Lots of people have a romantic view of the edgy New York of the '70s and '80s and understandably so. Rents, after all, were cheap, especially in neighborhoods like the East Village and the Lower East Side. The art scene wasn’t just about money, and clubs like Studio 54, the Palladium and Danceteria rocked NYC’s nightlife. But, of course, there was also crime, torched apartment buildings and above all, a transit system that on its best days was post-apocalyptic. And oh, yes, graffiti was everywhere, particularly on the aforementioned. So it’s no wonder that when an entire train covered in graffiti suddenly appeared out of nowhere the other day, The New York City Police Benevolent Association lost its shit.
The 70s & 80s, now in living color on a subway platform near you. A true sign of decay, one that we worked so hard to eradicate decades ago. The taggers had plenty of time to cover this entire train, because they know there are no more consequences. #backtothefuture pic.twitter.com/7uWmg8YdzU— NYC PBA (@NYCPBA) January 21, 2020
The PBA posted a video on social media showing the train entering a station with a dire warning about impending social collapse that concluded with the hashtag #backtothefuture. (Who says cops don’t have a sense of humor?)
The operating assumption here was that this was an act of vandalism, which, yeah maybe, but the graffiti itself was…really, really good! It recalled the Wild Style subway car murals of yore by taggers such as Daze (Chris Ellis), Dondi (Donald Joseph White) and Lee (George Lee Quiñones), individuals who definitely broke the law, yet are now lauded as legends paving the way for street art’s acceptance as a legitimate genre—albeit one tamed by official sanction. Naturally, the appearance of graffiti-bombed subway train 2.0 sparked that old chestnut of a debate: Is graffiti art or civic defacement?
As of this writing, the PBA post has gotten close to 14,000 comments, the majority of which think the mural rules big time. Many people noted how professional looking it was, and wondered if it was actually part of a stealth marketing campaign (apparently not). Others pointed out the hypocrisy of condemning a train covered in graffiti, but not one that’s been wrapped in advertising, as the shuttle between Times Square and Grand Central frequently is.
It's reasonable to suspect that many of the sentiments expressed were colored by the generally negative reaction to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to flood stations with 500 additional police officers who seem to think that arresting churro vendors and tackling people on the platforms makes the public safer. The tone-deaf logic seems to extend to the PBA video itself. As one commenter put it: “Hey guys, maybe to show the dangers of graffiti thuggery we should make a gif of a super cool tagged subway car.” Yeah, that works.