July 12, 2014

In wholesome graffiti, families have replaced peer groups as the participants

I went for a stroll around the old neighborhood today, keeping an eye out as usual for signs of what's going wrong in the world nowadays.

In an earlier post, I covered the rise and fall of wet cement carvings -- a harmless rite of passage for 10-15 year-olds. I look for this stuff almost anywhere I'm walking and have the time to browse around my surroundings. I wouldn't change anything from that original post, but have noticed further patterns in the meantime.

One is that, in this domain as well, we see the nuclear family replacing the peer group as the only social unit for young people, as cocooners distrust everyone beyond close genetic relatives. I found a very rare sidewalk carving from the current decade (2011), right in front of a suburban house. On closer inspection, it turned out to be the names and handprints of the family that lived there -- two names were noticeably more out-of-date-sounding and were next to two much larger handprints.

In the good old days, it was a group of friends, a couple, or an individual who happened upon the wet cement alone. Siblings were nowhere to be seen -- let alone their friggin' parents. Now that the parents have fenced their kids off from all the other kids in the community, the only possible group that will leave a memento in wet cement is a nuclear family.

It also feels like, even if our parents had brought the wet cement to our attention and encouraged us to carve our names, they would not have taken part themselves. They understood that it was a rite of passage for children, hence something that grown-ups were forbidden from. The family's sidewalk carving is not a rite of passage for a peer group, but an expression of family togetherness, and of all activities needing to be "for the whole family" -- thereby precluding any rite of passage specifically for the young ones.

About 10 minutes away, there is a park at a former Boys & Girls Club (itself on the site of a former elementary school). I was checking all over for recent graffiti, coming up empty-handed, until I spied something on the top of the backrest for a bench -- not a typical spot to leave your mark on. There were nine names, followed by the phrase "oldest to youngest." Definitely not a peer group -- what social group would contain both a Jessica and a Jenny, alongside a Gabby and an Ada?

The two oldest were female names, so that ruled out the parents from being present. Still, it was a group of siblings -- not friends -- who wanted to memorialize their group identity by leaving their names in a public space.

(I suppose the oldest name could've been the single mother of eight children, but the phrase "oldest to youngest" makes it sound like they all come from a group where ages may vary. The parent is obviously way older, hence would sound weird to be specified as the "oldest.")

No date was left with that one, but since "Ada" isn't even in the top 1000 most common baby names until 2004, I'm guessing this is another rare example that has been left within the past 5 years.


  1. Somewhat related, how do you feel about the family stickers on the backs of vehicles (usually minivans)?

  2. Those annoying things. It's the mix of the cocooning and status-striving trends. Let's start a status contest about how many kids we have. Nah nah-nah nah nah. It's not a communal thing, as though it were a sports team sticker -- "Us" folks with largish families vs. "Them" folks with small / no brood.

    It's just another war of all against all, in the same category as "My kid made the honor roll at ___" -- yeah, it's called grade inflation, dumbass. Bragging about mediocrity.

    On a visual level, they look nauseatingly kiddie. If they looked like a Hallmark Christmas ornament from 1982, it would feel more precious. But the goofy, cartoony style makes it look like they don't even care. They just want something campy and dorky to rub in everyone else's faces.


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