Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Insisting on Disagreeing

The restless and rebellious children of the bourgeoisie seem to be at it again. Two more billboards in my formerly graffiti-free St. Paul neighborhood were recently spattered with displays of righteous dissent. As I’ve written previously, I suspect the righteous dissenters are the liberal artists in training over at Macalester College (or at least their fellow travelers). It’s just a pity that the rights they feel compelled to defend (via the commission of crimes) aren’t the rights of private property and free speech for those they disagree with. Otherwise the neighborhood wouldn’t have to put up with a streetscape that looks more like the late-1970’s era New York City subway system than beautiful little Mac-Groveland.

I’m warning you St. Paul homeowners, the pattern is established. First you allow angry, sloppy graffiti to proliferate, next thing you know gangs of unruly youths are roaming the streets. According to the definitive historical study on this progression (The 1979 movie classic “The Warriors”), these gangs will either be wearing roller skates and dressed like Robin Williams during his Mork period (that is, with suspenders and blousy pants) or dressed up like baseball players wearing black lipstick and clown makeup. Is that really what you want to see on Marshall Avenue? On second thought, that might actually be preferable to crew from WAMM seen rabble rousing down there on Friday afternoons. At least the Robin Williams impersonating roller skating gang bangers have a more rationally grounded world view.

Specific sites of vandalism this week include a billboard at the intersection of Grand Ave. and Ayd Mill Road. It was sponsored by some non profit group and stated simply “What Makes Us Great - Unity”. A somewhat ambiguous statement, but one that appears to have its heart in the right place. (Although it’s certainly not as good a slogan as “Deserve Victory!”). Some spray can wielding, misguided Thomas Paine wannabe changed the word “Unity” to “Dissent’.

Yes, that’s what makes us great - dissent. No matter what the idea or plan of action is, no matter what challenges face us, as long as someone is refusing to cooperate, that’s what makes us great. It’s like saying “What makes Us Successful - Burying Our Heads in the Sand”. Or “What Makes Us Compassionate -Taking Drugs and Defying Society’s Conventions on Bathing”.

I saw this same billboard with the exact same vandalism on Snelling Avenue by Hamline University a couple of weeks ago. It makes me suspect that perhaps this isn’t vandalism at all, rather it’s a legitimate (or at least legal) consciousness-raising guerilla marketing campaign . But I think that’s giving these perpetrators too much credit and rather this communication is brought to you by the same folks who brought us the “Norm Coleman is a Nazi” marketing campaign.

The second defacement of private property is on St. Clair and Griggs, a billboard sponsored by Pro-Life Minnesota. This ad depicts a baby and expresses the sentiment that even before children are born they are alive and undeniably human. The righteous dissent sprayed across this billboard was the brilliant and compelling counter argument: “NO!”.

Perhaps there’s someone out there who appreciates the nuance of this debating point and is made to think twice about the scientific evidence presented to the contrary. And maybe these people can be fully persuaded if this line of reasoning can be expounded on a little more. A few scrawlings along the lines of “HELL NO!” or maybe “SCREW YOU!” on future billboards and they just might start convincing a few people. But then again, since dissent is the point of all of this, they probably don’t want anyone to agree with them anyway.