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Graffiti (singular "graffito") in their modern form were born in the 1960s around Philadelphia, but rose to prominence only during the late 1970s in New York in connection with the birth of the Hip-Hop culture. In modern graffiti, every artist, or "writer", has a unique moniker, or "tag", which he paints on any available surface. Sometimes writers band up in "crews". Other important lingo includes "bomb", to tag as many places as possible; "piece", a large, elaborate painting of a tag or a crew's name, short for masterpiece; "buff", to remove graffiti, and "slash", to paint over another writer's tag (and no, nothing like that).
Alongside tags, other forms of graffiti exist, including political ones ranging from swastikas to the anarchy symbol, and ethnic slurs. Due to the art form's background, the latter types aren't really welcomed by writers. Since the 1990's, street art has developed where instead of writing a tag, an artist will actually paint something recognizable (people, creatures, monsters, etc.), or paste a work on paper. Banksy and Shepard Fairey, among others, have popularized these methods.
Increasingly, since the 1970s, graffiti have become a common occurrence in urban areas, and you probably won't find a back alley or an underpass that doesn't have a handful of tags sprayed on, unless it's been recently buffed. Therefore, when works of fiction deal with modern urban settings, graffiti cannot be exactly ignored. In live-action movies and TV series, one can just film the real things, but with comics, animation and video games, the artists must stretch their own imagination.
Since most artists don't have an aerosol-scented past, graffiti are usually ignored, unless used as a plot point, such as conveying Arc Words. Also, you rarely see massive murals painted as homages to the neighborhood.
Anime & Manga
- The America episode in Excel Saga featured hilariously Gratuitous English graffiti.
- Akira features plenty of graffiti written in English. Mostly simple, generic phrases ("DIE PUNKS", "FUCK YOU", etc).
- In case we forget where she came from, Revy from Black Lagoon mention how the painting in the "R?r Der Adels" arc isn't ny better looking than New York subway graffiti. There's also a scene with Bathroom Stall Graffiti, including rather generic scribbling.
- Samurai Champloo had an episode involving some graffiti artists. Then Mugen gets in on it.
- Averted in Monster, where some of the graffiti is thematically related (in a slightly meta way) to the plot or surrounding scenery.
- Watchmen has no tags in sight. "Who Watches the Watchmen" is painted liberally on any available surface, as well as a lot of band names and other thematic stuff.
- There is one notable tag. Artist Dave Gibbons drew a stylzed "G" as part of the repeating graffiti, usually alongside "Who Watches the Watchmen?". So you could say that he tagged the landscape.
- In The Filth, the tagged underside of a bridge has some tags, but mostly ties in with the theme of the story.
- The Phantom visits New York in one story, and one wall has a graffito reading "Lee Falk Was Here", Falk being the author of the strip.
- The Swedish strip Rocky has a Running Gag where the word "Penis" is spraypainted everywhere.
- Hellblazer featured graffiti reading notable fans names.
- Averted by Brandon Graham, who is actually was a graffiti artist when he was younger so he usually has fairly authentic looking tags littered throughout the environments of his comics.
- in City Of Silence by Warren Ellis and Gary Erskine most of the Graffiti are scrawled phrases like "No Mercy No Future" or "Psycho Christian Rappers Suck".
- In Top Ten, the graffitti around Neopolis is a part of the background feel of a city inhabited exclusively by super-heroes and super-villains. Almost all of it is parodies of comics tag-lines throughout history or the territorial tags of Neopolis street gangs, who are themselves parodies of super-teams. The men-room graffitti at Godz (a bar patronized solely by Physical Gods) is oriented toward the mythological clientele of the bar.
- Johnny the Homicidal Maniac may lack the more artistic forms of graffiti, but averts this trope when he takes advantage of using the graffiti to help set the mood, reference something, or poke fun at typical writings found on bathroom walls, Such as "If you looking for a good time, don't call me. I am boring."
- Averted in The Invisibles, where King Mob is often portrayed as tagging properly.
- Averted in Marshal Law. The city and the comic book are absolutely covered in graffiti, most of it pop culture satire. Half the fun of the book is reading it, a personal favorite is "Real men don't write slogans."
