Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


New York Subway, 1980s
October 17, 2011 3:00 PM   Subscribe

New York Subway, 1980s
posted by Ad hominem (131 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
MML: Photos of the NYC subway in the 1980s. No attribution.
posted by zamboni at 3:05 PM on October 17, 2011


I have to say I much prefer the old graffiti subways to the new ones where an entire car has been taken over by one advertiser. I mean even the old school Dr. Z the smooth-ass dermatologist ads are better than the homogenous assault of dreck you get these days. Also I guess it dates me but I remember people smoking in subway cars.
posted by tractorfeed at 3:07 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh god, that determinedly not terrified white couple! LOL FOREVER.
posted by elizardbits at 3:09 PM on October 17, 2011 [17 favorites]


These photos bring back lots of memories.

I have a love/hate relationship with New York of that era. It was violent and dirty - but it was my New York.

I left the city several years ago. Now, I go back to Times Square, and without the prostitutes and the drug dealers, it just does not feel like Times Square.
posted by Flood at 3:09 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Oh look, there's someone pointing a gun at the head of another dude while we're all confined in a subway car. I'm sure the fellow won't mind if I just snap his picture quickly for my NYC vacation scrapbook...."
posted by auto-correct at 3:11 PM on October 17, 2011 [20 favorites]


Some of them seem staged. I don't recall camera friendly muggers from the 1980s.
posted by Splunge at 3:12 PM on October 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


How did New York eventually clean up the subways and eliminate the graffiti problem? Was there that much interior graffiti on all the subway lines or were some worse than others?
posted by Falconetti at 3:13 PM on October 17, 2011


That couple is great. I hate to fess up, but I smoked on the subway, I even got a $50 ticket.

There are at least 2 types of subway cars here, I think they are all air-conditioned, none of the really old ass ones you with the fans you still saw for a long time.

The shot of the guy spray painting the subway car, he is standing on top of the protector on top of the third rail. Brave guy.

The train conductor is clearly wearing Gazelles.

My favorite is the little kids looking at the Wonder Wheel, that shot is great.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:14 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Really depressing stuff. Also, funny how we can get sentimental about... pretty much anything.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:15 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Brooklyn in the 1970's
posted by Taft at 3:15 PM on October 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


Brooklyn in the 1970's

Previously :)

I posted a lot of pics in that thread,
posted by Ad hominem at 3:18 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


auto-correct: ""Oh look, there's someone pointing a gun at the head of another dude while we're all confined in a subway car. I'm sure the fellow won't mind if I just snap his picture quickly for my NYC vacation scrapbook....""

The guy holding the gun is an undercover cop. I don't remember the name of the photographer but s/he was covered in one of my photography classes in school. No attribution indeed.
posted by danny the boy at 3:20 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


John Conn was a hell of a photographer, but apparently not good enough to earn a credit from this blogger.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 3:20 PM on October 17, 2011 [36 favorites]


Some lines were worse than others. But it was everywhere. For a while taggers would leave the windows alone. Then the Transit police cracked down and the taggers said fuck it. Eventually the city focused on a zero tolerance policy. Convicted taggers were put on train cleaning gangs, with police supervision. They set up a system for running cars under a chemical shower that removed anything. This was at places like the Ave. X repair teminal. The insides were scrubbed by said gangs. Now the taggers use glass etch and steel wool.
posted by Splunge at 3:23 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Between these and the Brooklyn 1974 pics - interesting to note - not a single overweight person/child in any of the photos...
posted by stenseng at 3:23 PM on October 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm pretty sure most of the color shots are by Bruce Davidson, from his great photobook Subway. I'm on my phone now and can't link easily, but he's pretty Googleable. Are the b/w ones by John Conn? I'm glad these images are getting more circulation these days, but lack of attribution drives me nuts (the blog host could at least ask if any readers know the photograph's source).
posted by lisa g at 3:26 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


I prefer the tag-packed cars of the 80s to the ad-packed dreck of today. I like my dystopian wonderlands to be created by the people within it, not some ad exec who never rides the subway.
posted by cloeburner at 3:26 PM on October 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


How did New York eventually clean up the subways and eliminate the graffiti problem?

on preview, what Splunge said.

I read up on this years ago. From what I recall, it was a combination of things.

- Double fenced rail yards with mean dogs running in the gap (yes really)
- Zero tolerance of running tagged trains. If a car got tagged, it was pulled from service until cleaned
- Complete overhaul of certain types of cars that taggers preferred. They basically took the preferred canvas away for long periods. By the time the cars came back, they desire to tag was at a lesser level.
- New types of corrugated siding in new car models that made graffiti tagging difficult and less spectacular when finished.

And I am sure there was more. Basically, through a combined effort, they eliminated the grafitti culture one step at a time over the course of years.
posted by lampshade at 3:27 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Gee, for the 80s, it's a lot less pastel than I would have expected.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:28 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


John Conn was a hell of a photographer, but apparently not good enough to earn a credit from this blogger.

Thanks for the info on these. I wish I had known some or all of these were by John Conn, he has great stuff on his site.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:28 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Those are great, thanks.
posted by jonclegg at 3:29 PM on October 17, 2011


Bruce Davidson: Subway
posted by Ad hominem at 3:33 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


fucking sketchy!

The train conductor is clearly wearing Gazelles.

gazelles are the shit, i am by no means a sneaker guy but I have a white stripe on black pair that are so sweet

white rod lavers with green trim also sweet
posted by nathancaswell at 3:47 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Actually, looking more closely, some of the color images are by Bruce Davidson, but I don't think all of them are.
posted by lisa g at 3:48 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Like I said the preferred method of tagging now, since the interiors of the majority of subway cars are stainless steel, is to physically scratch the metal. Known as "scratchitti". I kid you not. Steel wool and sharp metal is used. And the glass is etched with applicator bottles filled with glass etching solution. They experimented with a clear film that could be peeled off, but it was too expensive. My father used to work for the TA. He said that they'd wait until a window was completely fucked up and just replace it.
posted by Splunge at 3:53 PM on October 17, 2011


Aww, I'm not in any of them.

