Lately I’ve been on an urban culture binge. It’s probably the result of living in the ‘burbs but I may also be an aspiring urbanite.
Space affects the way we live and how we interact with each other. Out of compromising “normal” behavior to adjust for the enviroment, I think the sum of all the different practices create a culture.
I’ve been poking around looking at urban art (graffiti art), urban music (hip hop) and urban athletics (parkour/free running). The common theme the drives each of these things seems to be a celebration of the human spirit, which is even more meaningful seeing that it’s juxtaposed against the proverbial concrete jungle.
While graffiti art has changed a lot, some of it is still tagging and incredibly cool and cryptic designs in public spaces. But there’s also another branch that focuses on re-appropriating public space from advertisers and big businesses and give it back to the people. A former Saatchi & Saatchi art director, Ji Lee, started the Bubble Project as a way to jam outdoor advertising on the streets of New York by posting up dialouge bubbles on ads and inviting people to fill them in. The guy at PublicAdCampaign is doing something similar as well deal with issues like the “colon[ization] of public physical space and public mental space”.
Despite the fact that consumers of hip hop are largely white kids from the ‘burbs, hip hop will always be an inner city art. And despite what you hear on the radio, it’s not all about drugs, bitches and guns. Seattle hip hop artist Macklemore has a song called “White Privilege” that talks about the appropriation of hip hop by mainstream culture that leads to those misconceptions. Like graffiti art, hip hop evolved to become a mouthpiece for social justice. Artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Public Enemy, 2Pac (to some extent right?) and many more use hip hop to describe the social inequities of the Black community and the inner city. They are putting a very human feel to issues that are calloused by misinterpretation and exoticism and sensationalization.
If you remember those Nike commercials for their Pesto line of shoes, you’ve seen some Parkour. From Wikipedia:
Parkour is a physical discipline inspired by human movement, focusing on uninterrupted, efficient forward motion over, under, around and through obstacles (both man-made and natural) in one’s environment. Such movement may come in the form of running, jumping, climbing and other more complex techniques. The goal of parkour is to adapt one’s movement to any given obstacle.
What the Wikipedia definition left out is that they do this in the city. But if you watch the clips on Youtube, you’ll see that the movements are so fluid and natural. These athletes are giving urban architecture and city planning the finger with the way the move around, over, under the things they built to control how the rest of us interact with the space.
The problem with urban culture -as is with all sub or counter cultures- is that it’s participants are highly intelligent and somewhat exclusive. I think they understand the cultural appropriation process and want to protect against it. But at the same time the themes that they are dealing with are so important for people today to be exposed to. It’s cliche now to say that people are out of touch with humanity, but it’s true. And many people go to religion or the mountains or where ever to rediscover themselves, but that is regressive. Population booms, new architecture and city planning trends are going to pack us in tighter and we need to start discovering these things because they’re in
our backyard the back alley.