The Block Is Hot by Madeleine Russo

The placement of unusual or dramatic events within cinema give material analogies to a film’s more internalised conflicts. These events that audiences witness in the spectacle of cinema imply a climax or relief of a given scenario. To accentuate the rising tensions within a Brooklyn neighbourhood, Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ (1989) places his characters in an unforgiving heat wave that aggravates its community’s rising conflicts. As the climate overtakes its environment, characters find a temporary solution by opening one of the street’s fire hydrants, resulting in a scene that unites its distressed residents by dousing themselves in the water pressure that’s been building underneath them. In a moment of relief gained in a minor unlawful act, it then follows that authorities should eventually arrive to lid its tensions once again.

Typically, Western film production finds individuals or groups solving the peak of their conflicts by conducting minor acts of administering their own authority. These usually involve a bizarre act of citizen disobedience: running red lights to get to the hospital; taking over the school’s PA system; bypassing airport security; swapping uniforms with unconscious authorities. The audience’s focus on a film’s protagonist privileges this permission of an individual’s unique behaviour under special circumstances. Audience support of these behaviours question how individuals can negotiate structures of authority in the face of crisis.

These structures that characters often disuse belong to and are sanctioned by an antagonistic or militant authority, making these crisis-control objects, like fire hose-reels or PA systems, dependent on a narrow selection of a larger community. The way that these emergency response objects remain exclusive within these structures suggests that its objects are vulnerable to vandalization at crisis point. Releasing the valves of fire hydrants for the sake of its community amongst pressing conflicts suggests a quasi-vigilante act of reappropriating the exclusive object of government infrastructure into the individual’s rights for seeking and providing basic relief for its community. These actions temporarily shift the hierarchical systems within citizen obedience, giving permission for members of the community to reclaim a sense of authority within dominant authoritarian structures.

Depicting community heroes, like volunteer firefighters, activist demonstrators, or most film protagonists, starts with the appropriation of authoritative props. The identification of these officials: high-visibility fabrics of authorities or protest accessories of their challengers suggest the internal nature of authority that pass through individuals, resulting in this immediate application when navigating conflicts. The act of individuals reclaiming control from a dominating environment doesn’t symbolise a call for anarchy, but rather an exchange of authority through the appropriated use of these objects. These moments call to attention the way that communal pressures evolve and how individuals respond in the face of community pressures. Re-negotiating the significance of community within authoritarian structures is particularly relevant in the US, where individual rights to authoritative objects has been met with extreme backlash.

Proposing the potential relief from rising tensions in our current political environment calls on individuals to appropriate authoritative objects and structures. Inventing potential solutions at crisis point ultimately suggests the moderation and fluidity of authoritative structures through this permitting of exchanges of usage. Negotiations between the individual and their environments express the communal desire for relief within distressed communities, and help question how authority can be appropriated to collaborate on, rather than enforce solutions for communities.

Madeleine Russo is an artist undertaking her Honours in Fine Art at Monash University.