Our Methods & Goals in the U.B. Graffiti Scandal, pt. II

#12, 1987

23 January 1987

Well, the attempts to foment a graffiti scandal here, which we started to tell y'all about last time, go on! During winter recess, the Student Activities Center walkway was cleaned up, so we felt compelled, upon returning to campus, to write stuff like "WAKE UP, KING INK!" "MAGIC MARKER," and "GRAFFITI SCANDAL ROCKS U.B.!" in various places in the walkway. We noted that there were some other things written there by other people.

In another development, we discovered that a portion of the hallway leading to Talbert Cafeteria was being reserved for the fraternities and sororities to publicize themselves underneath huge plagues bearing their names. Now dig it: Kappa Sigma's contribution -- one of the very first -- was a painting of a NYC subway car with graffiti on it! We could not believe the nerve of those idiots! We were really hot to deface the thing by recalling the memory of Michael Stewart, the 25 year old NYC man who was beaten to death by transit cops (later acquitted on all charges) for doing precisely the thing Kappa Sigma so cynically appropriated for their own uses. When we returned to Talbert later in the day, the painting had been removed. We never got a chance to touch it.

26 January 1987

There is this great letter to the editor about the SAC Walkway in today's Spectrum, a student newspaper.

SAC Hallway is forum of expression
In a letter on December 10, Michael Zekser wrote that he was upset that people are expressing themselves on the walls of the walkway between SAC and Knox Hall. He is upset because they are changing their environment in a way that creates a forum of free expression. He is upset because free expression ruins his plans to paint railroad tracks on the floor, and to "change this undecorated, institutional hallway" into a display case for UB paraphernalia, as well as club and Greek activities.
Is there anything more "institutional" than that? This graffiti represents political, emotional, and conscious thought, a rarity on this campus. It is not profane or vulgar, but represents a discourse between students. This is a benefit to UB that has been lacking since the hallway between Harriman and the late Squire Union was painted over. It is something of value in this factory of conformity. As Emma Goldman said, "The strongest bulwark of authority is uniformity; the least divergence from it is the greatest crime." If you, Mr. Zekser, should happen to catch me diverging from conformity, and feel compelled to "do something," go ahead, Make my day.
Peter J. Kalshoven
Graduate student

We looked up Kalshoven's telephone number and gave him a call. He seemed hesitant to talk to us and would only exchange phone numbers or make any concrete plans to get together until he had been sent and had time to read NOT BORED! #11, which came out a few weeks ago. We could understand his hesitancy to talk -- for all he knew, we could've been Zekser's boys setting him up for a bust. We'll see what he has to say in a week or two.

30 January 1987

Just like last time, Zekser has wasted no time in responding to his critics. And, once again like last time, the speed with which he worked has undermined his efforts -- this thing is a mess.

Playing within the rules
Editor [of The Spectrum]:
Upset? Me? Nah. Maybe you're upset that you missed out on entering a design. Putting up a board or something for malcontents to scribble on would have been a good idea. But then again, you would probably write it next to such a space. You want a forum of free expression, I gave you the opportunity.
Everybody knows the University will erase your ink. Why not find a way to get your ideas across by working within the system? That's the only way to change the status quo. All you are doing is giving the University more reasons to restrict the creativity of the individual.
Look at it this way -- you and I both want to change the walkway. The University eradicates what you do but is helping me. That's the difference between wisdom and ignorance, success and failure.
The Squire hallway? Ever see pictures of it in its last months? Nazism, antisemiticism [sic], and some offensive stuff. I'm all for free expression, it helps me develop my own thoughts. But there is a difference between making a lasting contribution to changing the system and immature actions without a real plan of action.
Michael Zekser
Kappa Sigma

Whoa! It seems Mikey -- in his haste to contain the damage inflicted by Kalshoven's letter -- forgot that 15,000 other people would read his own letter to the editor and that many of them would not know the context for his patronizing remarks. In the absence of some kind of reference to Kalshoven's letter, it appears that Zekser is railing against some hallucinated, invisible being that is vexing him and his royal plans for free expression. In his delirium, Zekser (once again) unintentionally affirms those things that have been said about him negatively. Affecting the tone of a King about to be martyred by the screaming hordes, "You want a forum of free expression, I gave you the opportunity." Attempting to sound like a true liberal pluralist, the King says, "I'm all for free expressions," but demonstrates that free expression is only valuable insofar as it "helps me develop my own thoughts." But, best of all, he shows just how deep and lasting an impression the supposedly "erasable" and "eradicable" ink of the graffiti in the old Harriman/Squire Union hallway made on him!

