You might have noticed these harsh stickers appearing like a rash all over town. Shannon Duvall got to the centre of the epidemic for us.
There’s a Trickster in the lore of nearly every culture; an anti-hero who disobeys normal rules or conventional behaviour and unintentionally acts as a catalyst for positive change. His antics can make you laugh and look, or be devious, or heroic; battling monsters that keep the people of his civilization paralysed by slavish, obedient uncertainty. Minor details in story-telling change from culture to culture , but one thing remains the same: the Trickster is essential. Creation depends on him. The Trickster reminds us that the birth of something better cannot happen without a little bit of upset.
In many ways, it seems there could be no better time for Ireland to embrace a new kind of culture hero; our very own neo-Trickster, a character brimming with the type of light-hearted tomfoolery that’s a little thin on the ground these days. Post-cash orgy Ireland is an unnerving place at the best of times, and the barren emotional and financial wasteland many of us find ourselves picking through now is getting grimmer by the day. Times are tough, and yet citizens are continually being shaken down from every angle by advantageous highwaymen with no shame.
Enter ‘This Is Ugly’: plain white stickers seen slapped on surfaces all across Dublin, asserting in bold black letters that whatever they’re adorning is, at least to the bandit responsible, purely and simply Ugly. Seeming to primarily target the yellow Dublin City Parking Service clamps polluting neighbourhoods in city centre, these palm-sized declarations of distaste have been catching my eye for the better part of the past year, so I set out on a mission to find out more.
After a little light detective work (asking a lad in work who knew someone) and at least one night of staking out the stickering hotspot of Portobello (alright, going for a nip to the Spar for a packet of biscuits), I got lucky and managed to get in contact with two of the messers claiming responsibility. Meet Casual Brown and Dickie, fed-up residents of Dublin city who have a little something to say.
The ‘campaign’ got started when a friend of Casual’s from America gave her a pile of stickers and asked her if she could find any use for them. This Is Ugly, they read. The judgement could be a visual assessment or a metaphorical one. She didn’t think much of them until one early morning while walking to work. Noticing yet another car clamped in her neighbourhood, and, having seen Parking Service vans ‘prowling the streets’ in recent months, sometimes even ‘waiting out the expiration of a parking permit and clamping them right away’, her disgust turned to satisfaction when she gave the clamp the slap. From there it became a compulsion. Every time she saw some poor sap’s car immobilized for ransom, she gave that clamp the sticker. ‘It was about sending a message’ she says. ‘I see what you’re doing; I’m aware of your deliberate pocket-mining of private citizens. It’s ugly behaviour, and I’m going to tell you so.’
Before long, Casual had a partner in critique when a bloke she knew from work showed interest in getting involved. Dickie says he identified with the sentiment, and couldn’t resist giving the racketeers a piece of his mind. They shared the pile of stickers, putting them on every clamp they came across, until they ran out and Casual had to ask her friend to send more from the States. She received 100, and in weeks they, too, were gone. So Dickie took matters into his own hands, printing up sheets of his own from a scanned copy of the original. The stickers began flying out faster than the DSPS could remove them. ‘I remember stepping out my front door one morning to the sight of a clamped vehicle which still had the remnants of two previous This Is Ugly stickers on it’, says Dickie, laughing. ‘So of course I gave it another one.’ Hundreds of clamps have been declared Ugly.
Dickie even managed to get a sticker on the back of a clamper’s own van while they were working. If all of this seems unarguably pessimistic, Casual and Dickie are quick to substantiate the notion. ‘We don’t see it as negative at all’ they say, ‘we’ve seen people begin to notice the stickers. Many smile, or have a private little laugh. There’s been more than one occasion where we’ve come upon people late at night whose cars have been clamped, sometimes wrongfully, who don’t know what to do or how they’re going to get home. Eighty euros on the spot is a lot to ask of anyone. They know they have no choice but to pony up the cash, and accept it even though they know it’s bullshit. So we politely ask if we can add a sticker while they busy themselves with ringing someone to come put them out of pocket, and they’re always supportive of the idea that at least someone is expressing dissent.’
The duo say they wish they could do more than just plaster an estimation in these situations, but, at heart, attitude and opinion are what This Is Ugly is all about. It’s not a calculated attempt to shake things up; rather, it’s an expression of frustration. It’s standing up for the small fry with a little dig at the establishment. ‘Now is the time, when the chips are down, to be working together to make things better’, says Casual, ‘not turning on each other to make things worse’. The expression is ultimately harmless, a sly two fingers with a non-confrontational bent. But I imagine it has to get annoying to the clampers after a while. I ask if either of them have ever gotten into a scrape or suffered any legal repercussions.. Dickie smiles. ‘You’d have to ask them’, he says. DSPS, interestingly, have not responded to requests for comment. Do they intend to keep using the stickers? ‘Yes, absolutely’, they both agree, ‘it’s too much fun not to!’
Long live the Trickster.
Photo: Richie Clinton