Review of film “Style Wars”

Just to preface, this is a documentary that explores the hip hop scene that had its roots in New York City during the early 70’s and late 80’s.

The publicly accessible art of graffiti, like moving muralism, made visible by the far reach of the train, gave recognition and sense of power to graffiti writers. Graffiti created the opportunity for agency, a voice to define themselves and their reality for themselves. Instead of being defined by the media and popular stereotypes, although in it’s own way graffiti created new stereotypes…Graffiti art is partially responsible for strengthening the bonds and fusions within/across communities of different racial identities Black, Puerto Rican, White and traditional cultural practices.

Graffiti is resistance, especially when those spaces are impossible for individuals to get access to over the advertisements from the consolidated ownership of the media in America and their increasingly around the world. Powerful because artists are taking over space that was designed by and for the “powerful” and using the space for their own vision design. Graffiti challenges ownership when images, words and visual conversations exsist in places they are not “supposed to be” as part of the public landscape, but unplanned like desire lines. More than literal ownership I think graffiti opens a space for public discussion or forum among historically underprivileged groups who typically don’t have opportunities for large scale/public communication and self-representation. Ownership of “public transportation” doesn’t change from city to artist just because of art made on the walls…but it does challenge the idea of ownership being purely governmental and ownership being able to be planned and regulated. I’m not entirely sure graffiti artists alone should have the ability to re-design the city. Ideally i think that everyone should have a say in the design of a city and that it should serve everyone to the greatest possible degree equally.

Not only one demographic participates in graffiti. When it is normally believed to be an art/crime solely practiced by Black and possibly Latino youth, because it’s easier for white America to conceptually pin graffiti/vandalism on the “other” just as they do with many other things including drug use and theft, but that isn’t the reality… white and or affluent youth are just as much part of the later graffiti scene as anyone else. I think that this is because graffiti and the expression and recognition gained from it are desires that can’t be boxed in by demographics. Experience isn’t taken into account enough, people living in certain neighborhoods can have white skin but also have many similar experiences of people with black skin…affluence seemed to give some of the people in the movie a sense of entitlement to whatever they wanted, not saying this is universal, but I remember one affluent white male character towards the end was just tagging his rather simple mark over other peoples work to start conflict and in essence steal from those works. Graffiti attracts many different racial/economic groupings as well as personalities and reasons for creating graffiti, because it is a creative outlet which doen’t descriminate.

“Make your mark in society, not on society”

A scene isn’t made up of one singular art form there are many other manifestations of the hip hop culture that do just this although I’m sure they didn’t decide to do this because of a slogan made by the city to keep it “clean”. Some hip hop artists use their bodies to change social and political spaces of the city for instance through Breaking, DJing, Rapping and Beat boxing. Music passes boundaries freely into spaces just as the sounds of the industrial revolution crowds our ears and creates the city sound, rap music has become another facet of the city sound scape and prominent part of pop culture. People carry personal stereos with loud speakers and/or spit raps fresh as poetry. The music generated stimulates another group of people, the kinetically inclined to improvise and re-create ways of moving that expressed historical evolution and reactions to their environment. Dancing on cardboard in urban areas take over spaces of sidewalks and act as an intervention to the normal functioning of sidewalks.

“Yeah, I vandalism (sic), but I did something to make your eyes open up, right? So what are you talking about it for?” I interpreted this as him knowing that officially graffiti is considered vandalism but to him, he feels he accomplished something by making someone look at his work and notice the his mark even if it is shocking to them or they think it’s wrong. I, as someone who is bored by plain subway walls and architecture and someone who appreciates color and line, political satire and rebellion in general…yes I agree with his statement, the only thing that sort of makes me apprehensive about this statement, and I don’t believe he intended for it to be taken like this, is its closeness to advertising’s attitude of today, which will put anything up to make people look even if it is sexist, racist, classist etc…I hope that works done to resist and rebel against being the controllable mass population and consumer culture don’t employ the same sad stereotypes and flawed socially accepted beliefs as the advertisers/mass media/ government.

Interventions into everyday normalicy have a certian power and appeal which is universal, by upsetting order, attention is drawn and thoughts are provoked.  Thoughts that question socially accepted truths, to get at the deeper reasoning behind our practices and values-and if they are really just and practiced by conscious choice or out of habit… interventions like graffiti are evidence that people, subsets of society are not satisfied, are not content with the way the city has been planned up around them without their say. Graffiti invites people to question ideas of ownership and look at the history of this country. Imperialism is all we know, and it comes as a shock to people of power when the supposedly sedated populations of poverty and urban stress are able to reclaim space. Space that has had no consideration for them.