Graffiti, Aging and Subcultural Memory—A Struggle for Recognition through Podcast Narratives
“Well, nothing is more precious to anybody than the emotional record of his youth, and you will find the trail of my sleeve-worn heart in this completed play […]. On the surface it was and still is the tale of a wild-spirited boy […]. However, beneath that […] it is a play about unanswered questions that haunt the hearts of people and the difference between continuing to ask them […] and the acceptance of prescribed answers that are not answers at all, but expedient adaptions or surrender to a state of quandary.”Tennessee Williams , The Past, the Present, and the Perhaps
1.1. Mnemonic Community, Subcultural Memory and Graffiti Podcasts
- Podcast host:
- How would you say? When you saw graff, was it kind of a way for you to express yourself and be seen, like it was for so many others?
- Personally I believe that I was a nobody, I mean I was not like the coolest guy in class. I wasn’t the best at anything, I had a hard time in school, or not hard time but I had dyslexia and didn’t get any support. […] [A]nd then I made a tag on a trashcan and the day after I met Flow and he was like: “who the fuck is that guy?”. And you know you felt like, Damn! What would happen if I do three or four [tags]? So off course I got an identity through it, that I didn’t have before.
[T]hat quote where some old New York writers said this thing: “graffiti is for kids”, that it is done by kids, for kids, like childish. “If you are above 18”, or 20, or what he said, then you should call it quits. However, that is kind of sad that is usually when you get good at it.
1.2. Purpose, Research Question and Outline
2. Theoretical Framework
2.1. Graffiti Art, Crime, Youth, Career, and Gender
2.2. The Subcultural
2.3. Mnemonic Practices and Subcultural Memory
2.4. Reflexivity and Biographies
3. Materials and Methods
4.1. Entering the Mnemonic Community
I was really kind of a table tennis and wind surfing guy [laughs]. […] And then I was hanging out with […] this guy called Måns who had got a book from his parents, […] Danish Wildstyle [Graffiti]. And I was falling off the chair. You know [...] when I opened up the pages it was like boom [...]. When I saw it, it was like instant. I understood, this is what I will be doing. It just was a kind of mega-experience. [...] It was absolutely magical, damn how much we looked in that book. [...] It made a very strong impact on me and then we started sketching right away.
That’s interesting, how something just comes across so strong. You just have to do it […] It was really so evident, everywhere, it wasn’t that graffiti came along, it was all around you, right, it was everywhere, once I got […] my eyes […] on it.
I’ll never forget going down to the subway platform with my mother […], it had been open for a week […]. I remember it was my first impression of graff, I remember clearly that when you went down into that new station there was graffiti absolutely everywhere.
4.2. Following A Different Path
Yeah, I kind of chose a different path, […] graffiti, the concept, the whole mentality. […] So, my life is kind of defined by graffiti. It has followed me, it’s kind of, it has always been around. […] I’ve found myself, in what I’m doing and I’m so grateful for that every morning when I wake up. [I]’m still thinking in graffiti terms.
If you go a little deeper into why ... it was fun, to scribble and it was beautiful with graffiti, but the whole thing for me! Now I know it was a way to express, to find your expression, something you function with, because I did NOT function in school, like, in the expected way. […] I could never sit still or be like silent. So school was like an impossible way to get in, in some way. And club activities—football, hockey, that was… no! That wasn’t possible. However, writing graffiti, which you did by yourself. […] If there had been a coach, an adult trainer who had been out on [the subway station] and been like “yes now the trains come in guys, now you should do this…. It would not have been interesting at all. […] Then it would have been: “eh this, eh what did he say, no I didn’t hear what he said, but this seems boring, let’s bounce”.
Yes, and it is self-chosen, […] that was the core of it for me and it actually worked for me […]. I kind of found love within this. I mean community and warmth, along that path into the society, and that has since made up a foundation for my whole life. It made me feel that I was functioning and hence I could work [and] function with other stuff too.
- Mm, you could perhaps have ended up in any subculture, where you find a context, a community and fellowship and all those bits or?
- Exactly, […] when you don’t function in normal situations, you kind of have to find your own path. You cannot just sit in school and not function and get the worst results, and settle for it, then you have to find an alternative, an alternative path into life, really.
- Then we are there again, about finding purpose in life. And several [podcast] guests have described that they were messy, chaotic, and creative as well. Then graffiti came as a perfect thing, that happened to fit you, and then they just went along.
- Something is reflected, it’s us that shape societies, like, they’re formed by people who express themselves. […] And that’s kind of what I like about graffiti, and when I listen to the other guys you [the SGP host] have interviewed, and I realize that they’re out there painting trains and that, it’s somehow as if they try to prove some kind of reality out there. It’s as if it’s not only about just sitting at home dreaming or anything. It’s actually about realizing yourself out there.
