Definitions

Vandalism

Vandalism

[van-dl-iz-uhm]
Vandalism is the behaviour attributed to the Vandals in respect of culture: ruthless destruction or spoiling of anything beautiful or venerable. Such action includes criminal damage, defacement, graffiti and crass erection of an eyesore.

History of the term

Historically, vandalism has been justified by painter Gustave Courbet as destruction of monuments symbolizing "war and conquest". Therefore, it is often done as an expression of contempt, creativity, or both. Vandalism is only a meaningful concept in a culture that recognizes history and archaeology. Like other similar terms (Barbarian/barbary, and Philistine), the term Vandal was originally an ethnic slur referring to the Vandals, who under Geiseric sacked Rome in 455. The Vandals, like the Philistines, no longer exist as an identifiable ethnic group. The term in its modern acceptance was coined in January 1794 during the French Revolution, by Henri Grégoire, constitutional bishop of Blois, in his report directed to the Republican Convention, where he used word Vandalisme to describe some aspects of the behaviour of the republican army. Gustave Courbet's attempt, during the 1871 Paris Commune, to dismantle the Vendôme column, a symbol of the past Napoleon III authoritarian Empire, was one of the most celebrated events of vandalism. Nietzsche himself would meditate after the Commune on the "fight against culture", taking as example the intentional burning of the Tuileries Palace on May 23 1871. "The criminal fight against culture is only the reverse side of a criminal culture" wrote Klossowski after quoting Nietzsche.

In a proposal to the International Conference for Unification of Criminal Law held in Madrid in 1933, Raphael Lemkin envisaged the creation of two new international crimes (delicta juris gentium): the crime of barbarity, consisting in the extermination of racial, religious or social collectivities, and the crime of vandalism, consisting in the destruction of cultural and artistic works of these groups. The proposal was not accepted.

Vandalism as crime

Private citizens commit vandalism when they wilfully damage or deface the property of others or the commons. Some vandalism qualifies as culture jamming or sniggling it is artistic in nature as well as being carried out illegally or without the property owner's permission. Examples include at least some graffiti art, billboard liberation and possibly crop circles, Criminal vandalism has many forms, graffiti on public property is common in many inner cities as part of a gang culture, however other more devastating forms such as those involved with public unrest, such as rioting, involve the wilful destruction of public and private property, Vandalism per se is often considered one of the least serious common crimes, but it can become quite serious and distressing when committed extensively, violently or as an expression of hatred and intimidation.

Examples

Examples of vandalism include salting lawns, cutting trees without permission, egg throwing, breaking windows, arson, spraying paint on others' properties, tagging, placing glue into locks, tire slashing, keying (scratching) paint, ransacking a place and flooding someones house by clogging a sink and leaving the water on.

In the case of vandalism to private property, the owner the victim, may feel that they were specifically targeted by the perpetrator(s) this is not necessarily the case. An example of such a crime would be the wilful destruction of a car window for no obvious purpose save to give the perpetrator(s) possibly a few seconds of entertainment, with no consideration, or empathy for the detriment to the state of mind or inconvenience of the victim.

Motives

Reasoning for such actions can be attributed to anger, envy or spontaneous, opportunistic behaviour possibly for peer acceptance or bravado in gang cultures, or disgruntlement with the target (victim) person or society. Opportunistic vandalism of this nature may also be filmed, the mentality of which can be akin to happy slapping. The large scale prevalence of gang graffiti in some inner cities has almost made it acceptable to the societies based there so much so that it may go unnoticed, or not be removed, possibly because it may be a fruitless endeavour, to be graffitied on once again.

Reaction of authorities

In view of its incivility, punishment for vandalism can be particularly severe in some countries. In Singapore, for example, a person who attempts to cause or commits an act of vandalism may be liable to imprisonment for up to 3 years and in conjunction may be punished with caning. The act of vandalism in UK is construed as an environmental crime and may be dealt with an ASBO (Anti-Social Behavior Order).

Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani made a crackdown on vandalism a centerpiece of his anti-crime agenda in the 1990s, asserting that a strong campaign against nonviolent "quality of life" crimes such as vandalism would cause a corresponding decrease in violent crime. However much credit can be given to Giuliani's anti-vandalism crusade, FBI statistics claim that New York's crime rate plummeted during his tenure.

Vandalism as art

Though vandalism in itself is illegal, it is often also an integral part of modern popular culture. French painter Gustave Courbet's attempt to disassemble the Vendôme column during the 1871 Paris Commune was probably one of the first artistic vandalist acts, celebrated at least since Dada performances during World War I. The Vendôme column was considered a symbol of the past Napoleon III empire, and dismantled as such.

After the burning of the Tuileries Palace on May 23 1871, Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche himself meditated about the "fight against culture", wondering what could justify culture if it were to be destroyed in such a "senseless" manner (the arguments are: culture is justified by works of art and scientific achievements; exploitation is necessary to those achievements, leading to the creation of exploited people who then fight against culture. In this case, culture can't be legitimised by art achievements, and Nietzsche writes: "I {also} know what it means: fighting against culture". After quoting him, Klossowski writes: "The criminal fight against culture is only the reverse side of a criminal culture"

As destruction of monument, vandalism can only have sense in a culture respecting history, archeology - Nietzsche spoke of monumental history. As destruction of monumental history, vandalism was assured a long life (as Herostratus proved): Performance art could make such a claim, as well as Hakim Bey's poetic terrorism or Destroy 2000 Years of Culture from Atari Teenage Riot. Gustave Courbet's declaration stated:

"Attendu que la colonne Vendôme est un monument dénué de toute valeur artistique, tendant à perpétuer par son expression les idées de guerre et de conquête qui étaient dans la dynastie impériale, mais que réprouve le sentiment d’une nation républicaine, [le citoyen Courbet] émet le vœu que le gouvernement de la Défense nationale veuille bien l’autoriser à déboulonner cette colonne.

("As the Vendôme column is formally considered a monument devoid of any artistic value, tending to perpetuate with its expression ideas of war and conquest of the past imperial dynasty, that are reprobated by a republican nation's sentiment, citizen Courbet is to emit his wish that the National Defense government will allow him to dismantle this column.")

Hence, painter Courbet justified the dismantlement of the Vendôme column on political grounds, downgrading its artistic value. Vandalism poses the problem of the value of art compared to life's hardships: Courbet thought that the political values transmitted by this work of art neutralized its artistic value. Anyway, his project wasn't followed, however, on April 12, 1871, the dismantlement of the imperial symbol was voted by the Commune, and the column taken down on May 8. After the assault on the Paris Commune by Adolphe Thiers, Gustave Courbet was condemned to pay part of the expenses. As any good vandal, he preferred flying away to Switzerland.

Tags, designs, and styles of writing are commonplace on clothing and are an influence on many of the corporate logos with which we are familiar. Many skateparks and similar youth-oriented venues are decorated with commissioned graffiti-style artwork, and in many others patrons are welcome to leave their own. There is still, however, a very fine line between vandalism as an artform, as a political statement, and as a crime. An excellent example of one who walks this threefold line is Bristol born guerrilla-artist Banksy, who is revered as a cult artistic figure by many, but seen by others as a criminal.

See also

References

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