- Issue #50 of the third X-Factor comic book series ends with a character walking past a wall covered with graffiti for the names and initials of the various creators who've worked on the title.
- Much like the film of V for Vendetta the young girl does graffiti ("BOLLOCKS" and then a V) once the cameras go down. Except she survives.
- Children of Men, alongside realistic and real graffiti (including a Banksy piece, which is an anachronism, as someone painted over it some time after the movie's release), there is a lot of Arc Graffiti, such as "Last one alive please turn out the light"
- Return to Oz, the words "Beware the Wheelers" is written on the wall of the ruined Emerald City.
- In 28 Days Later, the protagonist enters a church after the abandonment of London and sees REPENT/THE END IS/EXTREMELY/FUCKING/NIGH written on the wall of the church.
- The Starsky and Hutch movie didn't fall to this. At the scene where the pair meets Huggy Bear, the graffiti on the background are very authentic-looking 1970s-style graffiti.
- The Warriors has the titular gang painting over another gang's tag.
- A real gang's tag, and they were not happy with the producers about it. The studio made it up by hiring them as extras in the film.
- Monty Python's Life of Brian has the political type.
- The film Demolition Man has La Résistance using time bombs to speed-paint grafitti on surfaces - which have built-in automated grafitti-erasers eliminate it three seconds later, so one wonders why they bother.
- Hood of Horror features a magical spray-paint can. If one uses it to "slash" other's tags, they'll die.
- The Brothers Bloom uses some street art to set up a visual gag in one early scene.
- One recurring element in Be Kind Rewind is a large mural the two main characters are working on in honor of a famous jazz musician who lived in their neighborhood.
- In V for Vendetta, a young girl who idolizes V starts tagging his logo all over London. When a cop sees her doing it, he shoots her right in a public street. This does not sit well with the people watching.
- The hero in The Catcher in The Rye is angered when he sees the word "Fuck" scrawled on the wall in a public place where kids are likely to see it.
- The graffiti in Ankh-Morpork are apparently also heavy on profanity. Then there's also Troll Graffiti, which are scratched into walls. Mr Shine. Him Diamond.
Live Action TV
[Two children on an urban street.]
Narrator: Look around you.
[One of the children starts spraying something on the brick wall, while the other plays lookout.]
Narrator: Look around you. Just... look around you. Have you worked out what we are looking at?
[The graffito finished, both children run away.]
Narrator: That's right, the answer is... maths.
[Pan back to reveal that the graffito is a complicated integral equation.]
- What is Will actually spraying in the intro to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?
- His armpits?
- The character of Jonah in the Australian comedy Summer Heights High has his personal tag throughout the series: "Dictation", which consists of a crude penis, followed by the letters "TATION", is seen all over the school in many scenes.
- The opening titles Rome show that graffiti is, in fact, Older Than Feudalism. The tags come to life and dance to the opening theme music. Since the tags are in Latin, there's some Bilingual Bonus to be had, but a lot of it is pretty unambiguous.
- One of the classic sketches of Saturday Night Live was a fake commercial starring real-life New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. He announced a new anti-graffiti measure whereby first-time offenders would have "Sucks!" spray-painted under their tag. Second-timers would have a specially trained artist write "Sucks!" in the same script that you did. And woe be to third-timers: Their tags would be saddled with "Sucks Big Time!"
- The walls of New Cap City in Caprica contain many graffitis, some generic and others of some importance. One of the important ones is the stylised "T" symbols that represents Tamara. The other one is the image of a man and a caption reading "This is not me. It's just my body vehicle". The latter graffiti has sparked some Epileptic Trees, particularly because the camera spent so much time focused on it.
- In the earlier episodes of Republic of Doyle, Des is usually seen tagging areas all over St. John's.
- In the very first scene of Citizen Smith Wolfie is singing while painting political graffiti on an estate block. "PLAN AHEA-" He ran out of room and then he comments that the structure of the building is wrong.
- Final Fantasy VII has "AVERLANCHE" [sic].
- Maple Story has basketball player portraits.
