“Chaostown” brings gonzo journalism to Stumptown and sheds some light on taggers.

Ever wonder what it’s like to rappel off the Fremont Bridge with a bunch of spray paint and put up a piece of illegal art that will delight some people and piss off many, many more?

A local documentary company takes you there. Chaostown (or Chvostown, as the production calls itself, with the “a” inverted), is a web series that has examined unique Portland things like illegal street racing, being a drag queen, and—in the first season’s finale—Portland’s out-of-control graffiti collection. It’s hosted by Jameson Williams.

The series is an edgy love letter to Portland by a group of ex-VICE News staffers from the Pacific Northwest.

“I love living in Portland,” Williams says in an introduction to Chaostown. “It’s my home. But I hate the news. It’s all out of touch. Propaganda. Fearmongering, and it’s just straight-up lame. Portland itself is cool. We’ve got cheap weed, good music, deep history and people who still think being weird is good.”

Until the graffiti episode dropped last month, Chaostown’s episodes were 17 minutes or shorter. The graffiti episode is their magnum opus (so far). For 36 minutes, Williams takes you down the tagger rabbit hole. Like other news organizations (including WW), Chaostowninterviews graffiti cleaners and reports on why graffiti might be blowing up right now. (A big reason: COVID seclusion drove people mad.)

What sets Chaostown’s piece apart is that, after four months of effort, they get inside a warehouse (or basement, or something) that’s stocked with 1,000 of cans of spray paint, backpacks, ladders, gloves, hand warmers, even bug spray. Williams interviews a (masked) tagger about how and why he spends many nights a month tagging the hell out of Portland.

“We stockpile this shit,” says the tagger, whose tag is GIMER. “This a collective of artists.”

Williams and the Chaostown crew go out with GIMER when he tags a wall by a highway. They indulge GIMER in some odd logic.

“As long as there are homeless people smoking fentanyl in the street, graffiti is legal,” says GIMER, who complains about stepping over needles, human feces, and rats to get to highly visible spots that he wants to tag.

The climax of this, the last episode of Season 1 of Chaostown, is when Chaostown kits out a rental van with cameras and stealthy red indoor lights and goes out to film MONK6 hang off the Fremont Bridge to put up his tag. It’s not exactly Free Solo, and it will probably encourage more taggers to try it (just like this article will—taggers love attention).

Far more interesting are the scenes in the paint warehouse, where you really see how committed—and organized—taggers are. These guys (and they are almost all guys in graffiti land) are spraying for keeps.

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