No matter what you do or where you go, your daily routine is composed of countless visual assaults.
Billboards and televisions, flyers and advertisements use writing and images to encourage you to buy more, eat more, lose weight or vote for particular candidates.
Beyond direct influence, the images of daily life provide similar advertisements. The White House is an entity unto itself and represents countless things for many people. The same can be said of football stadiums or other landmarks. Each building and monument implies or reminds the population of certain aspects of their lives.
Why does any of this matter? There are many reasons.
The world as it is presented to the public is portrayed through the eyes of marketers. They may be selling mascara or democracy, but in each instance they use carefully contrived images. It is this image that ultimately defines U.S. society to the rest of the world and to future generations.
The mark this society is leaving behind is not necessarily your own, but that of what Wal-Mart and Microsoft think you are.
But there is hope that other messages will survive through time.
I know you have seen it. It comes with scribbling on movie posters, public walls and writings in rest stop bathrooms from coast to coast.
There are people that are leaving reminders of public culture beyond state or corporate advertisements. They write on walls, spray paint on buildings or deface statues.
This may seem like juvenile behavior, but it is a common action that has been done by many throughout history. Often these writings range from anti-establishment ranting to raunchy poetry and may not appear to have a wide-ranging audience, but they do.
Bathroom stalls across the U.S. are covered in personal ads and limericks, and each one serves as a more intimate portrait of the American people than any book delivered by Howard Zinn.
Vandalism has also played a significant role in our understanding of ancient cultures and also corrects or validates history as we understand it.
Buried in Rome among the ancient pillars and ruins there are burial places of historical figures.
Archaeologists have used the ancient graffiti from thousands of years of faithful pilgrims who have traveled there, not official documents, to confirm the authenticity of these sites.
Underneath it all there is the human desire to be remembered and to die knowing that there will be others who remember you. This is manifested in small ways, like breaking a branch or carving the bark of a tree with your obscure initials.
It could also be large, like writing a book or creating a popular song.
It is easy to view the French cave paintings of hunters attacking animals as art, because modern man does not believe that something that old could exist if the maker wasn’t highly advanced.
A more logical theory is that the community who called that cave home were proud of their achievements in the realm of hunting. They wanted those who followed to remember that a culture was there. The paintings served that purpose perfectly.
Vandalism also implies the destruction of goods, and that goes beyond writing in public places.
Vandals sometimes destroy statues and buildings, and it is clearly evident that in most situations the destruction or maiming of a particular landmark holds more significance than the original purpose of the artist or architect.
Think of the Berlin Wall. Sections of what originally stood as a sign of oppression now tour museums throughout the United States.
Now those sections serve as a stunning tribute to the persistence of democracy and the human spirit. However, at that time, defacing it may have cost people their lives. The television footage of the wall being torn down was possibly the most compelling image of the 1980s.
Similarly, the Venus de Milo is such a captivating work of art because no one is quite sure what her head or arms looked like. An ancient vandal took that piece of art and made it a phenomenon, one that still captivates artists and dreamers thousands of years later in a way that the same work intact might not.
So next time you see random scribbling in a rest stop try to remember that it may have more to say about your society than the latest Apple commercial.
Curtiss Gibson is a senior majoring in creative writing.