Obligatory. (source)
posted by Eideteker at 4:02 PM on October 17, 2011


I like my dystopian wonderlands to be created by the people within it, not some ad exec who never rides the subway.

I hear ya. I sort of too like that free form world. But I didn't like it when the dystopian wonderland also went hand in hand with the mayhem included all sorts of crime like muggings and (insert your crime here______).

If it could have been dystopic and safe during that time, I would have been all for the tagging. But it appears that the safer world also includes adverts on subways. I'd rather be safe and ad riddled as opposed to dystopic and missing my wallet.
posted by lampshade at 4:05 PM on October 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


I prefer the tag-packed cars of the 80s to the ad-packed dreck of today.

Yeah, man the subways have totally sold out. They were so much cooler when they were hot, filthy, smelly, hideously dangerous and mostly out of service, particularly in poor neighborhoods.

Fuck that. I've been riding the NYC subway for 40 years (ok, 35 that I can remember) and it's rarely been better than it is now. It's expensive, ad-filled, Disnified and all the things the cool kids like to complain about, but it is fucking glorious compared to how it was 30 years ago.
posted by The Bellman at 4:07 PM on October 17, 2011 [64 favorites]


I hope someone will find Anthony Bourdain's essay about nostalgia for 80s New York, because I cannot.
posted by modernserf at 4:08 PM on October 17, 2011


So now we know where the set designers from 2 Broke Girls got their ideas from.

Because it surely wasn't any New York that has existed in the last 10 years, at least.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:10 PM on October 17, 2011


When I was going to get an internship in my senior year of High School, one of the places I interviewed for was the NYCTA. Their intern at the time had come up with the idea to have well known graffiti artists cover entire subway cars with murals. i guess the idea was that other taggers wouldn't deface the murals of people they respected.

The guy had several poster boards with gorgeous sketches, done by people who you might know by name. I didn't, but that doesn't matter. The idea never made it off of the drawing board, so to speak.
posted by Splunge at 4:11 PM on October 17, 2011


Gee, for the 80s, it's a lot less pastel than I would have expected.

Hey. It was New. Fucking. York. We didn't do pastel.

POPE SHOT is my favorite.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:16 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Between these and the Brooklyn 1974 pics - interesting to note - not a single overweight person/child in any of the photos...

No, it's true. Manhattan still doesn't have any obese people. You have to go elsewhere to gawk at them. I know this from AskMe.
I must say that even having grown up in a NYC suburb and having spent a lot of time in NYC in the 80s, I have not the slightest twinge of nostalgia for the graffiti or the crime. I don't know what's wrong with me.
posted by spitbull at 4:16 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well I can't say I am nostaligc for crime, but I always loved the graffiti. I swear I saw the famous soup can train at least once, and I saw Keith Haring chalks on the black paper they used to put up when they were changing ads in the stations.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:23 PM on October 17, 2011


Yeah, some of these are Bruce Davidson, but not all. I saw his Subway series a while back at the Tate Modern; beautiful and poignant stuff.

modernserf, you can read Anthony Bourdain's essay in this book... or did you mean online? I can't find it online.
posted by Specklet at 4:24 PM on October 17, 2011


Soup can train
posted by Ad hominem at 4:25 PM on October 17, 2011


I have not the slightest twinge of nostalgia for the graffiti...

Me neither. The tags were visually oppressive. I liked the really colorful and creative mural-type stuff people were doing on the outside of subway cars, though. That brilliant exterior stuff was totally amazing, and rather than shutting them down, Ed Koch and Co. should've started paying the kids to do it. But all that tagging crap on the inside of the trains? It was just ugly and depressing.

... or the crime.

Yeah, there's really nothing all that great about fearing for your safety or your life. And nothing especially funny about it, either, although someone upthread posted an "LOL" about the "white couple" who looked afraid. That's a stupid comment. Plenty of non-whites were quite justifiably afraid of getting mugged (or worse) as well.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:34 PM on October 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I remember the 80's: going down to the yard to tag subway cars, breakdancing to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five on our beatboxes, getting totally wasted on Pope Shots.
posted by Naberius at 4:34 PM on October 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


I worked in Times Square in the 70s and 80s. I knew Times Square. Times Square today is no Times Square.
posted by Splunge at 4:36 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The crappy site in the post seems to have taken all these images from Two Four Flinching, where they at least have the attributions.
posted by FreezBoy at 4:36 PM on October 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


Waaaaaaaaaaariooooooooorrrrrrrrrrsssss...
posted by Palindromedary at 4:37 PM on October 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


I believe there is a court case where a white guy shot 5 black kids in the '80s who were only verbally assaulting him in a subway car. Not sure if anyone was killed, but they weren't holding weapons only getting up majorly in his grill. He was found innocent. My law professor said she studied the trial and found that race played only a very small factor than the fact the jury of peers were basically like, we're sick of this getting-mugged-on-the-subway-all-the-time shit, vigilante justice ya'll.*

*Material facts in this post may be wrong.
posted by gagglezoomer at 4:41 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bernhard Goetz.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:46 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Link.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:46 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


gagglezoomer, I believe you're thinking of Bernie Getz.
posted by barnacles at 4:46 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Spitbull: No, it's true. Manhattan still doesn't have any obese people. You have to go elsewhere to gawk at them. I know this from AskMe.

