(photo by GJ Project)
GJ Project was on hand to see the first New York City screening of Max Good’s film, “Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle For Expression”. The screening was held at the historical Maysles Cinema in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood. The movie did a fantastic job of highlighting the hypocrisy of the anti-graffiti vigilante’s mission. There is a clear power struggle over the streets and local communities and the vigilantes won’t stop until they have gained full control.
GJ’s breakdown of the Q & A session that followed the film after the jump:
Each panelist brought a unique and interesting perspective of the Graffiti and Street Art world to the table. There were many highlights from Director Max Good, Famed Graffiti OG, Lava 1&2, and renowned artist Stephen “ESPO” Powers.
Lava 1&2 tried to pack a history lesson on Graffiti writing as much as he could in the hour question & answer session. He spoke about starting out as a 16 year old in New York City and doing it for the love of writing, the thrill of racking his paint and always walking the fine line of touching the Subway systems deadly ‘third rail’. Lava 1&2 said at the inception of Graffiti writing in the 1970’s it was all about getting your name up as much as possible and tagging the subway trains. He noticed that writers changed their styles drastically in the 1980’s and the writers were putting their experiences into their work and it was suddenly about more than just getting your name up. Graffiti was growing to be a platform for writers to express their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Lava 1&2 credits his era’s Graffiti writers as ushers for Hip-Hop; primarily because New York City was the Mecca of Graffiti. Look for Lava 1&2’s new book coming out soon called, “Classic Hits.”
A key element of the film was the discussion of the Broken Window Theory. For those who do not know, they Broken Windows Theory is a criminological theory of the norm setting and signaling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior. The theory states that monitoring and maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime (wiki). Max Good thought the only thing that the Broken Windows Theory has achieved is law makers were able to more easily use graffiti and street level crimes as scapegoats while they ignore more serious white collar crimes going on in front of their face.
GJ’s personal favorite panelist was Steve “ESPO” Powers. ESPO broke down his thoughts on the BW Theory and said it is has achieved good results in the terms of policing people who commit street level crimes but fails to tap into policing for more serious crimes. Steve went on to tell a story about when he was in California and asked the City what needed to be done for him to be allowed to cover up graffiti in the city. The city replied by handing him city sanctioned graffiti removal t-shirts and directed him to ask store owners for permission to paint if the store was open, otherwise there were no rules. Steve proceeded to paint the town for 30 days with no trouble from police or law enforcement. During this 30 day span ESPO went around the city and ‘buffed’ his tag ESPO onto the graffiti he was approved by the city to cover up. Steve also had an interesting point when talking about racking paint and stealing items to write with. Steve said that theft is a really good way to be in the mindset you need to be in to graffiti effectively.
“A new breed of crime-fighter now stalks the urban landscape: the anti-graffiti vigilante. These dedicated blight-warriors stop at nothing to rid their neighborhoods and cities of street art, stickers, tags, and posters. Yet several of these vigilantes have become the very menace they set out to eliminate. In their relentless attempt to stamp out graffiti, they have turned to illegally and destructively painting other people’s property. Vigilante Vigilante is the story of two filmmakers who set out to expose these mysterious characters and discover a battle of expression that stretches from the streets to academia.”