“Fuck Art, Let’s Kill.”
Whoa, is that what I saw? Words spray-painted on a wall as we drive under the tracks at MacArthur Station, and I caught only the briefest glimpse.
“Did you see that?” I ask Dana, but she didn’t notice.
We’re going to Marin for a writing workshop but we have time, so I drive around the block and circle back on MacArthur Boulevard toward BART. There it is, scrawled in shaky black letters but perfectly clear, chest high on the cement buttress above the sidewalk. Prominent and visible to the many people who travel this road.
“Uhhh,” Dana lets out a moan.
I shake my head. “Fuck Art, Let’s Kill.”
I repeat these words at the workshop and reactions range from horror to amusement. Art is sacrosanct for these writers, and we want Occupy to respect the vocation we love. We want art to inspire Occupy and we want Occupy to birth a gentle, respectful society. “Fuck Art, Let’s Kill” doesn’t fit the bill.
It does go to the core. If you could imagine the single, most offensive thing possible to say to a nonviolent activist, this might be it. It’s severe, mischievous Edgar Allen Poe-ish “Imp of the Perverse” plus an absurdist, Dada-esque provocation. I imagine an obsessed little person gleefully writes words like these at eye-level, throws the sharpie in a gutter, and runs off, laughing hysterically, down a dark alley to a filthy, rug-lined cardboard box where it lives and eats rats.
“Fuck Art, Let’s Kill” is a call to put away vanity. How often have I heard, “Oh, you’re a poet!” as if this provides cache. I might lap it up, but I’m queasy at the same time. Poetry is not exempt from problems. What plagues the culture plagues poetry: rankism, narcissism, lack of empathy, blindness, greed, and especially being out of touch with the body and with health. These problems may be even worse in poetry because there’s so little money. And how often does it change our lives? Art that inspires is rare; art that inspires right political action is almost nonexistent. Ask those who’ve tried to write it. Ask what result we’ve seen.
“Fuck Art, Let’s Kill” is a call to action. Let’s get things moving since, follow the impulse or not, things have devolved to where killing is contemplatible. It’s that bad. If it’s not, the Oakland Police may drive us there soon. If all this seems too offensive, consider that a provocateur might have written those words, just to alienate us and push us back into our, well, possibly comfortable homes.
Dana takes exception. “You’re being an apologist for violence.” She’s referring also to my comment about bombers, that the culture has spawned people who are responding to it aptly, and they are neither crazy nor ill-informed. But my goal is simply to describe the situation we’re in. Accurately.
Kayla was part of the conversation when we started Writing Occupy Workshop, and the first thing we heard about was violence. She reared up and said that blood will be spilled. Kayla didn’t say she liked it, she just sees it as inevitable. “Make no mistake about it, blood will be spilled.”
Two days later I’m on my way to the gym, and I swing by the same intersection. The graffiti is gone. Fresh grayish white squares cover the cement, where a paint crew has been at work. How soon did they come around? You can hear the tired arguments already. “Who do they think they’re kidding? We’re the 99%, and they‘re giving us trouble. The City has to clean up after them, and the money could be much better spent.” No kidding.
I wonder if the painters make a record of what they blot out. Does the City have a photo gallery? Do individual painters? This would be worth researching. How much are we missing, how much that’s original, humorous, provocative, and to the point. “Fuck Art, Let’s Kill” may be gone from visual memory. But it’s here now.
I proceed toward the gym through a block-long tunnel on Webster Street under the freeway, and it’s been recently painted gray from street level to seven feet high, a shiny gray I assume won’t let spray paint stick. For the present it’s clean and noncommital. Except that conventional forces are busy spending our money on looking good.
I park my car at 28th Street and walk to the gym. On a lamp post a letter-sized picture of a very bedraggled youth looks out, hair in strings and a gaunt, lost, intense look on his face. With this inscription:
“They Cannot Kill Us. We Are Already Dead.”
(photo credit: C. Lenk)