Wallbangin'

Graffiti and Gangs in L.A.

Susan A. Phillips

Susan A. Phillips

414 pages | 13 color plates, 118 halftones | 8-1/2 x 9-1/4 | © 1999
Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9780226667720 Published July 1999
Graffiti is as ubiquitous as telephone poles in America's cities; it is as old as the earliest civilizations. The most public medium in the country today, graffiti can signal territory, love, or liberation. Ironically, graffiti is understood by only a fraction of those who encounter it. Usually read as a sign of urban decay and as a loss of control over the physical environment, graffiti has become one of the most potent cultural languages of our age. Wallbangin' is an unprecedented, in-depth look at this phenomenon as it is embodied in the neighborhoods of one of its epicenters, Los Angeles.

Anthropologist Susan Phillips enters the lives of the African-American and Chicano gang members to write a comprehensive guide to their symbolic and visual expression. She not only decodes the graffiti—explaining how, for instance, gang boundaries are visually delimited and how "memorial" graffiti functions—but she also places it in the context of the changing urban landscapes within the city. Graffiti, she argues, is inextricably linked to political change, to race, and to art, and she demonstrates how those connections are played out in contemporary L.A. Wallbangin' is, on this level, an iconography of street imagery. But it is also a very personal narrative about entering the world of L.A. street gangs—a world of pride, enemies, affirmation, and humanity where gang members use graffiti to redefine their social and political position in society.

To many outsiders, graffiti is cryptic, senseless scribbling. But Phillips explains it as an ingenious and creative solution to the disenfranchisement felt by those who produce it. With personal narratives, provocative photography, and contemporary voices, Wallbangin' unlocks the mysteries behind street-level ideologies and their visual manifestations.

Contents
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
The Story of Graffiti
INTRODUCTION
1. GRAFFITI FOR BEGINNERS
Wallbangin'
Caging the Graffiti Beast
The L.A. Graffiti Infrastructure
Graffiti as Art and Language
The Culture of Graffiti
The Politics of Graffiti
2. UNDERSTANDING GANGS
Gangs in Their Natural Habitat
Multiple Marginality and Street Socialization
Nested Political Concerns
Gangs in a Cross-Cultural Context
3. CHICANO GANG GRAFFITI
Ethnographic Lessons
Chicano L.A.
The Family of Gangs
Representing through Graffiti
A Symbolic System of Boundaries
Gang Warfare
RIPs: Memorial Graffiti
The Gangster Touch: Aesthetics and Style
Conclusion
4. AFRICAN AMERICAN GANG GRAFFITI
The Geertzian Ghetto
Bloods and Crips in the City of Angels
The Three R's: Respect, Reputation, and Regulation
Balancing Practical and Ideological Enmity
Graffiti as Gang Politicking
Hoods and Enemies: Levels of G'sta Identity
The Little-Known World of Gang Alliance
Power in Numbers: The Neighborhood as a Mystical Symbol
Historical Links through Time and Name
An "F" in Penmanship
The Los Angeles Uprising: A Case in Point
The Gang Manifesto
5. HIP-HOP GRAFFITI
Bombing L.A.
Comparing Hip-hop and Gang Graffiti
From Fame to Respect
Los Angeles's Graffiti Elite
Local to Global
Conclusion
6. CONCLUSION
Gangs, Hybridity, and Institutionalization
Cross-Ethnic Gang Relationships
Paradoxes of the Gang World
Notes
References
Index
For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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