One of the most odious side effects of the Love Locks is the graffiti that has begun to appear on the bridges—the surrounding stone walls, the railings, and even on the wall of locks themselves. While graffiti artists, like Banksy, arguably have a solid place in the world of art, in the case of the Pont des Arts (and other bridges), this graffiti is less about individual artistic expression and more about a mob out of control. It’s as if the very presence of the locks has breached an invisible boundary of social restraint and respect, of human decency, and has released the feeding frenzy. We are at a critical tipping point between dignity and savagery, like William Golding’s boys in Lord of the Flies who, once they put that pig’s head on a stick, surrendered to their baser selves.
That the locks seem to have beget the graffiti is proof that the act of putting a lock on a public structure is mentally akin to vandalism. Proof, too, that the locks need to be treated as a nuisance, and regulated. Even those pro-lock can easily see how the graffiti defaces and disfigures the bridges, and in turn the entire center of Paris. What were once elegant and stately structures, now look more like train trestles in an abandoned section of Detroit, Michigan, USA—where these are signs of a city in decline. Is this also true of Paris?
Municipally-funded public spaces belong to everyone, but they are a privilege for all, not a right of the individual, and if we permit their degradation, we risk degrading ourselves. When communal structures are well cared for, it sends a message of wellbeing and prosperity to the collective subconscious. The negative visual impact that these ravaged bridges will have on the psyches of the citizens—already struggling in an economic recession—will take a generation to erase, even after the locks are gone. —Lisa Anselmo