2 February 1987

It looks like Zekser got tired of taking on all of the "malcontents" by himself; he's brought in one a' the Kappa Sigma brothers to help out. Help!

SAC hallway is not for drawing
Editor [of The Spectrum]:
I'd like to respond to Mr. Kalshoven's letter about graffiti on the walls and how desirable it is to a health [sic] society.
The best way to present my case is to tell you of a personal misadventure. When I was younger, I was punished by my heartily enraged mother. What, you may ask, was my crime? I had, in a joyous attempt at expression, crayoned on the wall. In time I was to learn the error of my ways and restricted my creative urges and statements on society to better, less controversial places.
The point of my story is this; there are appropriate and in appropriate places, times and mediums of expression. In fact, in this society there are literally hundred of creative ways to tell people your views without offending others or defacing public property. Thus, Mr. Kalshoven, I might suggest you put down your crayons and encourage other, more enlightened forms of expression.
If, on the other hand, you do not appreciate this view, I'd like to ask that you contact me with the intent of giving me your address. You see, my friends and I have always wanted to "express" ourselves on someone's house and we feel yours would certainly be the best place to start.
Michael J. Rotundo
University student

Under the name Mark Freeman (a graduate student who is on leave this semester), we have already written and sent a letter to the editor in answer to this one. (We'll include it here, in one form or another.) Today we also saw some graffiti in the SAC Walkway that said "SAGA" with the letter "As" circled. The anarchy reference we get, but what or who the fuck is SAGA? Not that awful band!? Not the organization that produces and serves "food" at university cafeterias!?

6 February 1987

Wow! that was fast! All of a sudden, graffiti is an issue -- something that the editorial staff of The Spectrum thinks that it should take a position on. Well, maybe it's not such a sudden development . . . there has been a lot of graffiti in the SAC walkway for at least a solid month or two. . . . Anyway, there's a lot in this editorial that is really confused.

Without doubt freedom is one of this country's greatest gifts, but like everything, there is a place and forum to express that privilege. Yet there are those that indiscriminately choose to express their thoughts on some of the most conspicuous and ill-suited places around campus: walls of buildings and the walkway between the Student Activities Center and Knox Hall.
Graffiti does have a place and at times may be useful as a form of social demonstration. But when the declarations amount to pure scribble, then there is something wrong. Granted, the walls around campus are bland; however spraying useless words and phrases is only an eyesore and blemishes the surroundings.
There have been plans for some time to constructively decorate the SAC Walkway. In fact, a winning design was selected last semester, but that plan is for the time being on hold. Perhaps frustrated UB students just decided to design a little bit every day and fill in the space.
The markers and paints used to do the spontaneous art not only pervert a sense of aesthetics, but they also drain UB's custodial staff who must scrub away for long stretches of time, only serving to clean the unofficial canvas for later use.
Stop writing on and defacing the walls. If students have something to say, how about a letter to the editor?

Freedom is not a privilege, not something that can be given to and taken from human beings, but an "inalienable right" that is irrevocable. (We are graduate students: can you imagine what it is like to try to teach these kids?)

The Spectrum's editorial condemning the emerging graffiti scandal at UB was accompanied by a cartoon ("the Dented View of A Day in the SAC Walkway") drawn by a staff member, one P. Dent. The cartoon depicts two small, identical-looking boys, both facing a wall upon which right-wing slogans (?!) such as "OUT OF IRAN!!!" and "END SOVIET OPPRESSION" written on it. The boy on the right has evidently just finished writing phrases that he's apparently taken from the book that is lying open at his feet: "HAIL TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION" and "REAGONOMICS [sic] SUCKS!!!" (It's as if the cartoonist just cannot believe or admit to himself that the essence of writing graffiti is spontaneity; it responds directly to the site itself, and not to some subject or thing located elsewhere.) The boy on the left, brush and rag in hand, is cleaning the wall of graffiti. Get it? One hand doesn't know what the other is doing. If we could only put our hands together. . . .

We met with Kalshoven today. He'd called and said that he'd like to get together for a chat. He's a nice guy, but we didn't feel it would be productive to remain in serious contact with him about these matters. Though he quoted Emma Goldman, he personally isn't an anarchist or anything like that. He likes the free forum of expression in the SAC walkway, but he doesn't want it spilling over into the hallways that he walks through everyday. It doesn't appear that he read much of our zine.

