Vandalism by the Book

#Art

Tue, Aug 17th, 1999 02:00 by Jester ARTICLE

"Vandalism: Involves the destruction or damage of property for no apparent reason." -Canada's Century

As I've mentioned before in "Reading the (Obscene) Handwriting on the Wall" (see CoN 4.11), I'm a great lover of graffiti and print vandalism. I don't agree with the comment "Man's ambition must be small, to write his wit on shithouse wall." I find clever vandalism to be wonderfully rebellious and witty. The really good stuff makes me snicker and giggle, making the guy in the stall next to me wonder just what the hell I'm doing.

Although school, bar and restaurant janitors don't like it, it's more or less expected to see some nasty or scatological remark scrawled on the door of a bathroom stall. You aren't too likely to get caught doing it, so to some it might seem cowardly. Some find it more daring and still more rebellious to vandalize school textbooks.

I'm an admirer of this too. By this I mean going beyond the simple drawing of moustaches on Queen Victoria, or even the classic stuff like "Turn to page 43! Right now." Remember that? The vandal would keep doing this for pages and pages (turn to 107, turn 56, etc), usually adding a new insult on each page, until the final shaggy dog joke "You've made it to the end--you're nosy!" or "You're a loser with too much time on your hands!"

No, I like it when somebody finds a picture of a politician in a textbook and draws in the perfect item or witty comment that lampoons what that politician is doing. Even if the vandalism is stupid and juvenile, I like it if it succeeds in being brilliantly stupid and juvenile.

I have a textbook that I used in Grade 10 History. It's called "Canada's Century." I had the course in 1987, and the book was dated even then (published in 1978). Now of course, it's just silly. It has a chart of the Top 30 songs of the day. Artists on the list include Shaun Cassidy, April Wine, Styx, Theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Andy Gibb (the number one song is "Stayin' Alive"). What makes it even sillier is that one of the former users of the book took to vandalizing it.

The former owner had a thing about sex. A lithograph of Halifax being constructed shows the governor pointing out something to a flunky. "Fuck him and him!" is his instructions, according to my Vandal Wit. A photo of prospectors forming one long line between a mountain pass has one prospector singing "Hi ho! Hi ho! It's off to fuck we go!" A soldier looking at a mate climbing a trench ladder says "Nice ass!" Doctors in a field hospital remark of a patient "This one's fucked Doc!" The doctor concurs "His balls are healthy and hard." An erection is helpfully drawn on the patient.

Uh, perhaps I should clarify at this point that this wouldn't be one of the more mature pieces I've written.

Another picture shows a cop making an arrest. The suspect has his hands against the wall, bent forward. The cop is right behind him. "Push it ahh! Push it real good!" says the suspect. Another picture, showing the site of an FLQ bombing shows one cop kneeling in front of another. The standing cop is shown to be saying "Suck harder!"

Scatology is a subtheme. Prime Minister Mackenzie King is featured, walking his dog. Turds have been drawn in. "Oh shit! You fucken dog!" exclaims King. The dog retorts "Shut your face fucken asshole! I have to go!" For some reason, King is also sporting an erection that looks much like a pencil tip.

Judge Rosalie Abella, the youngest judge appointed in Ontario, is labelled "Geek!" A lawyer addressing another courtroom observes "These microphones look like dicks." One of the jurors on a picture of courtroom looks at the judge and says "What a fucken boring asshole." I wonder if he was really referring to the judge, or his teacher.

The crowning moment though is a picture of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, a man I have a tremendous amount of respect for, since he actually made politics entertaining (unless you were a Separatist). The picture shows Trudeau, hand raised and cupped a little ways away from his chest. Someone wrote in "Her tits felt like..." I giggle looking at that picture even now. It's what made me steal the textbook at the end of the year. The only lowpoint is that my usually brilliant scribe stooped to drawing a beard and moustache on Anne Murray.

Teachers told us that they checked books when you turned them in at the end of the year for damage, and would bill anyone for any artistic enhancements we had made. In most cases, this wasn't true. I know this because even a cursory glance at my Grade 11 American History textbook would have resulted in a fine. The larger, more expensive texts such as Physics did get checked, however anyone taking physics isn't generally a hellraiser who will be drawing penises on Sir Isaac Newton. If anything, the odd bit of highlighting or circled words would be in there. That didn't stop the extremely anal physics teacher from turning each page of every book. He also wore a lab coat at all times, to give you an idea of his lack of personality.

But I digress.

Sadly, I do not have my American History textbook with me to document what I did (I lost my chance to steal it), so I will have to work from memory. If anybody out there reading this miraculously has the book I used, I will quite seriously buy it from you.

The kind of humour is very distinct. I didn't usually draw, just wrote word balloons or silly labels. I am quite proud of those captions. The one that comes to mind is a photo of General Custer. I wrote in a word balloon saying "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

You see, this demonstrates applied knowledge. You have to know about Little Big Horn in order to get the joke. It's not only funny, it's educational!

Well, admittedly not everything I wrote was of that calibre.

Sometimes I went for just the straight shock--profanity and plenty of it. I remember what appeared to be a statue of a girl yelling, a stick in her raised hand. She was on top of a horse. The horse looked like it was in torment, moving at top speed. I wrote in some dialogue for the horse "If this bitch hits me with that goddam stick I will throw her and stomp her fucking head in, so help me God."

For people looking at the camera, I occasionally added the timeless "What the fuck are you looking at?" That's a great one, and applicable to just about any photo where someone is looking at the camera and is doing anything but smiling. Try it sometime.

And most of all, you may have noticed that photos of people from the past are quite funny looking. They've always got some weird hairstyle or making some insane gesture, or glance. I'm quite proud of a caption I assigned to a picture of Thomas Edison behind his movie camera. Edison has a maniacal gleam in his eye, so I wrote "The filming of the first pornographic movie" under the photo. I also pointed out that some guy who's name I can't remember had a hairdo exactly like the space shuttle. Impressive since it must have been taken at least 70 years before space flight.

Although I stand by the juvenile stuff I wrote, I must say that some of the things I wrote are an embarrassment to my progressive views. Feminist pioneer Betty Friedan was in the book, and she happened to photographed holding her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. I wrote "His buns were just so firm and tight I had to take a pinch." Oh well. At least I didn't make some snotty remark about penis size. It was probably unnecessary to label her "Parrot face" in the same photo. Well, Friedan has a bit of a honker on her, and at the angle the picture caught her. You get the picture. I think I did stop short of writing "Betty Friedan want a cracker? Rawk!"

I have since repented though. I've read the Beauty Myth and the War Against Women. My favorite title in the feminist literature library is "Men Are Not Cost Effective." I have never once made fun of Naomi Wolf, Germaine Greer or Marilyn French. Though I must admit, I am tempted to take a potshot at Camille Paglia.

Please don't show me any of her books with photos of her on the cover.

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