There may be no fat people, but there are still lots of rude ones. In the unlikely event a New Yorker's ass doesn't fill the orange seat scoop, he'll splay his legs out to take up three seats.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:49 PM on October 17, 2011


I must live in a different NYC than you folks. There are plenty of overweight people here. And it still doesn't make it cool to make fun of them.
posted by Splunge at 4:53 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


> Oh god, that determinedly not terrified white couple!

It's interesting looking at that photo. If they weren't white and wearing suits, would we still be reading them as scared and not as pissed off? She has one hand on her purse, but the other hand looks relaxed -- it isn't clutching the guy's leg out of fear.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:54 PM on October 17, 2011


There may be no fat people, but there are still lots of rude ones. In the unlikely event a New Yorker's ass doesn't fill the orange seat scoop, he'll splay his legs out to take up three seats.

YEAH! Bring back Bernie Goetz and his pistol! He'll take care of those splay-leg motherfuckers pronto!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:56 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those pictures were all staged. NY in the 80's was pretty much all flash and no substance.
posted by any major dude at 4:59 PM on October 17, 2011


People in this thread that have waxed nostalgic about subway graffiti and expressed a preference to it over today's subway: several

People in this thread who have also expressed nostalgia and a desire to return to that level of crime and mayhem in the subways: zero

People in this thread inferring that anyway: too many.
posted by mreleganza at 5:00 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


There’s the smelly essence of n.y. down there
But you ain’t no bernard goetz, ah
There’s no mafia lawyer to fight in your corner
For that 15 minutes of fame

posted by octothorpe at 5:01 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


computech_apolloniajames: " In the unlikely event a New Yorker's ass doesn't fill the orange seat scoop, he'll splay his legs out to take up three seats."

He's just got a wide stance.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:05 PM on October 17, 2011


"John Conn was a hell of a photographer, but apparently not good enough to earn a credit from this blogger."

Wait wait wait.

Was?

Please don't tell me he died. Admittedly I haven't seen him in Union Square for a while now, but I just figured it was because I kept missing him.

(Also, as soon as I saw the subject of this post, my first thought was "I wonder if they're John's photos")
posted by focalmatter at 5:05 PM on October 17, 2011


That couple is great. I hate to fess up, but I smoked on the subway, I even got a $50 ticket.

Meh. Everyone smoked everywhere back then.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:06 PM on October 17, 2011


A few days ago, I read a good (but long) article at nycsubway.org about the history of the NYC subway in the 80's. I think it does a pretty good job of describing just how bad the situation was in the early part of the decade, and what they did to fix it all.
posted by FishBike at 5:13 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sorry to make you panic, focalmatter! No, he's alive and well!
posted by beaucoupkevin at 5:14 PM on October 17, 2011


If you stood still for too long this was the inevitable result.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:17 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I believe there is a court case where a white guy shot 5 black kids in the '80s who were only verbally assaulting him in a subway car. Not sure if anyone was killed, but they weren't holding weapons only getting up majorly in his grill. He was found innocent. My law professor said she studied the trial and found that race played only a very small factor than the fact the jury of peers were basically like, we're sick of this getting-mugged-on-the-subway-all-the-time shit, vigilante justice ya'll.*

Oh, man, how quickly we forget.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:18 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This gave me flashbacks to my unbridled days of playing The Warriors on PS2.
posted by Pope Xanax IV at 5:18 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


@beaucoupkevin Oh thank god. I keep meaning to catch him at his stall again, but it's always been one of those "I'll get to it next week" sort of things. I'd hate to think I'd run out of next weeks.
posted by focalmatter at 5:22 PM on October 17, 2011


The fact that todays cars have very good air conditioning calms everyone down, I think.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:23 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember my mom debating for weeks whether it was "safe enough" to take me to Manhattan for my 13th birthday. This was just after the Times Square rehab had started, so two blocks away was still kind of horrifying, and Mom had last visited NYC for any length of time in the early 1980s. I, in my pre-teen "nothing can be that bad" wisdom thought she was being silly - we didn't go on the subway at all, which disappointed me at the time (my compensation was buying a hot dog from an actual street vendor, woohoo.)

But between photo spreads like this and all those many many repeats of Law & Order I've seen since, I can kind of see where she was coming from. By the time my little sisters did their trip in 2000, it was a whole different city.
posted by SMPA at 5:25 PM on October 17, 2011


GOETZ JURORS FALL IN LOVE! CUPID GUNS DOWN TWO! Sorry; just had to throw in one of my favorite New York Post headlines of all time. (July 19, 1987) The subway's definitely better than it was back in the day but I still wonder every morning which particular ring of the Inferno I'm in.
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 5:27 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll take the ads over the graffiti. At least the ads contribute to the cost of operating the subway.
posted by Daddy-O at 5:27 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So Cheech Marin is New York in a nutshell?
posted by mreleganza at 5:34 PM on October 17, 2011


Does the song Born in East LA mean NOTHING to you sir?
posted by elizardbits at 5:35 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I will never forgive that son of a bitch Guiliani for "cleaning up" the city and as a result killing off a true American art form
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:38 PM on October 17, 2011


Can't we have ads and graffiti? Then everyone will be happy.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:43 PM on October 17, 2011


They went "Giuliani-time" on all the graffito taggers is what happened.
posted by Renoroc at 5:44 PM on October 17, 2011


Jeff Koons looks a little uneasy
posted by Flashman at 5:45 PM on October 17, 2011


Well I never! I haven't heard anything about the Guardian Angels for a long time but they're still active.
posted by unliteral at 5:47 PM on October 17, 2011


+1 to the folks who don't understand how anybody could possibly wax nostalgic about the fact that New York's gotten less gritty (trust me; there's still plenty of grit left; New York somehow managed to get expensive without first actually turning into a nice place to live, but I digress).

