Style Wars is among the top documentaries produced to describe the hip-hop culture in New York. The film outlines the purest state of hip-hop music captioned through rapping, b-boying, and graffiti writing. It shows the transformations that urban landscapes offered to the urban physical appearance during 1982. Indeed, this work is centered on teenagers who scribe in notebooks and call themselves writers yet as artists. The characters in the documentary spray paint graffiti and straight letter throw-ups for communication. The opinions of parents, administrative representatives, and police officers are used to promote the discussion of additional elements of culture. The setting of the documentary Style Wars is mostly the 149th – Grand Concourse station in the Bronx, where teenagers express their perceptions after observations. At the same time, the director does not want to focus on a limited space area and discuss the events from different parts of New York. The chosen language, values, beliefs, social norms, and knowledge are the issues that formed a new American culture in 1982 where boundaries between insiders and outsiders were properly addressed.
The documentary promotes the culture of personal development and invention to express individuality and collective voice through the documentary. The film further introduces wild creativity in the city’s inner circles occupied by the youth. Silver, the director, shows how the young generation is aware of constructive behavior to respond to community misunderstandings. He presents situations where culture is valued through expressive actions or neglected to follow social expectations and community laws.
Style Wars is one of the first films to mainstream the world of graffiti set by a new generation of teenagers with all manners of plays, letters, and graffiti as a part of their culture described through such elements as language, beliefs, or knowledge. The teenagers move around New York City, portraying their various graffiti styles and bomb hopping along the city’s train lines. They use simple language with multiple jargon words, which proves their belongingness to a specific community. One of the graffiti writers called Skeme explains what graffiti means and what they seek to achieve with this new form of art which has rocked the city and rets of New York and its train lines (Silver, 1983). They use written language not to be heard by others but to be recognized in their groups per their achievements.
Communication between Skeme and his mother also shows the importance of family-related beliefs and values. The woman questions the writers’ actions about moving around the city with their graffiti and wants to know if they feel safe. Skene responds, “it is a matter of knowing that I can do it. It is for other graffiti writers” and me (Silver, 1983). This argument is not only to underline the differences between insiders and outsiders but to demonstrate how the existential struggle between the actions of the teenagers and the perception of their parents, covering multiple social and personal values.
The adults deemed graffiti and the emerging hip-hop subculture a rebellion by teenagers, and the new culture received apprehension from the elders and parents of communities. Style Wars connects the three movie pillars of graffiti, b-boying, and rapping, perceived as acts of disobedience and insurrection. Some characters in the movie say that graffiti writers are eager to ignore the already established rules and orders to be heard. They demonstrate their disrespect for ordinary and usually boring surroundings, but they do not pay attention to the costs for replacing the damage, checking safety levels, and improving the quality of services (Silver, 1983). The misunderstanding between the young generations and the adults showed how different the new hip-hop culture is from the norm. The social context in which the subgroup exists is related to art and knowledge about the art. The new culture of graffiti and rapping is the beginning of a new era very much different from the past, which explains its flexible boundaries and changes’ possibilities.
In the movie, graffiti is associated with a big scare to authorities in New York City. They view emerging art as the new form of rebellion in society, contradicting the broader social context. It seems to be easier to ban any form of graffiti across the city instead of solving the problem and making sure the interests of all communities are met. The police officer admits that he is not an art critique, but he has enough background knowledge about social norms and law to introduce train graffiti as a crime that requires some punishment (Silver, 1983). Implementing serval measures to curtail the spread of the new graffiti culture across the New York neighborhoods (Ferrell & Stewart-Huidobro, 2021). Society views graffiti artist culture as a revolt against the existing system and a new form of extremism, while writers believe their communication is safe and effective for the epoch.
Despite the numerous efforts to curtail the spread of the new hip-hop and graffiti subculture, this new wave cannot be stopped. Graffiti artists and writers continue spreading their thoughts, messages, and achievements across the city despite the efforts by authorities to curtail its adoption in New York. Style Wars has made its mark as one of the earliest documentaries to construct the new hip-hop culture of rap, dance, and graffiti images. The documentary allows artists to show how American society accepts and understands the graffiti world as direct insiders and outsiders of the moment. It reveals art mostly as a part of individual talent and the ways of how artists shape their letters and intentions in a flexible and constantly changing world. People’s knowledge, social norms, and values affect the development and establishment of culture, and the example of Style Wars helps widen the social context of the graffiti community to a new American lifestyle.
Ferrell, J., & Stewart-Huidobro, E. (2021). Crimes of style: Urban graffiti and the politics of criminality. London, UK: Routledge.
Silver, T. (Director). (1983). Style Wars [Video file]. Web.