I had an odd reaction to last week’s pics of the defacement of the Lincoln Memorial. Morality aside, the green scrawl seemed old fashioned to me — quaint even.
In piecing out out why, I had to think about how this type of subversive display operates and completes in today’s visual economy. In that light, the competition is pretty fierce. Muscling for attention is ever more artistic, compelling and institution-sponsored graffiti, street- and public art; a cornucopia of clever marketing at the street level, ranging from corporate branding of (and on) everything to — as just one example — the eye-catching universe of mobile food trucks; and spontaneous social phenomena, such as flash mobbing. And then, in the “protest-” or “subversive space,” there is the heightened visibility of all kinds of activity — from occupations and highly-media targeted protests (see: Code Pink), to traumas, including shootings, riots and bombings — as escalating objects of attention for citizen journalists as well as subject matter for buzz-manufacturing social media.
As such, I can’t look at that scrawl without relating to its visual impact on a continuum with news images like these:
In contrast to the rich near-daily stream of ingenious demonstration messaging or protest signage, the social media equivalent of the “sound bite,” it seems as if the audience for this green scrawl was primarily the National Park Service or DC police. My sense, in fact, is that those photos circulated less for their impact as civil disruption than as a novelty on a slow news week.
(photo 1: H. Darr Beiser/USA Today caption: A National Park Service worker removes green paint from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Vandals splashed paint across the statue of the nation’s 16th president and on the marble floor of the memorial. photo 2: Win McNamee/Getty Images. caption: Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, partner Maggie George, and their daughter Shannon Voelkel take part in a demonstration in front of the U.S. Supreme Court March 26, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments March 26, in California’s proposition 8, the controversial ballot initiative that defines marriage only between a man and a woman. photo 3: Jochen Luebke / EPA caption:Security staff stop another topless demonstrator at the Volkswagen stand at the Hanover Fair.photo 4: wearethe99percent.tumblr.com)