The theatre district (and Times Square) were the most baffling of them all. Somehow, some of the city's purportedly most wealthy and educated neighborhoods managed to be some of the shittiest and most dangerous.

Sure, the city's gotten less interesting, although I think that's almost an entirely separate phenomenon, driven primarily by the fact that it's pretty much impossible to live in New York without a job in the corporate world. After being decimated by AIDS, New York's artistic communities were priced out of their own homes, and one of the world's greatest hotbeds of culture dried up almost overnight, only to be quickly replaced by a perverse parody of itself (ahem, Williamsburg).

...and don't underestimate the devastating toll of the AIDS epidemic in New York City. At its peak, HIV/AIDS was killing as many people as 9/11....every 3-4 months; and this went on for many, many years without anybody really giving a damn. I guess nobody really cared because there were no fireballs.

So, yeah. I kind of do miss the "old" New York, but I certainly don't at all miss the oppressive graffiti, or the constant fear of being attacked in broad daylight.

At least DC residents can look at New York's subway and feel comfortable that there's one thing about our city that will always be unquestionably better. Whenever somebody complains about the Metro, I point them up to New York City. New York cannot hold a candle to The Great Society Subway. We have carpeting, and somehow managed not to trash it, even back when the city was going to shit in the 1990s. I can't remember the last time I saw graffiti or rats on the Metro.
posted by schmod at 5:49 PM on October 17, 2011 [13 favorites]


spitbull wrote: You have to go elsewhere to gawk at them.

No you don't, you just have to wait for us lardasses from the middle of the country to stop in for a visit. You might even see some of us on the subway, if we're not too fat to fit through the turnstiles, anyway.
posted by wierdo at 5:51 PM on October 17, 2011


I moved to New York in 1986. That's exactly what the subway, and the entire city, was like.

I'm glad it's not like that anymore.
posted by freakazoid at 5:52 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


those Guardian Angel outfits were positively Freddie Mercury-esque.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:53 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


one of the world's greatest hotbeds of culture dried up almost overnight, only to be quickly replaced by a perverse parody of itself

Jarvis Cocker, is that you??
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:54 PM on October 17, 2011


Look, I don't think anyone would say the crime and blight of the 70s and 80s was better. It is just people get nostalgic for the old days even if the old days were bad. My grandfather certainly rhapsodized about the depression from time to time, what great fun he had in the CCC while acknowledging that on a whole, it is better for the country to not be in a depression.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:02 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I don't get about graffiti:

Those ads are just cardboard. They slip them in behind the glass.

You can "tag" an ad by removing it, painting it, and putting it back in. Then it will get rotated out when the next ad comes in, or earlier if you irritate somebody.

Graffiti is rather temporary in any case, so... why don't they do it like this?
posted by LogicalDash at 6:12 PM on October 17, 2011


Graffiti is just plain old vandalism. I don't understand the admiration for it. These pictures look depressing. I pay for transit, I don't want thugs and outlaws defacing it for some kind of mistaken notion that we're all artists and public property is our canvas.
posted by monospace at 6:13 PM on October 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


The crappy site in the post seems to have taken all these images from Two Four Flinching, where they at least have the attributions.

I wish I had seen that site, lesson learned on my part. If the mods feel the need to change the link go for it, but that that horse may have flown the coop or whatever the saying is.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:19 PM on October 17, 2011


People often accuse the NYPD of overreacting to minor quality of life issues these days. Disorderly conduct charges for protestors, summonses for drinking a beer on your stoop. I think it's a valid complaint. But these photos give you the backdrop. There is still a feeling that broken windows policing worked, and though many people dispute the causation there, it is difficult for me to look at these pictures and see the condition of the public infrastructure as representing anything other than a society that had totally lost control.

I don't want New York to go back to this. I didn't grow up here, but my friends who did in the late '80s and '90s adamantly don't want New York to go back to this. And if you don't think that there is any connection whatsoever between the bombed out trains and the pervasive fear and lawlessness, I think you have your head in the sand.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:26 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can't believe I missed this gauntlet being thrown down:

At least DC residents can look at New York's subway and feel comfortable that there's one thing about our city that will always be unquestionably better.

NO YOU DIDN'T.

Let me know how that Metro's treating you next time you're out at 3 AM.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:33 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Let me know how that Metro's treating you next time you're out at 3 AM.

Ha I remember freshman year of college in DC and since I was the Noo Yawkuh, it made me the expert on subway systems, so I confidently told my friends, "don't worry, we can take the metro back" from wherever we were going - at like 1:00 AM. It had never occurred to me a subway system shuts down at night.
posted by xetere at 6:41 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


but my friends who did in the late '80s and '90s adamantly don't want New York to go back to this

The late 70s and 80s was the absolute nadir for the city. The city was broke, almost bankrupt and it seemed like there was no end in sight. Crime was so bad it was farcical, with people stealing gas and batteries out of parked cars.

There was senseless violence and riots in the early 90s.

I think broken windows poilicy was part of what turned NY around, but I also think it was prosperity in general, New York started to restore parts of the city that had been crumbling for decades and there was a building boom that only ended recently. And many, certainly not all, New Yorkers no longer felt helpless in the face of violence and decay.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:41 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's the 2011 equivalent to NYC in the 80s. Detroit? What other cities in the developed world?
posted by marais at 6:44 PM on October 17, 2011


Graffiti is just plain old vandalism. I don't understand the admiration for it

to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.
posted by any major dude at 6:45 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


> to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

I know the quotation, but I don't see how it applies. As I recall from riding the subway in the '80s, it was uncomfortable for everyone. You didn't know if you were going to have paint on your pants or jacket when you stood back up. It (mostly) wasn't beautiful murals a la Beat Street; it was just illegible scribbles.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:51 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Graffiti is just plain old vandalism. I don't understand the admiration for it.

