Boredom and Misdemeanors

Fort Bragg has developed a bit of a vandalism problem in the last few years; I noticed when I moved back home that there seemed to be an uptick in pointless graffiti, paired with much handwringing in the pages of the Advocate, when the journalism is coherent enough to understand what people are actually saying. The City’s big move to address the problem thus far has been fining property owners who fail to clean up graffiti within a certain amount of time (well, it’s not technically a fine, what happens is they clean it up and charge you, so, basically, it’s a fine).

Now, I have mixed feelings about the entire concept of ‘vandalism’ because I’m a little sour on the idea of private property anyway, especially when it’s something like a house sitting vacant while people are homeless. And I also don’t fall into the trap the City does of automatically reading graffiti as vandalism. There’s, as I say, pointless graffiti, like spraypainting a line down a building, and then, there’s art. There’s commentary. Graffiti is a legitimate method of artistic expression.

It irks me to see things that mainly serve to uglify; bullet holes through windows, random spurts of graffiti showing up like misbegotten ejaculations in the depth of night. But I’m not necessarily averse to street art, and honestly, I think there are some pretty solid arguments for encouraging it. The thing about art is that it tends to beget more art. Appealing to people to make things that are pretty creates a culture where people are encouraged to add to the landscape, rather than defacing it. Rather than categorizing all nonsanctioned paint expressions, as it were, as art, the City could start differentiating.

And rather than being primarily reactive about the issue, the City could try being proactive. If the City doesn’t like expressions of boredom writ large on its buildings, it could try creating opportunities for people not to be bored. There are young people here, there’s an active youth community, but most people have nowhere to go. Especially for people under 21, there are very few things to do in the evening hours here. Headlands attracts a very specific crowd of young people, but certainly doesn’t accommodate everyone who is looking for something to do. If you can’t go there…where are you supposed to go? What are you supposed to do?

The devil makes work for idle hands, they say, and it’s really true. I really can’t blame a lot of young folks for being bored in Fort Bragg, especially if they also feel trapped here by circumstances, making them resent their presence here even more. When you’re still in school, or you lack the funds to get out and you’re trapped in service work with no possibility of getting ahead, only able to get partial hours at work, well, it’s no wonder that you’d be bored, and frustrated. And it’s no wonder that you’d want to take it out on the place around you; that might not be particularly fair, but the world is not a fair place.

If you want people to be happy to be here, you have to give them a reason to. And a good place to start would be with all ages activities that are consistent, interesting, and organised by youth. Youth are usually discouraged from organising or not provided with support to enact plans and ideas. Getting active in the schools to find out more about what people wish they could be doing would be a pretty great place to start, though by no means the only resource. Some people just want a place to hang out that isn’t home, that gives them a place to be, and possibility some entertainment and structure. And some people don’t want to see the same people all the time, want there to be multiple places to go.

In the City, there are tons of opportunities for youth. That’s obviously a function of having a larger youth population and a lot more people interested in youth issues, whether they are offering writing workshops or cafes welcoming to youth who need a quiet place with Internet access to do homework. Obviously it’s not sustainable to offer the same level of entertainment here, but actually talking to young people might provide us with some ideas about what kinds of things people wish were available. And with that information in hand, maybe we could make that happen.

Certainly this wouldn’t magically solve issues of boredom, but it sure would go a long way. The City is spending a lot of time hung up on cosmetic issues here, the horror that tourists might see graffiti, and they aren’t investing much energy in thinking about the why and the how of this, what leads people to a state where they express their boredom this way. Thinking about that might help the City develop a plan for proactively addressing it.

Pete knows, I was bored to tears a lot of the time when I was in high school. The world wasn’t academically or intellectually engaging, at all, and I was often frustrated and at loose ends. Luckily my network of friends expressed boredom with things like playing Magic into the wee hours of the morning, not rambling around town looking for buildings to deface, but I could have just as easily fallen into that while searching for some kind of meaning and trying to keep my brain from melting away from sheer disuse.

People talk about youth in this town like they are clueless and shiftless. Just the contrary. This town has a lot of kids who are bored and frustrated because they aren’t being engaged or challenged, at all. Fix that, and maybe Fort Bragg’s little mini crime epidemic would be resolved.