The Urban Art of the Deal

In a post-truth world, what are the value of words? Intuition beats brags of sexual assault.  140-character tweets trump columns of The New York Times reporting. It was something evident at the first debate, prefigured by Fox News pundits, and understood by every modern woman: facts don’t matter against a man shouting lies.

Graffiti screams louder.

As this election showed, words speak louder than actions. Which may be why the Trump victory protests got nearly as much viral time as “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice/No Peace!” sprayed across the Trump International Hotel. In honor of our president the businessman chosen by 46% of Americans to be the 45th president, let us deconstruct why graffiti is such a valuable commodity.  

Through bombardments of Tweets, status updates, news tickers, ads and articles both organic and sponsored, the most valuable commodity is attention. Getting you to click A instead of B. Graffiti, with its not-supposed-to-be-there status, forces a look. It’s why your eyes focus on a wall you’ve walked past hundreds of times but never noticed before. It’s why “FUCK TRUMP!” sprayed beside the backed-up intersection of Crenshaw & Olympic, near Downtown LA, is so powerful.

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There is a market force responsible for people posting quickly-readable memes on Facebook (it’s the same viral force responsible for their spread): Laziness. Scrolling through Facebook, an image of graffiti takes less time to process than a headline. Graffiti needs no context. It is protesting distilled; hundreds of “Not My President!” signs refined into a single, solitary act of dissent: “Dump Trump!” Even if you managed to take your cardiologist’s advice and stay off social media, you’ve likely seen the Lithuanian mural of Trump passionately kissing Putin.  

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Novelty is important, too. Leading up to the election, anti-Trump screeds filled the airwaves until they became a kind of white(power) noise. A tiny wall, and guard tower, appearing around Donald Trump’s Walk of Fame star was a fresh form of protest. And was shared accordingly.    

Writing on walls is a primitive, anarchic and visceral act—and it reads as such. (It goes both ways, unfortunately. A Texas protest of a new mosque doesn’t have the same gut punch as graffiti painted on one in Jersey: “Fuck Islam”, “Fuck Arabs,” “Donald Trump”.)

But the most important market force accounting for graffiti’s worth is a cliché no economist—even one nominated by Trump—would tout: “Higher risk, higher reward.” Memes are cheap; graffiti is a fineable felony.

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If free speech is compromised (Trump has promised to sue journalists and make flag burning illegal), speech coming from a spray can will be worth more and its message will be worth risking jail time for. It’s a lesson the billionaire businessman should know: when there’s a projected shortage of a product, the product becomes more valuable. Buy your Krylon now—there’s a lot of empty space on the White House.