Graffiti art is definite movement in contemporary art - especially in New York City of all places. It is uniformed to write it off so quickly.
Some things that began as graffiti in New York City in the 1980s are taught today in introductory art history books.
Like this.
posted by Flood at 6:55 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Guardian Angels -- that reminds me, I've been seeing them here in Boston. It's come as a surprise to me, considering that I was just walking downtown and/or taking the Red Line during the day, but I will be charitable and assume they were on their way to somewhere dangerous.

I learned New York from the media, as a kid in the '80s -- Ghostbusters and so forth -- and it was such a terrifying and magical place. Life, however, has no obligation to serve as a movie set.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:56 PM on October 17, 2011


what you see as illegible scribbles I saw as a marginalized member of society rebelling against a power structure that considers them worthless. You can tell a lot about a society by the kind of graffiti you see it its cities.
posted by any major dude at 7:08 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


At least DC residents can look at New York's subway and feel comfortable that there's one thing about our city that will always be unquestionably better.

NO YOU DIDN'T.

Let me know how that Metro's treating you next time you're out at 3 AM.


Yeah, word. I have lived in three of the cities in the US that have extensive rail systems (NYC, Chicago, and DC -- if I'd ever lived in Boston, I'd have the hat trick, or whatever the term is for a set of four instead of three), and the DC Metro is by far the worst of the three. The cars are too long, the aisles are too narrow, and the system itself is poorly designed for actually enjoying the city. It's a system built for commuters and tourists and not for people that actually live in the city.

(Not that anyone asked, but I rank in order of preference: the 'L', the NYC subway, and then, grudgingly, the Metro.)

Also, my first visit to NYC was in 1995 and we didn't ride the subway at all -- my dad refused to. Three years later, I was living there and could only shake my head at whatever my dad thought the subway represented that made him so reluctant to ride it. I'm frankly not sure he's ever ridden the NYC subway. I convinced him once to take the Orange Line from Midway when he was coming to visit us in Chicago, and he found the whole experience a revelation -- but he still defaults to renting a car. I keep trying to explain to him that public transit is GREAT, but he just doesn't buy it. He is from Texas, though, and car culture is hard to get over.
posted by devinemissk at 7:08 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Graffiti and tagging are not the same thing. But I honestly don't even know if that's meaningful anyway, since the distinction kind of depends on a critical assessment of cultural/aesthetic value, which is like the oil to the water of public policy.

Someone (here, I think) once said that NYC changes dramatically every 5 years, and completely every 10, and everyone pines for a different New York from their past. Or maybe more accurately, their cool older brother's past, the one you didn't quite get yourself.

I don't think you can separate the social decay that allowed graffiti on the trains with graf itself. As art, it was borne from, and a response to those conditions. I don't think it even makes sense to say you'd prefer it over the ads you see today.

Street art has evolved with the city, and I feel fine.
posted by danny the boy at 7:10 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd have the hat trick, or whatever the term is for a set of four instead of three
That would be a Malinga.
posted by unliteral at 7:37 PM on October 17, 2011


Wow, thanks to those who identified John Conn. I'd never seen his work before. His Bowery flophouse pictures are great. The loss of flophouses (aka SRO's, single room occupancy) has been terrible for NYC's poor people. They weren't great places to live, but they were cheap and better than the street or a shelter.
posted by Mavri at 7:39 PM on October 17, 2011


Awesome pictures! Some of them, if it has not been pointed out yet, are by Martha Cooper. I think there might be a Henry Chalfant in there as well. Looking at more John Conn now, and he has some amazing work. Really great stuff!

As an aside: graffiti and 'tagging' are not two different things. Tagging is a form of graffiti. All the guys who did those colorful pieces on trains? Those were the same guys who were doing "insides" (painting or writing inside the cars). And all those street art guys are cool, too, but if they can't do a basic tag they should learn how to before they mix up that first batch of wheatpaste. Tagging itself (single color writing of a name, with marker, paint, scribe, etch, whatever) is also a pretty goddamn developed art form in its own right, and is the basis for all of the modern graffiti and street art in some cities. If you understand the motivations, abilities, and tendencies of the people involved, non-gang graffiti will not make you feel unsafe. Think of it this way: it's just a sign that some creative, rebellious, and subversive people are engaged with their urban environment.

Also, people standing behind the broken windows theory of crime is amazing to me, especially on MeFi.
posted by broadway bill at 7:41 PM on October 17, 2011


Broken windows is forever associated with Giuliani, and, seriously, fuck that guy. Crime dropped nationwide in cities that didn't practice the broken windows theory and in those that did. The experts don't know why crime dropped, but Giuliani leapt on the credit.
posted by Mavri at 7:49 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


New York's artistic communities were priced out of their own homes, and one of the world's greatest hotbeds of culture dried up almost overnight, only to be quickly replaced by a perverse parody of itself (ahem, Williamsburg).

Although I appreciate the commenter above's "Two Broke Girls" dis, everyone else's opinion of Brooklyn is exactly as dumb. You should mourn for the lost vibrancy of Chelsea, not wax ignorant about the cool stuff going on in Brooklyn at any given moment.

Bernie Goetz isn't even gone. I believe you can find him wearing a sandwich board in Union Square handing out pamphlets about vegetarianism. He also runs for mayor periodically.
posted by zvs at 8:03 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some things that began as graffiti in New York City in the 1980s are taught today in introductory art history books.

