The other day, while trying to cross College Avenue, I collided with a train. Well, not literally. But I collided with the punishment of getting stuck while a train passed through town. And not quickly! It was here that I noticed and actually paid attention to all of the graffiti on the sides of the boxcars. The question occurred to me: what is the purpose of it? Thus this blog idea came into being.
Graffiti. We see it everywhere…
Some see it as art. Others as a defacement of public property. But is it literacy?
My findings of the origins of graffiti were pretty interesting. Graffiti on boxcars and trains has a long, strange, American history. Markings first appeared on trains in the 20th century and were made by the railroad workers (departure and arrival times, weights, content info, etc.). These were messages meant for a specific audience. Soon after that, “hobo markings” started to appear on the sides of trains. What the
In New York City in the 1970s, kids in the Bronx associated with the “nascent hip-hop subculture” started to spray paint the sides of subway cars, turning the city’s transit system into a rolling museum of hip-hop art.
Nowadays, it is common to see gang symbols/markings/numbers/images/signatures on the sides of boxcars.
Graffiti on trains started with a specific purpose, but turned into something completely different.
So what is the purpose of graffiti today?
In my opinion, people just want to be heard!
The “publication” of one’s work on walls in the bathroom, on the sides of boxcar trains, … is one way to anonymously but ensurably have your voice and your valued words heard (yes, I made up the word ensurably).
What those gang references mean, I have hardly a clue. But the intent is to get those words out into the public or to somebody somewhere in the direction that the train is going.
So there ya go, a little tidbit about boxcars and graffiti. Next time you get stuck behind a train take note of this crazy form of literacy and art. See it as an opportunity to reflect on literacy and what it means to others. If you have any ideas of what graffiti on boxcars means, leave a comment!