- [Graffiti is] a journey of discovery and it’s how you make life richer by discovering new things. If you don’t do that, you’re just stuck in the same pace all the time and life is too precious for that.
- You get out there and discover the city.
- Yeah, that’s what graffiti’s all about, now that you’re 40, a backpack with spray cans, going into the woods looking for a wall, shit, it’s like being a child again.
- It’s still there, the desire for discovery, it’s always part of the desire to discover and explore […] It’s just [like] when we were younger […] you learned to, like, work towards something, you had a drive because you have a vision.
- [W]e were looking for the thrill, it was never legal to write in the subway, if it had been I don’t think we would have done it. We really wanted to fuck up the bloody subway and make sure that everyone in Stockholm could see that […] here [we] come like. The more the better.
- Yeah, it has to blaze, or rattle and crackle. That’s what graffiti is to me, not necessarily a nice image. That’s graffiti too, but, you know, well … er, it comes right out and assaults you.
- Exactly, a lot has been said about it, that graff has to be illegal for it to have a soul, even though styles on a legal wall can be nice too, but it’s not the same, really.
- Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was only then you’d get that “aaah” feeling in your stomach. […] [C]rossing the line, that’s what did it, that’s what you got into, that’s what made you think “wow this is so cool”, I just have to do it.
4.3. Middle Age Masculine Identities
- How much emotion and mental activity do you have concerning [graffiti]?
- It still takes, well I wouldn’t say it takes time from me but I look at it constantly and it occupies my mind even if I don’t, like, practice it. […] You know, there is big drive and an interest all the time, even if you don’t go along painting yourself.
You kind of have to try find a balance, it’s like I would like to paint every day […]. When you see others have been out painting or bombing then you get stoked. [...] [Y]ou think, tonight I might [be able to paint], and then when you come home – well not really, […] you have to prepare gruel [for the baby] and other shit. […] If you’re in a relationship then you are in a relationship, then you must honor your own choice.
- I always have a feeling […]. That you see a wall and think “ouff! Here you could [paint]”. […] But then you don’t bother and you don’t really have time to. And no motivation.
- Ah! That you love graffiti but it’s not your whole worldview in that way?
- No, no, no, and even if it should be your whole worldview, it wouldn’t matter. If I would paint every day, it wouldn’t fill the same function for me.
Well, you know I think this is quite interesting because like later in life you start to kind of look at the paths you followed […] and that’s what I find interesting with your podcast […], because now you have, like, time to reminiscence. It is sensitive as hell, when you embark on this […] To tell your story […] and kind of make sense of, how in hell did I get by […]. And sometimes, I don’t have a clue.
- When I was younger I don’t think I reflected over whether [graffiti was a choice or a need]. You know, I had a break. And then in adulthood a guy at my work found out [that] I had been painting […]. He just said, “now we’ll get some cans and paint”. Then I knew, that if I take this step now, […] well I was like a junkie with a shot of heroin in my hand, I knew that if I start now then I will fall down into it, devote a lot of time to it and maybe get into trouble again […]. Then I had that insight, and I was correct, I am manic. I sit here with my graffiti podcast, but it’s fun. […]. [N]ow when you are an adult you can be responsible for your [graffiti] writing in a different way.
[T]hat hunger and devotion that is graffiti, for me, that I could only have then, when I was a child you know. And that is what I find to be interesting with graff. […] [Now] I can be a nerd about style as well, the shape of the letters and forms. […] Because of this I can go to a legal wall […] a couple of times a year with like some old writer friends, but then it is not at all about “ouff, what if everyone sees this, wow, here I am, just wow”.
- [M]aybe moderation in all things is the best, when it comes to, like, medium dangerous and fun stuff like graff and booze and…
- If one shall make any conclusion out of it, yes, but at the same time I am of the opposite opinion, graff was about being so illegal, so un-moderated as possible. […] But this is not advice I give to others […]. To my kids on the other side of the door I say “moderation in all things is good, do some graffiti on a legal wall, that’s balanced”. However, on the other hand there is a need for writers that are all but balanced, if graffiti should have any value so to say, […] there should be some riot in it.
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Jacobson, M. Graffiti, Aging and Subcultural Memory—A Struggle for Recognition through Podcast Narratives. Societies 2020, 10, 1. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10010001
Jacobson M. Graffiti, Aging and Subcultural Memory—A Struggle for Recognition through Podcast Narratives. Societies. 2020; 10(1):1. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10010001Chicago/Turabian Style
Jacobson, Malcolm. 2020. "Graffiti, Aging and Subcultural Memory—A Struggle for Recognition through Podcast Narratives" Societies 10, no. 1: 1. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10010001