Perhaps some (most?) of us don't want to ride through an art history book every day on the way to work, especially if 1) we don't particularly enjoy that genre; 2) its real-life manifestation fails to rise to a level worthy of pedagogy; and 3) that poor manifestation absolutely covers every square inch of the surroundings.

I don't mind seeing this everyday when I get on and off.
posted by stargell at 8:05 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, people standing behind the broken windows theory of crime is amazing to me, especially on MeFi.

Why? Serious question. I don't know enough about it to know why it's apparently so thoroughly discredited.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:20 PM on October 17, 2011


What's the 2011 equivalent to NYC in the 80s. Detroit? What other cities in the developed world?

What? No. New York was fucked up in a lot of ways, but it was still the center of the finance industry etc., had the most expensive real estate in the country, and was home to lots and lots of very, very rich people. It's just that the particularly vast disparity between the highest and lowest incomes was much more starkly obvious in the neighborhoods than it is today.

That disparity is still there, it's just that the view from the outside has been made all shiny and glossy as to not unduly upset anyone looking for a nice afternoon. This is why people referred to the clean-up of Manhattan as Disneyfication long before Disney literally bought a piece of Times Square.

I like safely riding the subway. The tagging inside the subway cars was ugly and depressing, I'm not exactly nostalgic, but it is a souvenir of something that was ugly and true that I remember. I think it's weird that people don't assume that the unsmiling black folks are scared.
posted by desuetude at 8:44 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


freakazoid: "I moved to New York in 1986. That's exactly what the subway, and the entire city, was like.

I'm glad it's not like that anymore.
"

I lived there in 1987 and don't remember it being that way. I took the F train and A trains all the time and while there was a lot of grafitti, I don't remember it being so prevalent.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:59 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've lived in NYC all of my life. And I do not consider graffiti as art. I consider it vandalism and did even when I was younger. Graffiti is bullshit. And I don't really care if you disagree. When someone has a building, a property that they own, and some shmuck paints on it, all it does is cause them to have to paint over it. They own the damn building. And when someone defaces it it's vandalism. Not art.

There are people that ask artists to design murals for their store or building. Fine. But if you come to my house and spray paint it, be prepared to get beaten with a bat.

Let me make this clear. It's defacing property. Not fucking art.
posted by Splunge at 9:16 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


But if you come to my house and spray paint it, be prepared to get beaten with a bat.

I'll bring my force-field dog, that EATS angry bat-wielding homeowners!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:46 PM on October 17, 2011


> I have to say I much prefer the old graffiti subways to the new
> ones where an entire car has been taken over by one advertiser.
> I mean even the old school Dr. Z the smooth-ass dermatologist
> ads are better than the homogenous assault of dreck you get
> these days

Yeah. The subway was just so much more authentic then, before it sold out and went mainstream. It's too polished now. It's as safe and boring as an Applebee's. I've since become a fan of the Philadelphia subway. You probably haven't heard of it. It's still gritty and raw.
posted by elmwood at 9:48 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


desuetude: That disparity is still there, it's just that the view from the outside has been made all shiny and glossy as to not unduly upset anyone looking for a nice afternoon

Don't clean that up, there are poor people around here!
posted by ericost at 9:51 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


You either "get" this sensibility, or you don't.

I live in Albuquerque, and my favorite parts of the city are the poor areas that most people don't like. I haven't watched the last two seasons of Breaking Bad, but the parts I like probably show up a lot.

Well, in both directions, probably. I also like a small portion of the wealthier areas—the North Valley by the river where there are lovely, big adobe homes on huge, forested properties and many people have horses. And my grandparents built a house in what was a new, upper-class development with a country-club and such in the 60s and 70s...before such places became alike all over the country with gigantic houses on too-small lots and nothing with any real character. In this development, all the houses don't look alike. It has character. It's wealthy, but it's a neighborhood. All of the nice neighborhoods that have arisen since then have been of that other, repulsive ilk.

But back to the bad neighborhoods...

I love Central Avenue, which was part of Route 66 and was iconic with all its neon signs and such, because it's seedy and poor and, well, real. I feel quite comfortable on Central. I live over on the west side of the river—which is where all the new development has been for the last twenty years and when I was growing up was an almost entirely empty mesa—because it's cheaper. But I don't like it much. When I moved back to ABQ from Austin seven years ago and came over to this side of the river to visit a friend, I was amazed at the growth but also dismayed at how it looks exactly like every other newer area of western American cities look. I could have been back in north Austin. There's absolutely no character here.

Because of my grandparents—who were relatively wealthy and then, after my grandfather died, my grandmother lived with a man for ten years who was one of the wealthiest people in the state—I've been around wealthy people all my life and I'm pretty much comfortable with them. My father's family was poor and we were pretty poor part of my childhood. I'm comfortable with poor people, too. It's the upper-middle-class and the lower-upper-class that I'm most uncomfortable with. It's the striving aspiration about them that makes them very appearance-conscious and thus, often, pretty phony, fake. And their houses and their tastes and everything about them is very plastic.

So, yeah. I can't say that when I've lived in poor neighborhoods that I've been happy about the higher crime rate (not that it's always the case that the crime right is higher, mind you) and a few other related things. But, in general, I'm more comfortable. I can totally understand why people would prefer the 80s NYC over the cleaned, sanitized, brought to you by Disney and Coca-Cola version that exists today.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:09 AM on October 18, 2011


Let me make this clear. It's defacing property. Not fucking art.

Those aren't really mutually exclusive. Tagging however, seems mostly narcissistic to me. I mean writing your own name on walls everywhere? What's that about?
posted by Authorized User at 2:36 AM on October 18, 2011


Those aren't really mutually exclusive.

Yeah, it can be both at the same time - so it is art that defaces property. It still does not justify painting on something that does not belong to you.

