Apparently disgruntled by the lack of appreciation for his efforts to improve the landscape through street singing, spraying graffiti, and putting a smelly couch in an intersection as “an act of political resistance,” the author concludes that a race and class war is being waged against “outsiders and outlaws” over control of public space.
Ferrell (Criminal Justice/Northern Arizona Univ.) opposes the “broken windows” thesis that smashed panes and graffiti promote other forms of criminality; he considers planned communities to be “Bergen-Belsens with flowerbeds.” Here, the author participates in and researches the roles of street musicians, graffiti artists, bicycle activists, and outlaw radio operators within this “war.” Playing his guitar, Ferrell jams with a fiddler on a street corner, inventing songs, playing requests, appreciating the passersby. The good vibes are instantly erased, however, when a band shows up to play “loud, bad pop music.” This particular evening, the band wins the battle for “sonic space.” Also a bicycle activist, the author urges others to walk, take public transportation, anything to help “take back the streets from cars and corporations.” In addition to busking and biking, Ferrell promotes the transformation of cultural space through outlaw radio micro-stations. Hacking and jamming the airwaves he considers to be as acts of sonic resistance and community-building. Likewise, he sees graffiti as an alternative mode of communication. Indeed, graffiti offers “countless kids creative options outside the usual degradations of gang, school, or work.” Completely absent from the author’s argument is an understanding of the difference between temporary and permanent: It’s one thing to spend an evening on a street corner making music, which fades away as soon as the musicians stop playing; it’s another to spray a subway car with graffiti, which will remain until there’s money and manpower to erase it. Ferrell seems a bit of a fraud, given that he’s writing about marginalized social groups from the vantage point of a privileged academic position.
Simplistic at best.