9 February 1987

Today an open letter, signed by a group calling itself "Students Against Growing Apathy" (or SAGA), appeared in The Spectrum.

SAGA Trying to Wake Students
SAGA, students against growing apathy, is a name you may have seen around campus lately. SAGA is a group of students attempting to bring some life to this sterile, antiseptic University, a cold, impersonal place, with little indication of a student population (especially one of UB's considerable size).
We, the members of SAGA, are not attempting to destroy, defile, deface, or vandalize the "University." Our attempts at colorization have been exercised with restraint, in places where, if the administration is so inclined (and it has been already), the letters can be removed. We hope that this will not always be the case.
SAGA is simply trying to express our anger and disgust at any administration which deprives us of our student union, which stifles the voice of the student body, which names buildings after men whose only contribution to the University (and mankind) is monetary.
The students against growing apathy encourage more students to colorize and add like to [sic] the University. UB may be a corporation, but with some work, we (and only we, the students and faculty) can make a difference, and turn our school into a forum for the expression of our ideas, not the ideas of an administration which seems to consider a green triangle on a blue background "art" (see Clemens [Hall]!).
Get a marker and put your mind to work! This is your school, your money pays for it. We are more than just able bodies and minds to do the menial or "dirty" work on their grants, grants for SDI (Star Wars) which is a significant amount of UB's population is opposed to, to begin with. Show that students are what UB is all about. When you leave here, will anyone knew you existed? The right to express yourself is in your hands.
Students Against Growing Apathy

We have a general idea of who these students are: several weeks ago, we hung out with and distributed copies of NOT BORED! #11 to a group of leftist undergraduate students. Despite our differences in age and "cultural orientation" (many of these kids are neo-hippies), everyone agreed that writing graffiti was the thing to do and that the time to do it was right now. They didn't tell us about plans to form a group; perhaps they made the decision to do so later.

The problem with what became SAGA's interest in things "political" is that the end result is graffiti that has neither style nor poetry. Hectoring against the "apathy" of others just isn't creative -- it isn't even interesting -- especially if it is adorned with the trappings of anarchism. By definition, SAGA's dubious "restraint" in the exercise of "colorization" (an awful expression, given its connotations with the abusive "restoration" of black and white films) precludes graffiti that is site-specific, graffiti that is a spontaneous expression of passion and that is, consequently, attentive to the possible construction of situations at that very site. Who wants to wander around this already awful campus, thinking about the absence of a student union (we'd just write graffiti on it anyway!) or the presence of Star Wars research money? Those things are givens. We prefer to wander around in a daze, writing on the walls whatever it is that comes into our music-soaked heads, not looking for answers but for the right questions to ask.

Our objection to SAGA is that, if we are going to form small groups, we should give ourselves a name that is a scandal in its own right. Despite the circled As, there is nothing scandalous about the name SAGA, especially when it is compared to the now long-forgotten names "monkey nigger" (used in our open letter to Zekser) and "trashman" (used in Zekser's response to our open letter). It is also unfortunate that this first "pro-graffiti" group has defined itself negatively, as being "against apathy" rather than for something really cool sounding (like "comparative vandalism" or somesuch). There is something self-defeating in undergraduate student "radicalism" that is always eager to rush headlong into action -- into single-issue graffiti campaigns, letters to the editor from newly and rather ill-formed groups, sit-ins, marches and so forth -- without having first come to some kind of coherent critique or diagnosis of the forces against which it desires to fight. As a result, when pressed to reveal something of its programme, SAGA (especially in the sentence that begins "UB may be a corporation, but with some work"), sounds just like people like Zekser and his "Make A Difference Committee." We need to revive what the situationists called "the organizational question," and "the minimum definitions of a revolutionary organization." In the meantime, SAGA SUCKS. SAGA has attempted to appropriate the emerging graffiti scandal for itself, and has thereby made itself a target for that scandal.

10 February 1987

Today another open letter from SAGA was published, this time in Generation, the weekly student-run magazine.