[insert the old "how would you like it if they tagged your cat?" argument here]
posted by lampshade at 5:33 AM on October 18, 2011


I remember that Mad Magazine printed a cut-out Bernie Goetz mask after that happened. You know, to keep people from messing with you on the subway.
posted by heatvision at 6:29 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


In December 2008 there was a billboard in LA advertising a Takashi Murakami exhibit at the MOCA.

It got tagged by REVOK, who I'm told is a Big Name in graffiti.

Murakami loved it, and got the billboard shipped to his home overseas.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:39 AM on October 18, 2011


Related video from the same era
posted by mikepop at 6:44 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember listening to a radio story about the subway cleanup (sorry don't remember where) and they describe how tagging the outside of a train car would be a multi-stage process. Night one, they hit the yard and cover the car with a primer coat. Night two (and three if necessary) come and do the actual graffiti.

They described how when the MTA starting busting these guys they would let them do the primer coat, come back, do the graffiti and then just as they finished the MTA cops and etc. would THEN come out, arrest them right there and let them watch as their just-finished work was removed on the spot.
posted by mikepop at 6:54 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Chilling mikepop. Are those people even human?
posted by any major dude at 6:54 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You either "get" this sensibility, or you don't. . . . I live in Albuquerque, and my favorite parts of the city are the poor areas that most people don't like. . . . I can't say that when I've lived in poor neighborhoods that I've been happy about the higher crime rate (not that it's always the case that the crime right is higher, mind you) and a few other related things. But, in general, I'm more comfortable. I can totally understand why people would prefer the 80s NYC over the cleaned, sanitized, brought to you by Disney and Coca-Cola version that exists today.

Respectfully, Ivan, those people probably didn't live here then, and they probably think that New York in the 80s was like the poor areas of Albuquerque -- "gritty", but "real". It wasn't. Look upthread a little and you'll see this:

Crime was so bad it was farcical, with people stealing gas and batteries out of parked cars.

Think about that. You literally could not park your car on the street, in broad daylight, without there being a serious chance that someone would siphon the gas out of it and steal the battery. It was common enough that Eddie Murphy put it in his standup routine. It wasn't "real" -- it was a bad joke.

Between fifth and ninth grade (1977-81, I'm afraid) I was mugged four times, again in broad daylight, on the upper east side -- then the safest and richest neighborhood in the city. One of those muggings was at gunpoint and all were by kids not much older than myself. The subway stop one stop away from Columbia University (125th and Broadway) was commonly known as "The Tomb of the Unknown Freshman" for the notional new student who missed his stop, decided to get off and walk the nine blocks back to school, and was never heard from again. In the late-eighties I lived (briefly, thank god) with friends on Leroy Street on the lower east side. Their place was considered an island of safety in that neighborhood because there was usually a cop car parked nearby keeping an eye on the comings and goings at the crackhouse in the basement next door.

The point is that, at that time, income disparity had become so bad, and the city cared so little about its poor and had so few resources to help them, that the place was descending into madness. An argument can be made that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction -- and certainly under Giuliani the city crushed civil rights in pursuit of law-and-order in ways that were not only immoral and ugly, but ultimately very costly. But to suggest that NYC was, generally speaking, better or preferable in the 80s is not a matter of opinion or "getting" a sensibility. It's simply wrong.
posted by The Bellman at 8:00 AM on October 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


Fair enough. Thanks for the very good comment and respectful response.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:18 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


without there being a serious chance that someone would siphon the gas out of it and steal the battery

Yeah, this is sad but true. My parents owned a beat to shit Chevy Nova. Gas got siphoned so many times they eventually had to buy an after marktet locking gas cap. The battery got stolen twice, both times it was a major hassle since they had to save up to buy a new stolen battery.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:23 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


[insert the old "how would you like it if they tagged your cat?" argument here]

Cornbread tagged an elephant in the Philly zoo, and I think that's hilarious.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:24 AM on October 18, 2011


I came to New York in the very tail end of the 80's, when the "old" Times Square was in its twilight. I don't mind at all that it got cleaned up.

What I do mind, though, is that when it did get cleaned up, it apparently got replaced with something that looks like the Disney version of Every Suburban Mall In America.

On the other hand, though, it does keep the more aggregiously must-stay-in-their-comfort-zone tourists all contained in one place, so I can avoid them in return.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:29 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some serious grabbing at hipster cred in this thread. If so many people really love gritty, authentic, unpolished, blue-collar pre-gentrified, pre-corporatized urbanity as they say they do, put your money where your mouth is and move to an old-school ethnic neighborhood in Buffalo. not Brooklyn. How "real" is Buffalo? Trader Joe's and Whole Foods both said they'll never open a store in the Buffalo metro area, and the homers like it that way.
posted by elmwood at 11:34 AM on October 18, 2011


Wow, lots of polarization here. If someone expresses a preference for some graffiti over what I can only describe as the assault of advertising everywhere (seriously, airplane seat-back tray tables?) does not mean that person wishes that there were more muggings and gas stealing. Is it necessarily "grabbing at hipster cred" to dislike how Times Square has become a nexus of boring chain restaurants? Personally, I remember being entertained by the random subway ads in days of yore, back when they were sort of like tv ads on cable access stations, and there were lots of different ones in each car. Now the an entire car will be filled with variations of the same ad, often a bunch of very scantily clad women fawning over some guy because of the brand of scotch he's just purchased. Given a choice I'll pick Dr. Zizmor and !Aprenda Inglés! every time.
posted by tractorfeed at 12:14 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh, I know the saxophone player. Ralph Williams, a street performer who played for many years on the corner of 53rd and Sixth Avenue. Now plays near the Bandshell in the Park. A sample of him playing.

