Friday, February 4, 2011

Markin' Up and Claiming Territory: Making a Statement

     The extensive presence of graffiti is visual within a myriad of both urban and rural environments. Often however, the understanding of graffiti as art versus graffiti as vandalism is often disputed. Many people in favor of graffiti argue that it is a form of self-expression, creativity and personal opinion and thus often has varied, multi faceted meanings that may be overlooked as mere vandalism. Thus, graffiti is viewed with opposing perspectives, as it may be seen as a beautiful form of self-expression and art by one person or merely as pesky, deviant vandalism. Further, graffiti is often primarily assumed to be associated with the spray painted messages and murals resting in areas of the urban landscape, however modern graffiti comes in a myriad of different forms including the messages written in a public bathroom stall or school desk, to the large spray painted murals on buses and building walls.  Often, graffiti is intended to send a sort of expressive message to the reader whether it is political, social or personal. There are many themes that directly relate to the act, intent as well as reception of graffiti such as the effects of anonymity versus identity and authorship, creativity and artistry, social class, erasure, youth and liminility as well as resistance.  Each of the following themes are pertinent, relevant areas of exploration in relation to the visible presence and multifaceted meanings of graffiti, however, I will predominantly address the themes of anonymity versus identity and authorship, the political breadth as well as the notion of resistance associated with graffiti.  
     Often, “wall graffiti can be an indicator of attitudes behavioral dispositions and social processes” (Ley and Cybriwsky, 1974:491) and for many is the best way to advertise an idea or opinion that is perhaps controversial in nature. Often, graffiti will lure the passive spector into a reaction by leading the passive urban eye into a state of cultural shock (Rafferty, 1991:78).  In relation to anonymity, often the message of a work of graffiti is very politically directed, thus one of the effects of anonymity is that there is no authorship to the piece and no way of knowing who produced the statement (Rafferty, 1991:80). With anonymity, it is like the walls are expressing themselves, selling only an anonymous worldview (Rafferty, 1991:80).  Therefore, anonymity allows a piece to be read  without bias that may be a result of knowing the source of authorship, thus “anonymity is important because it keeps you from getting caught and it keeps the messages universal, sourceless [and] draws its power from its aggressiveness and its accessibility” (Rafferty, 1991:80). The notion of identity and authorship is predominant to much graffiti also, as the intent of much graffiti—rather than being a anonymous worldview—is to assert power, dominance and ownership over a specific territorial jurisdiction; thus often ‘tag’ graffiti or taking authorship in other ways over a piece of work asserts the notion of identity as exemplified in graffiti example 1 (at bottom). Often the evidence of graffiti on street walls gives an approximation as to territorial boundaries, as “[b]oundaries compiled from the relative incidence of gang graffiti found a ready acceptance by neighborhood youth as an accurate portrayal of each gangs area of control (Ley and Cybriwsky, 1974:496). Graffiti reflects a relationship between social processes as well as spatial order and identity and authorship of graffiti reflects, enforces and reifies this relationship. Thus, ‘tag’ graffiti as well as other signs of visible authorship over graffiti also asserts identity by often reflecting a visible manifestation of a group’s social space. Graffiti may serve as “visible and unequivocal cues to identify ownership and notify outsiders that they are entering a protected place and must respect the integrity of claimed property” (Ley and Cybriwsky, 1974:505).  “[He] who is king of the walls claims also to be king of the streets and master of their use [thus] the walls are more than a attitudinal tabloid [they are] a behavioral manifesto” (Ley and Cybriwsky, 1974 505).   
       Furthermore, resistance is also a pivotal notion related to graffiti as due to the controversial and highly opinionated nature of graffiti, it is therefore considered to be a direct form of resistance, spreading a public message of resistance through art, thus rebelling against common beliefs or governmental laws such as portrayed in example 2 (at bottom) (South, 2008). Therefore, it is interesting to keep an open mind and view graffiti as an art form, a visual, creative, personal, opinioned expression, and to perhaps accept graffiti as an artistic result of our freedom of expression;  thus, accepting graffiti as a socially representative addition to the urban environment rather than solely as a form of vandalism that needs to be ceased and erased.

