By Chris Epting
2:26 PM PST, November 26, 2012
Two weeks ago I wrote about the mural that once covered a large liquor store wall facing the McDonald's near the intersection of Edinger Avenue and Edwards Street. It depicted all of the most iconic McDonald's characters.
I wrote about how the McDonald's manager discovered one morning that the word "vegan" had been painted in large block letters over a large portion of the mural.
As I lamented, this painting was not some crass commercial statement. It was a gift from Saeed Danosian, an Iranian immigrant who came to America to become an artist.
Within a day or so of the story being posted online, it took on a life of its own. It was picked up by dozens of news outlets, local and national, and TV news crews reported from the site. I received lots of feedback. And there were layers of chatter across the social networks.
Much of the feedback I read was from vegans, who decried this sort of tactic to gain attention. As I wrote, this is not about veganism. I have plenty of friends who are vegan, and I respect their right to be vegans as they respect mine to eat meat. The majority of their comments expressed anger with the graffiti for the simple fact that you can't just go around destroying or modifying — or however you want to describe it — things that happen to offend you.
Several other vegan activists wrote and expressed that while they believe in vehemently promoting their cause, they don't see this sort of action as being effective because it tends to turn more people against you. Agreed.
Some activists suggested that perhaps it was a non-vegan doing the dirty work in the hopes of creating a backlash against them, but that sounds like a long shot to me.
Perhaps most revealing were the thoughts, emails and comments from the more extreme activists. Not that I didn't know they existed, but the eye-opener was just how public some of them are in proclaiming not just their obvious, abject hatred of essentially any restaurant that serves meat, but how they justify snuffing out messages that run counter to how they think.
Yes, it is a minority. But it is a vocal and active minority that seems to have a fairly casual view of what constitutes vandalism. An online post from a discussion about the mural: "We have an AR [Animal Rights] squad that goes around vandalizing local restaurants. Spray painting 'meat is murder,' 'remove the cruelty from your plate' etc. Usually on the front walls of restaurants."
Another: "It's a pretty graffiti. It says vegan. People who know about veganism won't care, people who don't know about veganism will ask, 'What's vegan?' So it's mostly neutral, but possibly positive. As for vandalism: property is an arbitrary concept. As long as it doesn't impair function and isn't discriminatory or otherwise violent, it's perfectly fine."
And another: "The graffiti converted a mural which celebrates corporate sociopathy into an ironic piece of street art. Kudos to the street artist."
I am all for passionate activism. But I am not for social chaos fueled by intolerance.
Most vegans I know are not activists. They choose veganism for health and/or moral reasons, and they respect the dietary habits of others. But to those who are activists, just like meat-eaters, vegetarians, pescetarians and every other gastronomical group, you are not entitled to your own set of rules or laws.
That said, this column was never intended to be about vegans, carnivores or fast-food chains.
My friend, the excellent writer and OC Weekly Editor Gustavo Arellano, got it right in a piece he wrote: "While I am no fan of McDonald's, I'm a HUGE fan of folk murals, and this one was definitely one — hence, my anger at whoever did this."
That's what this was about. A piece of art. It wasn't about defending a company or challenging a lifestyle. It was about a piece of art created by an earnest, well-intentioned man, something the community clearly cared about, based on the outpouring.
I'd like to give the final word to the artist's daughter, Sepi Danosian, who provided the marvelous photo of her dad starting work on the original mural in 1992. She expressed eloquently her thoughts about the mural, her father and his legacy. Here is what she wrote to me:
"The main reason I'm upset is because I feel like that mural represented the American dream for my dad. It's the story we've all heard a million times. An immigrant comes to America not knowing the people or the language and ends up becoming successful. And the painting of this mural was the beginning of his full-time devotion to the career he had his education in.
"Obviously a person with a master's degree from the top art school in Vienna wasn't going to be a restaurant manager forever. When my dad looked at that blank wall and envisioned a mural and made it come to life, that in turn took his career to the next level — he quit and opened an art school in Lake Forest, then a gallery in Laguna Beach, he displayed his art at the Art-a-Fair in Laguna beach, and most importantly became an art history professor where he was awarded with national professor of the year a few months before his death.
"So to me, that mural represented the beginning of all his success! I'm so sad to see it go. Especially because I'm now seven months pregnant with my first child and my dream was to take my daughter there and show her a landmark that her grandpa created."
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.