raise future generations of artisans of the calibre and originality of the Renaissance, it is clearly failing miserably to inspire them with new, original creative hope and aspirations. Italy's love-affair with America has continued for several decades now, and American pop-culture has always threatened to engulf Italian tradition, as indeed elsewhere in modern Europe.

Wanna see modern Italian culture? You may as well save yourself the airplane fare and have your vacation in New York instead, because this is how Rome looks today. Heck, they don't even write their graffiti in Italian anymore - Most of it is scrawled in English!

Sadly, nowhere is this degenerating homogenisation of popular art, fashion, music, culture and lifestyles from, not the best, but the worst of North America more powerfully witnessed than in these aerosolled stones of Rome, and it is the international style gurus, fashion houses and corporate music industry pandering to an ever-vacuous MTV worldwide generation that are partly to blame. The other culprits are the Italians themselves, who, weak of national fortitude and moral principle as a study of history will show, have always been easily led, easily charmed, easily bewitched, easily corrupted, easily conquered.

UPDATE, August 2009:

The BBC have just caught up with what we wrote eleven years ago, and report here:


But when I first wrote the report above, I hadn't been in Italy long. I assumed that the graffiti was the work of poor boys. But now I've been here longer, I know it is nothing of the sort. It's middle class boys whose parents have already bought them their own cars, houses and family businesses to inherit, who do this. Yes, they are jobless, but only because they don't have to work.

For Italian higher education goes on until average age 25, and Italian law forbids parents to throw kids out until they have finished their education. Many live at home until into their thirties, jobless because they do not need to work - mamma and papa give them everything they need. Besides, they are not, as the Italian sociologist wrongly says, without hope of good jobs. There are plenty of good jobs in Italy, but today's young Italians al want to be architects and marine biologists, and turn up their noses at plumbing or clerking.
And MTV (beamed into homes free in Italy, no cable subscription required) has finished the job by getting right under these spoilt Italian kids skins, teaching them that self expression is everything.

My teenage son here (who is not a tagger himself) has school-friends who actually attend 'graffiti classes', run by left-wing anarchists (themselves spoilt bourgeois mummy's boys) who, under the guise of 'youth-workers' and probably with local government grants, teach the boys how to be yobbo's and rebel against their mummy's cooking.

Graffiti in Rome justified? You decide.

 

 

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