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Taking the Train


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Table of Contents

Prologue 1. A Tale of Two Cities 2. Taking the Trains: The Formation and Structure of "Writing Culture" in the Early 1970s 3. Writing "Graffiti" in the Public Sphere: The Construction of Writing as an Urban Problem 4. Repainting the Trains: The New York School of the 1970s 5. The State of the Subways: The Transit Crisis, the Aesthetics of Fear, and the Second "War on Graffiti" 6. Writing Histories 7. Retaking the Trains 8. The Walls and the World: Writing Culture, 1982-1990 Conclusion: A Spot on the Wall Appendix: Sources from Writers Notes Selected Bibliography Acknowledgments Index

Promotional Information

Traces the history of graffiti in New York City against the backdrop of the struggle that developed between the city and the writers.

About the Author

Joe Austin, assistant professor in the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, is coeditor of Generations of Youth: Youth and Youth Cultures in the 20th Century.


Austin argues that the graffiti epidemic was really a smokescreen for poor civic management, and that graffiti itself was the inevitable result of a whole outpouring of structural social factors. New York Times Book Review Although solidly academic, this book is enlivened by its fascinating topic. Booklist A meticulous history. Booklist Austin's precise, witty, and genial style perfectly meshes with his rigorous research and analysis... This exemplary study makes important contributions to understanding contemporary art, urban sociology, and the culture wars. Publishers Weekly (starred review) Lets the graf writers talk back to the haters, while offering a nuanced reassessment of New York City's graffiti scene. Village Voice Austin does full justice simultaneously to New York as a symbolic, although never more than partially representable, city; to changes in the city's economy which create nationally unusual shifts in the relative distribution of wealth and in the ethnic make-up of poverty...ranges widely and with rich detail, yet always anchored in the central narrative focus. Urban Studies

Denied the usual outlets for making a name for themselves, young men from urban communities turned in the 1960s and early '70s to large-scale graffiti projects on subway cars technically called "writing" to make their mark. "When you're poor, that's all you've got," claims Iz the Wiz, one of the graffiti artists presented by Austin, a Bowling Green University professor of popular culture. This provocative examination of urban graffiti culture's heyday suggests that "writing could have been promoted as a homegrown public art movement," but instead it was relegated, by authorities and much of the media, as vandalism. Arguing that "writing" functions as a "prestige economy," making the writer famous outside of his neighborhood, Austin examines in depth both its artistic and social meanings. From the function of networking between neighborhoods to the social difference between the Great Tradition style and the later invention of Throw Ups, Austin fills his broad canvas with such diverse issues as the history of juvenile delinquency in Manhattan; Robert Moses's legacy of urban development; how and why the New York Times changed its editorial position on graffiti; and the eventual relation of "writing" to zine and video culture. Austin's precise, witty and genial style perfectly meshes with his rigorous research and analysis. He makes the differences between emerging "bombers" and "piecers," or the social hierarchy that relegates "toy taggers" to the bottom rungs, seem vital and rife with cultural import. The Metropolitan Transit Authority's "retaking" of the trains in the mid-'80s is thus viewed as a mixed blessing at best. (Mar.) Forecast: This exemplary study makes important contributions to understanding contemporary art, urban sociology and the culture wars, yet reads like a trade book. Heightened New York interest should broaden its appeal; look for success from New York or art-based display tables. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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