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August 28, 2014
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Train of thoughtlessness

The notion that a brand new Sarmiento line train carriage worth US$1.27 million has already been sprayed with graffiti can only make you cringe, at least initially. The Sarmiento line, after the crash that killed 51 people at Once Station in 2012, is a symbol of decadence. That train didn’t crash out of chance, but because the cars were shoddy and the management was dysfunctional. And here and now is decadence coming back with a vengeance in the form of vandalism just when Interior and Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo is trying to overhaul the infamous line. What were the vandals thinking? Presumably not much because one of the two minors allegedly involved was nabbed by authorities, in what is perhaps the biggest humiliation in the lore of graffiti subculture.

Randazzo, who has already anticipated that he is a presidential hopeful for the Kirchnerite Victory Front coalition, has taken on a huge task in trying to put the transport system right, especially the decrepit state-subsidized trains that run through the working class districts of Greater Buenos Aires. The Sarmiento line’s many problems include a militant left wing trade union leadership, which is at odds with the minister and is demanding compensation for managerial reforms. Randazzo did his popularity no harm by fiercely criticizing a recent walkout launched in the Sarmiento line by the militants. But the minister seems to have shot his mouth by declaring in public that he would personally give the young vandal a good hiding if he were his kid. By going over the top with the rhetoric, to the point that it could be argued that it breeds violence, Randazzo is at least momentarily in the same league with the presidential hopefuls that will say anything to please a crowd. The act of vandalizing a train is not funny. But Randazzo’s quips about corporal punishment are no laughing matter either, especially because what will hurt the culprit most is that his parents will have to pay for the damage.

This case is also an opportunity to consider that there is such a thing as street art, and that much of it is brilliant. The ultimate message from the urban scribblers could be that there are many ways to decorate a vehicle. The jet that will shuttle Brazil’s World Cup squad next month, for instance, has been decorated by graffiti maestros. It’s a bit late now, but an option would have been to invite street artists to decorate the new trains. There’s no excuse for vandalism. But maybe the new trains’ paint work is a bit outdated.

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