Editor's Note: We are printing this letter, although it is anonymous, because it would explain some of the graffiti appearing around the University. We do not advocate graffiti, but this person (or group of persons) has something to say.
This is an open letter to all students, faculty, and administration. Our name is SAGA -- Students Against Growing Apathy. Our purpose is for change at UB. We hope to provoke this student body into action. Our university is stifling the students. We have no central location for socializing (such as a student union), thus the expression of ideas is stifled. We are caught up in the advancement of a "super university" without consideration for the social needs of a community. Buildings continue to rise and student population continues to grow (it is predicted to surpass 60,000), yet we still have the reality [of] split campuses and a lifeless student body. Part of the blame is on us students. We have, in fact, become apathetic. However, we feel students do have opinions which are afforded no method of expression. Do you, the administration, really feel upgrading sports is the sole mechanism for generating school spirit? Do you, the students, feel the Student Activities Center serves a purpose even remotely close to the student union past students enjoyed and fought so hard to keep?
We need the support of the University community in our efforts. The name SAGA is appearing rapidly on the walls of this institution. Much of it is also being washed off. This is part of our plan. We realize our name and slogans will be washed off and painted over, but we do not intend to let this cease our action. We believe our ideas will provoke the community into action. We are not the sole producers of graffiti on this campus. Many students have obviously felt the need to write on the walls of their campus. It seems to be the only way to express ideas to such a divided student body. We have no one place to congregate and share ideas. Different social groups have niches here and there, but is this unity or is this division of a student body?
We intend to remain underground using the school publications as our medium for more lengthy explanation of our purpose. We intend to continue to express our ideas on the walls in an attempt to provoke this University into thought and action. The circled A's in our name symbolize anarchy. We do not intend to imply destruction of our campus. We merely intend to show we mean business.
We want a better campus for future students, but passivity has moved this student body into apathy. We have been made to believe we are helpless. Research grants have taken precedence over student needs. It is time to change this environment. This is only the beginning.
Students Against Growing Apathy

These SAGA kids certainly have the abilities to think and write clearly. But there is something down right terroristic about the logic they use and, in particular, their idea that "anarchy" means "we mean business." Very reductive, even simplistic: there is only one real issue and that is the absence of a student union; the "provocations" (graffiti attacks, but they could just as easily be kidnappings or bombings of uninhabited buildings) are designed to bring about the construction of a real student union; presumably, the "provocations" will stop when "the administration" builds that student union, the one all of us need so desperately. But the contradiction between the "unity" of the student body and the "division" of it into "niches" is a false one, or, rather, it can be set into motion and superceded only by the appropriation or detournement of the "trivial" spaces (stairwells, hallways, walkways, and so forth), the spaces that are literally not suited for "unity" (a student union) nor for "division" (the metaphorical "niches"). Might as well call themselves Shameless Hippies in The Streets, or SHITS. . . .

11 February 1987

Hello! Better late than never, The Spectrum has published Mark Freeman's letter to the editor concerning Michael Rotundo's letter to the editor about Peter Kalshoven's letter to the editor concerning Michael Zekser's letter to the editor. (Got that?)

Mr. Rotundo should stop drawing on walls
According to Mr. Rotundo's February 2 letter to the editor, he was punished by his Mommy, when he was younger, for crayoning in the walls of his room. As a result, he became able, or so he claims, to distinguish "appropriate" from "inappropriate" behavior, and "enlightened" from presumably childish forms of expression. Now an adult, he suggests that Peter Kalshoven also grow up by "putting down your crayons and encouraging other, more enlightened forms of expression" because "there are literally hundred of creative ways to tell people your views without offending others or defacing public property."
It is altogether remarkable that Mr. Rotundo offers to punish Mr. Kalshoven, just like Mommy did to him, if he doesn't "appreciate this view." The mode of punishment: defacement of Mr. Kalshoven's own personal house. Apparently, Mr. Rotundo's Mommy didn't learn her son too good: he is unable to distinguish public property (like the SAC Walkway) from private property (like Mr, Kalshoven's house), and he still harbors an unreconstructed desire to "express myself on someone's house."
What do you think: should Mr. Rotundo be returned to his Mommy for further punishment or should he be encouraged to think of the SAC hallway as private property and thus an "appropriate" place for his self- expression?
Mark Freeman
Graduate student

I wonder if anyone will respond to it?

On another page of today's Spectrum there is an untitled comic strip (by a student named Blenk) about graffiti in the SAC Walkway. In it, an irate man with a paint brush in his hand is running down the walkway, in the direction of two graffiti-writers (a boy and a girl) he's caught "red-handed." Here the graffiti in question is little more than the "pure scribble" The Spectrum itself had railed against: tic tac toe games, stick figures with no faces, a heart with an arrow through it, the year "87," etc. As for the couple of graffiti-writers, they look like parodies of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen as they appear in Sid and Nancy (in local movie theatres starting this week). As he stands spraying what appears to be more pure scribble from a paint can, Sid is literally two-faced: he is depicted looking at the wall in front of him and back towards the running, irate man at the same time. As she bolts from the walkway, spray-paint can in hand, Nancy looks like she would be more likely to use the paint to color her lips than to write graffiti. Pesky little domesticated graffiti-writing punks!