Example 1
An example of gang graffiti marking territory in New York. 

 An example of  'tag' grafitti. This is an M-13 gang tag in New York. 

Example 2

An example  of the anti Olympic, thus politically related graffiti piece outside of the Vancouver art gallery. There was much anti Olympic graffiti all over the city of Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics that took place in Vancouver.  The Vancouver City council promptly removed all anti Olympic graffiti.

An example of socio- political graffiti on Commercial Drive, Vancouer, B.C. 

1.   Ley, David and Cybriwsky, Roman
               1974 Urban Graffiti as Territorial Markers. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,        
                        64(4): 491-505., accessed January 31, 2011. .
 2. Raferty, Pat
              1991 Discourse on Difference: Street Art Graffiti Youth Source.  Visual anthropology                
                       Review7(2): 77-84.          
                       accessed January 31, 2011.
3. South, Catherine
            2008 Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?,               
                      accessed January 31, 2011.

The REAL Thing

       The film “Slumdog Millionaire” released in 2008 is premised on the story of a teen that grew up in the slums of Mumbai, India and has the chance to become a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” (IMDb, 2010). The Song ‘Jai Ho’, which means ‘to be victorious’ was created for the 2008 film and is presented in the film at the end, accompanied by a choreographed dance number.  Although the song ‘Jai Ho’ was created for the film “Slumdog Millionaire” it has not only received a plethora of international attention due to the broad international reach the film has made, but also, there are a myriad of reproductions of the song and dance number worldwide. In this blog addition, influenced by the theoretical arguments of Walter Benjamin and Arjun Appadurai, I will examine the Pussycat Dolls rendition of the ‘Jai Ho’ song and dance as well as the original rendition in the film, to address the two versions’ social and cultural significance.  
     The film’s ‘Jai Ho’ song and dance number includes a bollywood inspired dance sequence.  Stemming from the presentation of this film however, are a myriad of other reproduced, altered and inspired renditions of the ‘Jai Ho’ theme song that have surfaced in the media. The Pussycat Dolls version of the ‘Jai Ho’ song and dance found on YouTube for example, indeed encapsulates some basic elements of an Indian cultural expression. However, the video clearly appears to have been taken out of traditional Indian context – in which the original appears to be attempting to more or less reflect – as most of the Pussycat Dolls video is presented and structured in a very ‘hollywood-ized’ costume-style manner.  Although the Pussycat Dolls rendition does maintain a very similar tune to the original, in this version the main lyrics are ‘you are my destiny,’ different than the originals’ meaning. Further, much of the Pussycat Dolls rendition is premised on an overexposure and focus on the sensuality and sexuality of the four principal, female members of the musical group, focusing in on close up shots of their bodies.  Furthermore, the setting of the original is in a train station which is also the setting presented in the Pussycat Dolls version, however in the latter video, at the train station setting there appears to be a market also, selling all types of goods, showing the elaboration and addition to the original’s setting. Also, in the latter video the back up dancers are largely American, whereas in the original the dancers appear to reflect and more so display the Indian cultural nature as the dancers in the original version are predominantly Indian. Thus, the two videos are quite distinct from each other in presentation, while still sharing a loosely related theme.  
     The two videos can also lend themselves to reifying and serving as examples in the theoretical arguments of both Walter Benjamin and Arjun Appadurai. Benjamin would argue that there is a threat to the authenticity of the original from reproductions. Through reproductions such as that of the Pussycats Dolls version of ‘Jai Ho’, the authority or ‘aura’ of the original is perhaps lost and thus detached from tradition (Benjamin, 2005: 3). Thus, through the medium of the YouTube video, the aura and detachment from tradition – and thus the cultural significance that the original presents and is premised on – occurs.  As a result, the reproduction becomes a social, reproduced product that is no longer authentic and traditional, as the “social bases of the contemporary decay of the aura” (Benjamin, 2005; 3) has occurred. Further, perhaps the reproduction, the Pussycat Dolls rendition, is reflective of the “desire of contemporary masses to bring things ‘closer’, spatially and humanly” (Benjamin, 2005: 3), a far stretch from the ‘aura’ and thus cultural significance and tradition of the original. Therefore, although the two videos appear to share a loosely related theme, the ‘aura,’ tradition and cultural significance of the original is lacking in reproductions. 
      The social and cultural significance of two videos can also be critiqued based on the theoretical arguments of Arjun Appadurai. Appadurai argues that the landscapes of group identity is no longer tightly territorialized, spatially bounded, historically un-self conscious, or culturally homogenous” (Appadurai, 1996: 48). Deterritorilization such as reflected by the adoption of the internet which allows creation and proliferation of a myriad of reproductions such as that of the “Slumdog Millionaire” ‘Jai Ho’ dance reflect deterriterlizations emphasis on  “transcend[ing] specific territorial boundaries and identities” (Appadurai, 1996: 49), thus “loosening the holds between people, wealth, and territories fundamentally alter[ing] the basis of cultural reproduction” (Appadurai, 1996: 49). As a result, varied cultures and reflections of cultures get proliferated (ie. the original ‘Jai Ho’ video’s cultural elements) and thus more people in varied parts of the world can imagine lives they were not cognizant of before— as perhaps exemplified by the Pussycat Dolls desire to create their own ‘version’ of  ‘Jai Ho,’ (Appadurai, 1996: 53). As a result, Appurandi argues that the link between the imagination and social life is deterritorilized and global, as social life no longer has a finite set of possible lives (Appadurai, 1996: 55). The “power of the imagination in the fabrication of social lives is inescapably tied up with image, ideas and opportunities that come from elsewhere often moved around by the vehicles of mass media” (Appadurai, 1996: 54) such as YouTube videos on the internet. The internet – and the myriad of varied cultural content on the ‘net’ – is thus an influential medium in proliferating and intensifying Appuranduiai’s central argument asserting that we have an infinite number of imagined lives and that our lives are increasingly global.

1.     A.R, Rahman
2009 Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny).
     , accessed January 30, 2011.
2.   Appadurai, Arjun                                                                                                                                                    1996 Global Ethnoscapes Notes and Queries for a Transnational Anthropology.                                                In Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Pp.48-65.                                                Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
3. Benjamin, Walter  
         1936 The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility. In Walter Benjamin: Selected           Writings,Volume 3: 1935-1938. Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press.
4. LegoMontageFilms  

      2011 Slumdog Millionaire- Official Jai Ho Music Video.                                                                           , accessed January 30, 2011.

5. IMDb  

     2008 Slumdog Millionaire.                                                                                                                            , accessed January 30, 2011.


A Global Culture

 Mazzarella’s interest in mediation is to argue that “culture is an effect of social processes of mediation” (Mazzarella, 2004:360) and that mediation is a “dynamic principle at the root of all social life” (Mazzarella, 2004:360).  With increasing globalization, I believe the process of mediation is responsible for bringing geographically separated places much closer together. As globalization – the diffusion of ideas, product and peoples – continually escalades, I believe that the myriad of mediation process are responsible for bringing our globalized world into not only closer connections but also making cultural barriers less rigid.  Therefore, an example of the impact of globalization on the process of mediation is the blending of cultures and closer connections between culture and cultural practices in many places worldwide.  As defined by William Mazzarella ‘mediation’ is the process by which a given social dispensation produces itself in and through a particular set of media (Mazzarella, 2004) and the notion of rising interest in globalization is associated with  “the production of locality” inclusive a myriad of culturally reflective aspects. I believe that through the process of mediation varied forms of mediation including the television, commercial advertisements for the variance of different products, foods and services, film, the plethora of foreign films, the news, the internet etc, each uniquely serve an important function in contributing to the blending of cultures, and thus creating increased awareness, knowledge and closer connections between the myriad of varied cultures and cultural practices throughout the world. For example, mainstream film, foreign film and independent film each similarly provide a medium through with the introduction and awareness to a certain culture, cultural practice or belief is presented thus providing an outlet that allows people around the world to gain awareness of this culture, which then perhaps influences their own culture. Further, through globalization, the blending of cultures occurs and as a result I feel as if many cultures evolve from a ‘local culture’ to a more so ‘global culture’ with the increased and proliferated awareness and influence of the culture worldwide. Also as an effect of globalization people from all over the world diffuse worldwide to fulfill certain motivations and thus bring with them their own cultural awareness, which then also gets proliferated. Therefore, with a diffusion of people, ideas and products – motivated by globalization – mediation is influenced as a myriad of not only film but also other media forms such as advertisements, news, theatre etc are reflective of the influences of the varied cultures settled in a certain place.  For example, advertisements for food, products and services advertise a myriad of different cultural products and services reflecting the presence and diffusion of people representing different cultures worldwide; thus showing how the impact of globalization on mediation has contributed to a blending of cultures worldwide.

