Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Running on Empty

One of the cool things about my life: good friends are always sending me interesting stuff about graffiti (music, and running...). A fellow running enthusiast recently sent me this gem: "Graffiti Me Race Series".
The web site attempts to attract race participants with bold colourful images of smiling young White people covered in paint splatter:
At the Graffiti Me 5k run, YOU are our color canvas, and when you’re finished with us you’ll be an exciting and vivid masterpiece. So tag your friends and hook everybody up with the coolest 5k color blast 5K run to hit the streets
The use of graffiti-esque terms like "tag", images of vibrant city skylines and graffiti style lettering effectively frames the event as an edgy young urban experience. Nevermind the fact that you are actually running on a horse track on the outskirts of town in the case of Ottawa...

But wait! The GRAFFITI Me Run Series does not want to give you the impression that they support the creation graffiti. The site adopts War on Graffiti language to make their dysfunctional relationship to graffiti as clear as corn chowder:
There is a place for all artwork, but defacing, tagging, and vandalizing our beautiful cities is definitely not the venue and we work to combat it.
To further prove that the GRAFFITI Me Run Series absolutely DOES NOT condone graffiti, the GRAFFITI Me Run Series web site claims to give money directly to graffiti management and 'beautification' projects in the cities that host the events. I have a sneaking suspicion (but no evidence) that the organizers might consider the cost of the municipal event permit as said donation. I will keep you posted on this point if anyone at the GRAFFITI Me website answers my inquiry on this point.

But WOW, that seems like a lot of PR work if you have a problem with graffiti; Wouldn't it be easier to call your event the 'Rainbow Run Series', for example? That way one can avoid any confusion over your institutions view on the production of graffiti.

The answer is obvious, of course: there is a (hetero/masculine)sexy bend to calling it a "graffiti" run. The event banks on selling participants the illusion of colourful safe danger that comes with the promise of urban living. Neon splattered images of city skylines underline each page. Are grey and glass sky scrapers not colourful enough to communicate urban excitement? Apparently not.

Corporate entities and municipalities alike attempt to redefine graffiti as a form without history, which suits marketing and urban planning strategies nicely. In justifying their thematic use of graffiti, organizers attempt to redefine graffiti as an art without connection to unsanctioned writing. It's as if they want to pretend that the urban wild style aesthetic might exist apart from unsanctioned graffiti.

Well, it wouldn't. To pretend otherwise is embarrassingly disingenuous.

The socio-political basis for what most people would recognize as urban graffiti is located in ancient tensions around public discourse and personal relationships, political outcries on the walls of prisons, in conflicts over 'branding' public space.

Contemporary urban graffiti is as 'everyday' as rock and roll: to make our kids rooms look cute, brighten up hum-drum city events like Winterlude, sell us pharmaceuticals and Chevrolet cars. How bizarre to dismiss the very community that made this style possible!

And so what to do about the GRAFFITI Me Run Series in Ottawa mid September? I offer you two other alternatives for your warm September weekends:

If you are TRULY interested or curious about graffiti, why not check out the AMAZING events at this year's House of PainT (happening September 15th & 16th!). Check out the line up for the Sunday concert under the bridge! If you want to be covered in paint, you can always volunteer to paint primer on the bridge with us before the writers take to the walls on Saturday.

If you want to run, though, give your money to the Terry Fox Foundation and run for them on September 22nd. They are much more upfront about donations, and its a clearly worthy cause made fun for everyone in the family, with NO entry fee.

Feel free to take both my suggestions.

[Side Rant/Footnote: Its lovely that people are interested in their health. It is good to have goals, I suppose. However, many of these organized events create a tremendous amount of environmental waste in an afternoon of "health and good will".

Organized race series that produce thousands of tonnes of garbage under the rhetorical veil of health and charity is akin to a child with her contest winning "Save the Earth" poster who expects to be rewarded with a drive in the family SUV to McDonalds for a Happy Meal. The GRAFFITI Me Race Series shares this cognitive dissonance.]


  1. Just wanted to say I'm so glad you're here doing what you do.

  2. i was looking for more information about this event (mostly which charity they are supporting) and didn't find much. the entire thing just seems so bizarre, im really happy you wrote this