The debate raged on for days and it quickly devolved into an online gutter fight. 

There were wild accusations and ad hominem attacks. Insults were flung and challenges issues. There were vicious accusations, name-calling and questions raised about the intelligence and integrity of some of the combatants. 

“Wow,” one woman offered to a man who had put forth an opposing opinion. “What a piece of crap person you are.” 

It was ugly, my friends, but I guess that’s to be expected in a time when the population is so severely fractured over heavy issues like this one. 

The 2020 presidential campaign? The Great Mask Debate? The issue of whether or not school kids should be sent back to their classrooms? 

Naw. This particular brouhaha, still raging as far as I can see, was waged over two words painted on the back of a long-abandoned mill. 

“Hope” is one of those words. “Love” is the other. 

Kind of ironic, ain’t it? 

The facts are these. Sometime last week, a local man or woman posted on the popular Lewiston Rocks Facebook page that the end had come for graffiti that over looks Great Falls between Lewiston and Auburn. 

I can’t tell you exactly when it happened because the brawling got so intense in the Fight Club arena that is Facebook that moderators had to take the post down. 

But I know this. The original poster claimed that a petition had been circulated and signed by so many people that city leaders agreed that the spray-painted “Hope” and “Love” should be removed from the back of the old Cowan Mill. 

That’s when relatively minor differences of opinions flared up into the online equivalent of slapping and spitting and hair-pulling. 

In this corner are those that appreciate the messages of “Hope” and “Love” that greet anyone passing over the Longley Bridge between the two cities. 

“All you need in life is a little hope and lots of love,” one woman offered, in a Facebook post to replace the one that had been yanked, “and this just reminds people of that whenever they drive over the bridge.” 

“The graffiti is absolutely trashy,” declared a fellow named Gary, “and needs to go.” 

And that was about it for friendly debate. What followed was the variety of boiling rage and personal attacks that seem to possess every other conversation put out into the world these days. 

On one side was a group of people who enjoy the message of “Hope” and “Love” and who adored the now-deceased artist, identified somewhere in the fray as Matthew Snow, a 42-year-old Lewiston artist who died last summer. 

To those folks, the notion that Snow had good intentions when he scrawled those two words upon the faded bricks of the Cowan Mill should exempt his work from criticism, as should the idea that the graffiti has been there so long, it has come to symbolize the Lewiston spirit. 

“The artist was a true artist and felt those words strongly,” opined a woman named Jan. “The message is timely particularly now. I’d hate to see those words removed.” 

“Looks trashy no matter what or who did it,” a man named Ray shot back. “Not to be rude but the paint does not make the falls more beautiful.” 

With the “not to be rude” disclaimer, it appeared momentarily that civility would return to the heated discourse. 

Nope. 

“That ugly trash art is ABSURD and ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY,” Brady put in. “What a waste of paint. The falls are the true centerpiece of beauty, not that crap. Why would anyone want to ruin that view with that amateur and elementary (a 7-year-old and a brush could have done better) attempt at false motivation for a forgotten town.” 

“You clearly didn’t know him and you are a mean-hearted, unnecessary human,” responded Anita. 

Opinions that followed included suggestions that Brady is “crap” and “trash” and that he might be mentally deficient. 

And mind you, this is all from the post that DIDN’T get taken down due to the savage nature of the arguments. 

The last I looked, the debate is still raging over there on Lewiston Rocks. The disagreement seems to date back to May, when a local man asked about getting rid of the graffiti, suggesting that, placed above the beautiful falls the way it is, “it’s like serving a prime rib on a trash can lid.” 

Maybe the argument has been going on even longer than that. As far as I can tell, by scrounging through the Sun Journal archives, “Hope” and “Love” had been in that spot over the rushing Androscoggin River since 2010. 

Chances are good that people have been arguing about this for a decade, but I’ve got to ask: Did we argue as viciously about everything in 2010 as we do now? Wasn’t there a time not long ago where we could have disagreements that, while heated, didn’t descend to the level of a prison yard shank fight? 

Not everybody involved in the “Hope,” “Love” fray went forth with the literary equivalent of eye-gouges and knees to the groin. Some spoke passionately, but without venom. For those folks, it never should have transformed into anything other than an honest discussion about the unknown line that separates art from vandalism. 

“Well this graffiti art has done its job — solicit conversation and make people FEEL,” wrote Jennifer, when the row was just winding up in May. “It’s also brought out an undercurrent in Lewiston: Those of us who are native, or been in the communities for decades, really do hold dear even its seemingly grittiest parts. Though I don’t agree with the negative tones or in some cases rude responses, I hear you Lewiston folks — the art in question I adore.” 

And now this irony: While fur still flies over the “Hope” and “Love” controversy, it has been revealed that the origins of the debate were hinged on a lie — or, if you want to be generous, on an artful demonstration of online trolling. 

A petition to do away with graffiti over Great Falls? No such thing ever existed. No permits have been issued and no work is planned to erase, paint over or otherwise eliminate “Hope” and “Love” from its spot above the indifferent waters of the Androscoggin River. 

I bring it up only to make the point that if the contents of a couple cans of spray paint are enough to unleash this kind of antipathy, I’d guess the roads to the new school year and the presidential elections are going to be feisty traveling. 

When he isn’t refereeing internet trolls, Mark LaFlamme is a staff writer for the Sun Journal.


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