1. Mazzarella, William
            2004 Culture, Globalization, Mediation. Annual Review of Anthropology

Media Responsibility?

    On January 12, 2010 a devastating 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, shattering the lives of millions of people causing life-shattering consequences (CBC, 2010). The consequences of the earthquake are vast and fatal to the impoverished nation of Haiti.  True to form, the media immediately captured the news of this disaster and spread the story of suffrage and consequences worldwide. Since the devastation of the January earthquake, not only have people been having to deal with earthquake fatalities and being displaced from their homes, but also, a fatal – if untreated – cholera epidemic has been rampant, claiming thousands of lives to date (CIDA, 2010). The virulent cholera epidemic – defined as a diarrheal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated (WHO, 2010) – is caused by drinking dirty water or eating food that has been cooked in contaminated water (Dearing, 2010).  The media commonly speculates cholera to be present in Haiti as a result of the earthquakes consequences, thus framing contaminated water systems to be in part a result of the destruction of the earthquake (Manthorpe, 2010). However, the media also addresses the epidemic as proliferated due to the fact that much of Haiti’s population is displaced, living in tent cities subject to contaminated water sources resulting from the earthquake (Manthorpe, 2010).  
     It may be argued that the media plays a positive role in preventing, lessening or helping remediate the cholera epidemic, as online, TV and print news, and radio media outlets are responsible for capturing and proliferating information about the cholera epidemic worldwide. Thus not only a heightened awareness is created, but also, an introduction to international organizations such as PAHO, UNICEF and the Red Cross responsible for helping to fight Haiti’s cholera outbreak (Dearing, 2010).  However, perhaps the media is responsible for framing the epidemic in a way to socialize donations from the public, for the impoverished, population.
    It is important to acknowledge the deeper role of the media and how the media may chose to manipulate, frame and present news based on their own agenda, thus perhaps creating – instead of lessening – certain negative conditions favorable to occurrences such as Haiti’s cholera epidemic. Although a myriad of varied media outlets are pivotal in spreading the news of Haiti throughout the world, I argue that the media is complicit in the creation of the conditions that led to the cholera epidemic, as amidst the continuous media coverage fuelling donations the epidemic is still present. The said viewpoint may argue that the plethora of sensationalized media coverage has sparked a great public response of donations however as a result Haiti is “frozen in a destructive cycle of aid-dependence and exploitation. . . stripping Haiti of its self-determination” (O’Connor, 2010) and thus contributing to conditions favoring the present cholera epidemic. Further, the superficial, sensational news media reporting on Haiti’s problems – i.e in BBC, CBC and CNN’s repetitive reporting on how Haiti is the poorest country in the world and the provision of pictures featuring dehydrated children – creates viewership and thus donations, yet still the appropriate systems to relieve Haiti of this epidemic seem not to have been effectively put in place. Amongst the coverage of post earthquake Haiti, the media also seems to focus more so on a superficial portrayal of poverty in Haiti rather than the cholera epidemic and what actually needs to be done for realistic relief. The media coverage constitutes a ‘good story,’ albeit the media has no long-term responsibility to Haitians. Thus, the media acts as a factor aiding the perpetuation of a “system of aid-dependence and misguided development policies that help keep Haiti poor” (O’Connor, 2010) and therefore susceptible to and plagued by consequences such as cholera. Also, many media sources will address amounts of aid given, i.e. the world has pledged over 3.4 billion pounds to Haiti (over 6 billion USD) (Owens, 2010).  However, there is little reporting that investigates how exactly the aid organizations have spent the money, as amidst the mass coverage, positive effects asserted to cure the epidemic seem not to be coming to fruition (O’Connor, 2010). American media frames Haitian poverty and the cholera outbreak in a “typically lurid fashion, with little attention to the underlying causes” (O’Connor, 2010) as when addressed, the outbreak is framed as a result of Haiti’s crushing poverty, with little context (O’Connor, 2010). Therefore, the media is complicit in the creation of conditions that led to Haiti’s cholera epidemic as it infrequently addresses the cholera epidemic in much post earthquake news flooding our media outlets, and further, generally does not address the underlying issues and larger story, such as that Haiti’s susceptibility to the present, virulent cholera epidemic is “a symptom of failed foreign policies and organizations that have left the Haitian people as poor as ever and disconnected from the mechanisms of their own development” (O’Connor, 2010) and failing to equipt Haitians with knowledge as to how to eradicate conditions favorable to epidemics such as cholera. Overall, much media frames news on Haiti in a superficial, favorable way to acquire and satisfy certain means, thus asserting its negative role in the Haiti cholera epidemic, visible by the fact that amidst all the said support, supposed funds and infrastructure given to Haiti, the cholera epidemic is present, claiming lives daily.