Also know one of the well known NYC subway graffiti taggers and Zoo York member, Johnny Crunch, who plastered his tag on countless subways in the 70's and 80's.

Just the other day I felt a wave of gratitude for the extraordinary and NYC-transforming work of the Guardian Angels. Hell's Kitchen, where I live, is no longer a purgatory, very much because of what they accomplished here. These photographs are witness to the mayhem and ugly mess the subways once were and, thanks in part to the Guardian Angels, are no longer.
posted by nickyskye at 12:36 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


put your money where your mouth is and move to an old-school ethnic neighborhood in Buffalo. not Brooklyn

Well, some of us were born in Brooklyn. Like I said upthread, I don't romanticize the crime and hopelessness.

Some things I do romanticize are:

Sense of commnunity, everyone knew everyone else, half the people were cousins or nephews or uncles. Of course this was bad as well it was incredibly exclusionary. But I just counted and I have more people from the block I grew up on than people I went to high school with on Facebook

Family owned neighborhood shops. Fresh produce, seafood, meats sold by people who loved the products they sold.

Opening the fire hydrant on a hot summer day.

Stickball and whiffleball in the streets until the streetlights came on.

Sitting on the stoop listening to Billy Joel.

A million things I cannot begin to explain, Italian heros at birthday parties, waiting for the feast every year, eating lemon ice the first day the bakery opened the italian ice window, staring at the crabs at the fish store, the smell when the store down the block made smoked mozzarella.

Most of all it makes me sad that Brooklyn is now synonymous with hipsters, not the generations of immigrants that built it.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:40 PM on October 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


I wish I had the chance to know those aspects of the way Brooklyn used to be, Ad hominem. (And the way it was, I assume, before your time; I try to read "The Boys of Summer" in the spring when I remember, partly for the baseball but mostly for the mid-century Brooklyn evocations.) The silver lining, I hope, is that there are generations of kids growing up in, say, Sunset Park whose experiences are not all that dissimilar.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:37 PM on October 18, 2011


Some serious grabbing at hipster cred in this thread. If so many people really love gritty, authentic, unpolished, blue-collar pre-gentrified, pre-corporatized urbanity as they say they do, put your money where your mouth is and move to an old-school ethnic neighborhood in Buffalo. not Brooklyn. How "real" is Buffalo? Trader Joe's and Whole Foods both said they'll never open a store in the Buffalo metro area, and the homers like it that way.

I can't think of anything more "hipster" in the negative backlash sense than presuming that the replies in this thread are some sort of pose, rather than actual opinions and memories.

But that zinger about Trader Joe's, whooo, you really schooled everyone.
posted by desuetude at 8:13 PM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can't think of anything more "hipster" in the negative backlash sense than presuming that the replies in this thread are some sort of pose, rather than actual opinions and memories.

Sorry, but I'm seeing a gap between the people who actually grew up in NYC in that era, or spent a significant amount of time there, and people making blanket statements about how great it was without indicating any personal experience of it. I visited NYC once, in the mid-eighties, and it was a revelation; I'd lived in Chicago between 1977 and 1982, roughly corresponding to my high school years, and thought that I knew what living in a big city (including its less savory aspects and areas) was like, but NYC was incredibly squalid--when I returned to Chicago, it felt as if someone had just gone over every square inch with a shop vac, by comparison. When I actually went to live in NYC for a short time in the early-mid nineties, things were noticeably better.

A lot of this is really just standard-issue nostalgia; people look at the nice pictures of the really stunning graffiti in their coffee-table books and forget about the time that they had to throw away a light-colored shirt or skirt because the ink on someone's tag was still wet. Their favorite neighborhood restaurant closes down and they glare in the general direction of Times Square and mutter imprecations about the "suburbanization" of it (and forgetting that the city has spawned its own share of franchises like Sbarro and TGI Friday's). But bring back the way that things actually were, just for a day, and it would feel like the express train through Dante's Inferno to them.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:23 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't remember the name of the photographer but s/he was covered in one of my photography classes in school. No attribution indeed.

Huh?! If you don't remember her name, obviously attribution is needed.

Yeah, mods, switch it to Two Four Flinching.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:18 AM on October 19, 2011


I must live in a different NYC than you folks. There are plenty of overweight people here. And it still doesn't make it cool to make fun of them.

I'd just like to clarify that I was in no way making fun of folks with weight problems - I've struggled with weight myself my whole life - just wondering what the differences in lifestyle/diet/etc. are...


Big change to go from the 70s - most people of healthy weights, to now, a majority not...
posted by stenseng at 1:05 PM on October 19, 2011


> Sorry, but I'm seeing a gap between the people who actually grew up in NYC in that era, or spent a significant amount of time there, and people making blanket statements about how great it was without indicating any personal experience of it.

I just re-read the whole thread looking for this. Not really finding it.
posted by desuetude at 6:46 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]



I must live in a different NYC than you folks. There are plenty of overweight people here. And it still doesn't make it cool to make fun of them.


I am belatedly coming back to this thread to point out that I was being sarcastic. Of course there are obese people in New York. It's a city in the most obese country on earth.

And my point was to mock people who mock the non-svelte. I won't link it, but there was a recent thread on AskMe where someone wanted to gawk at (er, observe) "real American" culture (including rampant obesity) and needed information on how to find such people outside of liberal Manhattan.
posted by spitbull at 7:02 AM on October 30, 2011


It's a city in the most obese country on earth.

The U.S. actually has the fifth highest adult male obesity fraction, after Cook Islands, Tonga, Nauru, and Samoa.
posted by grouse at 2:12 PM on October 30, 2011


« Older Teenage Mutant Ninja Noses...  |  Welcome to the World Radio Net... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments