One interesting observation of Darlymple’s is that people in Europe rarely put graffiti on beautiful buildings, and that this behavior “suggests a subliminal aesthetic criticism”. But why do they “tag” public surfaces in the first place? One reason:
The need to make their mark on something is no doubt part of the attraction of tagging for taggers. Apart from a few famous graffiti artists (Banksy being the most famous, his activity often partaking of a mordant wit), the overwhelming majority of taggers are almost certainly from the lower reaches of society. Such lower reaches have always existed, of course, but in a society in which we are all called upon to be unique individuals, in which celebrity has an exaggerated importance in the mental economy of so many people, in which employment is often precarious and in any case felt to be without dignity, and in which powerlessness is obvious (in a sense, powerlessness in a democracy is more humiliating than powerlessness in a tyranny), the need to assert oneself in some way or other, no matter how pointless, becomes all the more imperative. Thus tagging has several attractions at once: adventure, the conferral of membership of an oppositional group and self-assertion (not expression).