       Although the overall effort to prevent the inception of cholera initially as well as give the people the knowledge to prevent the rampant spread of cholera are indeed lacking, I thought this image was very interesting and a glimpse of positivity amongst the very trying cholera situation in Haiti.  This image is a poster written in creole,  created by UNICEF and other partners advising people what measures and precautions to take to take in an effort to avoid cholera. Many people are perhaps unaware as to what is actually causing cholera and in which ways it can spread, therefore I found this effort quite interesting.  However, this is the only preventative resource I came across that actually somewhat educated the people as to the possible causes of cholera and the ways in which it could easily spread. I am not too sure as to how widespread this image has been made and understood in Haiti, however I believe this is a great positive effort directed at the people, a resource in which  can foster positive outcomes. This image is a glimpse of  a positive effort amongst the grave tribulations faced by Haiti's population as a result of the introduction  of cholera.  Lastly,  I also believe this image is great as it has minimal exclusionary characteristics towards its audience as it presents both text and images (for Haitians who may illiterate).                                         



1. Canada Expands Its Response To Cholera Outbreak In Haiti

      2010 Canadian International Development Agency. Electronic Document,, accessed January 10, 2011.

2. Cholera

      2010 World Health Organization.  Electronic Document,

3. Cholera in Haiti linked to UN troops: report

      December, 2010 CBC News. Electronic document,


4. Dearing, Stephanie

        October, 2010 Cholera outbreak worsens while world rushes to help Haiti again. Digital Journal. Electronic Document,, accessed January 09, 2011.

5.  Manthorpe, Jonathan
      October, 2010, Cholera Strikes Haiti Earthquake Refugee Camps. The Vancouver Sun.  Electronic Document,, accessed January 08, 2011.

6. O’ Connor, Maura
      2010 Haiti Coverage and ‘Disaster Porn’: Cholera Epidemic Offers B-Roll For Nightly Newscasts. Columbia Journalism Review.  Electronic Document,, accessed January 12, 2011

7. Owens, Nick
      July, 2010 Where’s the Money For Haiti Gone? News Mirror. Electronic Document,, accessed January 09, 2011.