- In Jet Set Radio, painting graffiti and slashing over tags are major play elements. The tags and pieces rarely actually read anything. In the late part of the first game, an evil businessman is trying to summon demons by spraying ugly magical symbols on walls, and the heroes spray over them.
- The streets and walls of Anachronox is liberally embossed with the ominous phrase "Eddie knows".
- Grand Theft Auto San Andreas lets you tag over rival gangs. Tag all 100, and a nice arsenal of weapons will spawn at your home in Grove Street.
- The Warriors features a graffiti mini-game, graffiti competitions and tags for all the gangs. These were done by real graf artists
- The City of Heroes games feature graffiti in many of the city zones. Some of it is generic while others bits are related to specific gangs and only show up in the areas that they occupy.
- Mark Ecko's Getting Up was banned in Australia because it was about graffiti.
- Shadow Hearts From the New World has some generic graffiti on the walls in the "secret" town of Harlem. Mind you, this graffiti is appearing about fifty years before it would become a common sight in New York, and the game's setting predates spray paint by about 20 years.
- There's some generic graffiti in the various Tony Hawk games, as well as some not so generic graffiti, including in one level the Leeds United Football club logo. In Manhattan. Further games allowed you to create your own graffiti tags, mostly used to spray over more generic graffiti.
- There's also graffiti mode in multiplayer, where doing trick on ramps, benches, rails, etc. will color it red or blue. The person with the most of their color wins the round.
- Many multiplayer FPSs (particularly those on Valve Software's Source engine) have a "graffiti button" which allows players to apply a user-supplied texture map to walls. Most often, this takes the form of porn or shock pics, sometimes used to actually distract opposing players.
- The Wii version of Need for Speed: Nitro lets players design custom tags. Walls and buildings along the race are bombed with the leader's tag.
- In one of the later levels of Wolverine: Adamantium Rage there's some graffiti simply reading "Paul was here", which bothered Linkara to no end:
- Portal has its famous graffiti left by former escapees.
- The filthy restroom in the first Leisure Suit Larry game has graffiti all over the walls of the toilet. If you read enough of them, you find a clue.
- The Marines in Half-Life leave some graffiti behind to express their feelings about Gordon. Specifically "SURRENDER FREEMEN", "DIE FREEMAN!!!", and "YORE DEAD FREEMAN".
- In Half-Life 2, there is more conventional graffiti in City 17, apparently dating from both before and after the Seven-Hour War.
- Fireball 4 in the original Mac version of Dark Castle had "Alaric Was Here", "Huns Rule" and "Vandals Sack". The Genesis version idiotically replaced these with "Gamers Rule" and "Saddam Was Here".
- Call of Duty Black Ops allows players above a certain rank to create their own emblems for their playercard, and at a certain higher rank, apply that emblem to their weapons. You're limited to specific shapes and objects, but you can position, rotate, resize, recolor and combine them in any way you see fit.
- In Step 4 of There She Is, the spread of hateful graffiti mirrors the growing social intolerance toward Doki and Nabi's forbidden cat/rabbit relationship, covering even the vending machines where they first met. In the Final Step, we see them cleaning it off as a sign that things are going to get better (as well as offering a nice Book Ends finale).
- On The Simpsons, when Homer became the leader of Stonecutters, he urged them to help the community, including painting over graffiti. The graffiti were just "Graffiti" written over and over again.
- In one Hammerman episode, "typical" graffiti are just big blobs of color and completely random words.
- "Riley Wuz Here" from The Boondocks, similar to Bart above.
Police Officer: It says "Riley Wuz Here". And you took photographs of you posing in front of the work. Also, you have paint on your hands.
- In a Powerpuff Girls episode, the Gangreen Gang starts spreading graffiti saying stuff like "The City Of Townsville Sucks" and "The Mayor is Dumb". Then they get to a subway tunnel where they start doing more "personalized" work: Snake writes "Sssssssssss" and Big Billy writes "Graffiti: By Big Billy"
- One plot of Arthur revolved around someone who was tagging the school and other buildings with the name "Binky". The character Binky claimed it wasn't him, and the gang spends the rest of the episode trying to clear his name.
- In Recess, the graffiti kid's trademark is the fact that he has the spelling of a 5-year-old.