On the same page is a bit of good news, which arrives under the headline, "Time Track Project is Still Derailed."

The hallway between the Student Activities Center and Knox Hall remains cold, colorless and lifeless. Except for a few students, most people that traverse the walkway seem indifferent to the bland surroundings. But it was not supposed to be like that. At one time there were plans by the University to put eye-catching designs in the hallway. Now graffiti mars the white-washed walls and water leakages cause the ink to stream from the markings in crooked lines to the floor.
Last semester Kappa Sigma Fraternity in conjunction with Student Affairs launched the "Make A Difference Program," a project to spruce up the stark passageway. The organizations held a design competition to choose a theme for bedecking the walkway and "Time Tracks" won. The plans featured railroad tracks painted across the walls, fitted with wooden showcases laden with UB memorabilia; a journey through the school's past aboard the "UB Express."
The project's coordinators set the end of last semester as the hallway's expected finish date. But work has not yet begun. Mike Zekser, vice president of Kappa Sigma, attributed the delay to the winter temperatures. "It is now too cold to paint," he said. But even preliminary work remains undone. The technical measurements, such as the spacing between the tracks and the supports needed to fit the display cases, have not been incorporated into the design sketches.
Diane Diehl, one of the Time Tracks designers, complained that "the workload came as a surprise." She criticized the organizers for failing to explain that the winner would also be responsible for the technical measurements, in addition to the design concepts they submitted.
Steve Fort, another of the Time Tracks designers, admitted that none of the organizers has contacted him since the middle of last semester. "No one has been in touch," he said. Jim Gruber, director of Student Unions, expressed a more positive outlook on the project's coordination and leadership. "Mike deserves a lot of credit for following through and staying with the project."
He [Gruber] was unaware of any of the complaints cited by the designers and blamed any delay on the detailed safety requirements demanded by the University, which he said were stringent, but absolutely necessary. Zekser himself claimed that the "SUNY guidelines are ridiculous" and that bureaucratic red tape has held the project back. "SUNY likes things done gradually," he added.
Zekser graduates this spring, however, and time is growing short. If attention is not soon given to organizing the designers and completing the technical measurements, there may never be enough time to work on the hallway's new, more spirited, face.

As John Lydon sings on the first PiL record: "Attack!"

17 February 1987

Today one of the Voices of Reason made itself heard in the form of a letter to the editor of Generation.

I am responding to a letter written by an anonymous "pro-student" group that calls itself SAGA, that was in your February 10 issue.
While I admire and support the cause that SAGA claims to be fighting for, I can hardly believe that a can of spray paint is going to obtain much support among University students. Granted, the graffiti will get attention, but for the most part it will be unfavorable. While many students disapprove of the UB administration, destruction of the campus doesn't make us feel any better or stronger about our identity as a group.
When I first spotted the SAGA sign written over one of the posts in the Baldy lobby, I was disgusted. Several of my friends also expressed disapproval of the signs. For every defilement of our campus, the University must make the effort of cleaning it up. The more mess, the more time and money spent removing it. This doesn't sound like an effective method of preventing apathy, or promoting a sensed of brotherhood among students. All this senseless graffiti does is amuse most, and annoy many members of this community [sic].
It is a given that this University acts as an impersonal institution, and it is another given that the students themselves lack a voice and/or a common goal. But graffiti won't eradicate widespread passivity, and neither will vague, slipshod letters that make sweeping claims lacking in supportive evidence and concrete plans of action.
Have I a better solution? No one has absolute answers, but I suggest you come out of the closet and answer three questions: Who are you? What are your specific goals? How do you intend to achieve them? I believe you should set up an office, hold a general meeting to answer students' questions, and make a public stand. If your beliefs are so strong, then the possibility of public disapproval shouldn't phase you.
You mentioned in your letter that in spite of actions taken to erase your signs, you will continue to put them up. What about students' opinions of these signs? If they disapprove of them, you aren't listening; you aren't even giving us a forum to express our opinions. Ironic, isn't it, since you claim to be a group geared towards students?
If you are sick of apathy and want to fight it, you've got to communicate with students face to face. A meaningless sign in a wall won't help your cause in the long run.
Anna DeLeon
University student

The problem here is of SAGA's own making, for it was SAGA itself that rather self-consciously used graffiti to frame "larger" and "reasonable" questions about such highly specialized areas as political apathy, student unions and military research on campus, while all the time ignoring the fact that graffiti can be -- and continues to be -- used to embody its own content, that is to say, "small," general, and unreasonably totality-conscious questions about everyday life. Thus SAGA left itself open to valid objections of this sort: How can you use an "unreasonable" (or impoverished) method such as graffiti, if your intent is to raise and eventually answer eminently reasonable (and specialized) questions? How can you aspire to unite the student community when your tactics quite clearly divide it?

