One man's graffiti is another's 'art'
''Make your mark in society, not on society'' is the slogan of a new anti-graffiti campaign in New York City. Style Wars (PBS, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 9- 10 p.m., check local listings) is, I fear, trying to make its own mark on society.
''Style Wars,'' while it pretends to be a survey of rap music, break dancing, and graffiti writing as social phenomena, cannot seem to hide its bias in favor of the ''romantic'' graffiti-writing ''bombers.'' While the film acknowledges that the graffiti writers (and they wish to be called writers rather than artists) are regarded by some as a symbol that society has lost control, the point of view of the film seems to be that graffiti, especially subway graffiti, constitute a rare art form.
I have a feeling, somehow, that producers Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant took taxis to their subway locations, because their seemingly sympathetic attitude toward the ''writing'' doesn't at all reflect the attitude of those who must live day to day with the ugly, ominous defiance of the rights of others so often represented by subway graffiti. Even the subway maps are covered with graffiti, rendering them illegible.
Like something out of a science fiction world, there is a visit to train yards where an eerie succession of white cars glides through the night, defying graffiti writers to violate their now-washable surfaces.
Toward the end of this ''art appreciation'' hour, we attend an opening at a chic gallery which is exhibiting graffiti as art. ''What would you say if I wrote all over your painting?'' somebody is quoted as asking one of the graffiti artists (writers). ''I kill you, man!'' was the answer.
Just about the only good news I got from this fascinating but annoying program was a report that there is now a graffiti war going on in which some graffiti writers are covering graffiti with graffiti. If ever I heard of just deserts . . . .