24 August 2010

Stick it to the Woman


Damage fetishism ∕ Signage ∕ Urban Environment

The riverside in Kingston-upon-Thames, on the edge of London, has undergone a familiar process of gentrification that waterside sites experience when they are transformed into leisure amenities. The regeneration projects that we have become accustomed to in the last few decades (Manhattan, San Francisco, Oslo, Dublin, Manchester, etc.) are necessary because the activities that went on there in the first place have now waned. No more warehouses or factories, but restaurants, theatres, apartment living, pleasure boating and cultural resources. Of course, the role of property speculation is a, perhaps the, key factor in all of this. In Kingston, the  pedestrianized waterfront south of the bridge contains mostly restaurants and bars. This being the case, the control of drinking and of drunks is a major concern, hence the many signs with messages pointing out ‘drinks not to be taken beyond this point’ and ‘the consumption of alcohol is restricted to the premises of the licensed restaurants’.


On the evidence of the sign pictured here, the control of chewing gum seems to be a pressing concern, too. Discarded chewing gum on the ground may be undesirable, but it seems that the drive to avoid it in Kingston has lost sight of the fact that used chewing gum is possibly even more disgusting when displayed at eye level. The sober tones of alcohol control are replaced here with jaunty, children’s-TV humour. This is social control achieved with the carrot, not the stick. It is friendly, light-hearted, playful, just like the celebrity culture it exploits. The waterfront is saved from disfigurement, but not these women’s faces. It is fine to disfigure them. Nothing like a little symbolic sexual violence to keep the place looking neat. Nothing like smearing famously assertive women with ejaculation residue in order to keep Britain tidy.