No doubt, SAGA will not respond. This will be a missed opportunity, for there much in DeLeon's letter deserving of comment. We would draw your attention to a couple of items, both of which concern the infantilism of the persistent association of writing graffiti with childishness and immaturity. 1). For DeLeon, graffiti is a dirty, disgusting mess: writing graffiti is a form of playing with feces. 2). It is therefore shameful to enjoy writing graffiti, especially anonymous graffiti -- which is a "defilement" done "in the closet" and subject to "public disapproval." It is instructive to remember, in this context, The Spectrum's reference to graffiti's status as a "perversion" of aesthetics.

It is also instructive to open Deleuze & Guattari's Anti-Oedipus to pages 62-63, which discusses the Freudian theory of the "death instinct." In the graffiti scandal currently rocking UB, there is a fissure developing between those who hypostatize an eternal social order (i.e., DeLeon's "givens") and then define, position and engage in "pleasure" as the activities of defending and, if need be, dying for that social order, and those who recognize the mortality of supposedly "eternal" social orders and then define, position and engage in "pleasure" as the playful re-articulations ("detournement") of these social orders. Without shattering the blind faith in the "eternal" social order, it will not be possible for revolutionaries to use concepts or discourse to convince the reactionaries that writing graffiti is fun, intellectually healthy and a surefire defense against apathy. . . .

Today we saw some interesting reactions to the "SAGA SUCKS" slogans. In the stairwell of Clemens Hall, for example, someone has written beneath one of them "YOU WRITE, WE WIN." A good response, that: it uses a pun to suggest that "YOU'RE RIGHT, BUT WE WIN" or to suggest that, by the very fact that we wrote graffiti in response to their graffiti, SAGA doesn't suck. But the central problem remains: here "points" (for or against SAGA) accrue to the simulacrum of a revolutionary organization, and not a real one.

18 February 1987

Couple of relevant letters to the editor in today's Spectrum.

No reason for graffiti on campus
I agree 100 percent with your editorial of February 6 ("Distasteful Art at UB"). Please reprint it many times.
Simply [re]stated, it's just not professional to write on walls, regardless of the message being conveyed. It shows a lack of pride in our University and definitely gives the wrong signal to visitors, prospective students, parents, and those of us who work and study here every day.
In my opinion, there is absolutely no justification for any graffiti in the SAC tunnel or any place on campus.
David R. Rhoads
Director, Physical Plant, North Campus

SAGA should abandon crayons
According to Webster's New World Dictionary the word "saga" means "any long story relating heroic deeds." For some strange reason I fail to see how this definition fits the group of sophomoric marauders who call themselves SAGA (Sorry about not having the clever neo-anarchist circles around the A's!). Maybe a name like story or tale would be more appropriate since it describes what they're telling the students of UB . . . since the beginning of time people have accomplished great gains by vandalizing their surroundings . . . this is obviously and laughably not true.
SAGA would lead us to believe that their method of cretin expression will get the students of UB a new student union. I suppose we could get a whole new luxury dorm complex if we just colored half of the town of Amherst with lovely SAGA's.
SAGA places the blame of our lack of school spirit and a Student Union on the Administration. To call this a misconception would be vague. It was the former Administration that performed the act of pulling the plug on our Student Union and segmenting the University population through the design of the dorm complexes. It was SAGA's predecessors from the 1960's and 1970's, however, that precipitated this dramatic Administration action. Groups like SAGA are an ominous threat to our personal freedoms and further discourage the formation of a plan for a new Student Union.
The members (or members) of SAGA have displayed that they are literate (or someone they know is) from the articles that have appeared in The Spectrum and Generation. Since they appear to have the ability to communicate their views through the available media[,] why is it necessary for them to trash our collective property with their spray paint, pens and Crayolas?
The Student Association and its various branches are designed to provide a forum for student opinion, and membership in it is unrestricted. If one of SAGA's goals is student unity, as they claim, then they should get involved. If they are really serious about the ideas they wish to encourage then they should come up with a saner method of promoting them. Until then, they should stick to their coloring books!
Shane P. Connolly
Student Assemblyman

The latter of these two letters is, needless to say, the one that calls for comment.

This "student assemblyman" is evidently a politician-in-the-making: only a politician could accuse a group of people of telling a "[tall] tale" that "is obviously and laughably not true," and then go on to assert in a prophetic tone that these same people "are an ominous threat to our personal freedoms." Only a politician could feel threatened by the way SAGA's name alludes to the act of literary creation, which -- as a matter of fact -- does in fact document the "great gains" people have accomplished "by vandalizing their surroundings," especially since the French Revolution. Only a politician could admit the truth of his adversary's central position -- in this case, that the UB's "cold, impersonal" north campus was deliberately designed to prevent or at least help defeat-in-advance student protest of the sort that SAGA clearly wishes to revive -- and then use it as a means of undermining his adversary's credibility and good faith.

23 February 1987

Today we realized that the members of SAGA have come to the realization that we have been the ones placing the word "SUCKS" underneath every appearance of the SAGA tag. Evidently, they are not happy. They appear to have taken it rather personally, for they are now attacking us personally, or, rather, by name. Referring to our slogan "No Fun" (a reference to the Stooges' song), someone has written in the Clemens Hall stairwell "IF YOU ARE HAVING NO FUN, WHY ARE YOU NOT BORED?" Because not having fun (or finding that there is no fun to be had) is not the same thing as being bored; because being NOT BORED (a magazine that said on its most recent cover that it wants to suck the readers' blood) is not the same thing as "having fun." Elsewhere, we've seen the word "REACTIONARY!" thrown at (attached to) our alterations of SAGA's signs so that they say SAGA SUCKS. In comparison with us, is SAGA "progressive" or even "revolutionary"? We've been told, "YOU ARE A HYPOCRITICAL ELITIST -- THINK ABOUT IT." We have not betrayed SAGA or any of the specific positions it has taken on certain issues, precisely because we have never been part of SAGA nor have we ever entered into any kind of agreement with SAGA concerning our commonly shared goals or principles. All we ever "agreed upon" was the "idea" that graffiti is fun to write, especially in the SAC walkway.

24 February 1987

Today's Generation has an article (actually it is a column by "Bitter Twisted") about the graffiti scandal. Entitled "Write & Wrong," it says the following about "the SAGA phenomenon."

I would refer to it as the "SAGA people" or "the SAGA project," but despite the alarming rate the marker virus is spreading, you can't really tell how many people are involved.
I know people who have enough time on their hands to while away a few days making their mark on the university. It would be tough on one person, though. It must get on your nerves, waiting for the time that someone finally walks in while you are busy. Then there's the oversized SAGA spraypainted on the nuke center at [the] Main Street [campus] . . . gads. It could be catching on. (Pinch your nose shut, then say, "Look, Martha, a fad. How gauche.")
Whoever's doing it must be pleased by the attention and sustained fire their brainchild has drawn on campus. Due in part to the SAGA manifesto being published in the campus papers, letter-writers have been foaming at the mouth for weeks.
One pinhead, possibly disoriented by the vast blankness of his stationary, lurched far past the borders of the extreme by laying the blame for Squire Union's closing on "SAGA's predecessors." When I read "Groups like SAGA are an ominous threat to our personal freedoms," I could see the writer had pitched his tent where he was and decided to stay for a while.
Graffiti is an issue now. There has been at least one editorial already (summary: graffiti is writing on walls/writing on walls is bad/graffiti/is bad), so somebody must be thinking about it, I guess. It's one of those safe issues everybody likes to address because, like a Mobius strip, there's only one side.
It must have been those circled A's that started the cerebral fluid perking overtime. They mean anarchy, and there's nothing like a little anarchy for bringing critics charging out of hiding to mend the fabric of society and make the world safe for law and order. People tee off so hard they hurt themselves.
Using the term "anarchy" to describe UB should be grounds for suspending someone's poetic license. If there were [real] anarchists here, we'd know it. Life would get hairy. Someone would dump 500 gallons of Coke into the main computer the day before Drop/Add. One winter night, the Amherst Campus electrical substation would go up in a shower of sparks, eliminating heat, light, water, and elevators on the Amherst Campus (don't get any ideas, or Public Safety will have my kidneys barbacueing [sic] slowly on a spit somewhere in Bissell Hall.)
The authors of the manifesto knew what vapors of anarchy would do to some people. They must have been hysterical when they read the response. I hope they didn't hurt themselves laughing. These anarchists, you know, they get carried away.
I sympathize with the janitors, but you have to admit that the walls of the Knox-SAC tunnel do look a teensy-weensy bit like they're asking to be defaced. Okay, maybe they're begging for it.
If enough grey cells in the administration got enough oxygen for once in their anemic lives, the university could give it a coat of the washable paint used in NYC subway cars and give everyone permission to express themselves all over it.
That would be one clean tunnel. No more "Graffiti Scandal Rocks UB." This, however, would seem to be the logical thing to do. Around here, that can be a fatal flaw.

Speaking as the writers of the graffito "Graffiti Scandal Rocks UB," we must disagree with the "self-evident truth" of the concluding remarks and say in advance that they would not apply to us. Prior to our intervention, graffiti at UB had been largely confined to bathrooms; precisely because they were indeed covered with layers on washable paint, these bathrooms were already a de facto location for permitted graffiti. We moved graffiti out of the bathrooms because graffiti had grown decadent in the space that had been allotted for it to lead an impoverished existence. It was as a result of this action, and not as a result of the subsequent appearance of SAGA, that "graffiti [as such] is an issue now." The simple fact is that, if the Knox Hall-SAC tunnel is painted with washable paint and allowed to become a field for tolerated creativity, we will move on to another place and try to create another scandal. And we will not move on rashly; we will pick our target with the care that originally led us to the Knox-SAC tunnel.

25 February 1987

Today The Spectrum ran its first pro-graffiti op-ed piece.

UB Graffiti Important for Remembering Tragic Past
By Patrick Fogarty
In regard to your recent article about graffiti on the wall between Knox and the Student Activities Center, I too believe that useless scribble is an eyesore, however there is some purpose and nostalgia behind graffiti at UB. When we had a union, oh so long ago, the tunnel between Squire and Harriman Halls was covered with little sayings of yesterday. Before reading them we could only know through movies what students went through during the turbulent times of the late sixties and early seventies.
Here the walls in the tunnel gave us a first hand account. The writing was something permanent so that we would never forget.
I find this the central concept behind the importance of graffiti, and necessary to battle a tragic quality in most human beings. People have a habit to forget about the past, to joke about what has not had a serious effect on their lives. Let us see people laugh about the Holocaust if they lost their family. I doubt they would or do. Yet it is unfortunate that even this can be and is taken lightly if you do it the right way. There is no way to take the death of six million Jews in jest. Listen to all the Ethiopian jokes. I wonder what we would look like if Buffalo did not get precipitation for 11 years . . . which is more likely than UB getting a [student] union.
The wall should be our book to write so our children don't make or ALLOW our mistakes to happen again. In 50 years when my best friend's son is president, maybe he'll be smart enough not to sell arms to Iran or at least not get caught.
One can argue that we have classes to teach us about these things. However, I find that a wall written by your parents' Generation makes more of an impression on you than a book required by a history class that was written by someone who now drives a Porsche. The different things in life are what stand out. It took Peter Gabriel to make people sit up and take note of Stephen Bikko.
Also, in light of the fact that SAC is to be a sort of "pseudo-union," it seems appropriate that an adjacent hallway become the new writing place.
It is not to say that we should stop going to classes and just write all over walls, but seeing it makes me stop and think about next time.
As for the vulgarity, there are other, more diplomatic ways of writing a potent statement or idea. Doonesbury does it every day on a national scale, not just one wall.
Patrick Fogarty is a University student.

This is, in some ways, the best analysis of graffiti we've yet had in our public discussion. For Fogarty -- and, we should mention, for historians of everyday life -- graffiti is a better indication of or introduction to life as it was really lived than "a book required by a history class." And that's because graffiti from the "tragic past" is "first hand": it is a writing within history, not a writing about history. The problem comes when Fogarty turns his attention to the importance of today's graffiti, which for him will only be significant when the future (50 years from now) gives it a retrospective look. But today's graffiti can be a door to the history of our own present, as well as the future's door to the history of the past. To his credit, Fogarty seems to realize that crossing over the threshold of the door to the history of our own present involves a decision to "stop going to classes and just write all over the walls [all day, every day]." We've got to encourage people like him to go all the way the "next time," instead of simply stopping and thinking about it.



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