Who are the people in your neighborhood?
Y’know, every once in awhile the NYT will run one of these frothy, zeitgeisty pieces, works of investigative assiduity that oh-so-fearlessly delve into the wacky lives of today’s young urban achievers. These tend to be collections of anecdotes presented as somehow representative of a cohort, sociology-lite attempts to take the pulse of a generational section as it passes through history, and they function primarily in support of the paper’s ideological police mission: if you don’t resemble these people…why not? (Although a rich vein of this tripe is generated for us by the Times, New York is, if anything, still more guilty of this kind of conduct. Remember “grups“?)
For the moment, my concern is not so much with whether there’s any point of resemblance between the trend the Times writer claims to discern and anything we’d recognize as reality. We can deal with that some other time. No, it’s simply this: who the hell are these people?
We hear from, among others, a 25-year-old software developer with “a smartly appointed studio in a full-service building in Tribeca,” a 28-year-old consultant whose dates “will drop comments on how much his sales team had made for the year,” and a 29-year-old lawyer who “has found herself clipping price tags off expensive clothes she buys on shopping binges.” Admittedly, these are fully human beings reduced to a sentence or two by a reporter with an agenda, and having been on the receiving end of that kind of treatment in the past, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. These women are probably nowhere near as vapid in real life as this piece makes them sound.
Still. Who the hell are these people?
I’m beginning to accept, with commingled relief and shock, that I must travel in very, very different circles – not merely from these poor women, but from the vast majority of the upper-middle-class people routinely depicted in this sort of piece. The people I know in their mid-to-late-twenties are, by and large, hardworking grad students, or similarly diligent midlevel designers and architects: not people who get to take a hell of a lot of vacations, let alone worry about what class they’re seated in. (At their age, while I was admittedly privileged in so very many ways otherwise, I got by on a sergeant’s pay.)
My inability to wrap my head around the fact that these are the people whose choices now shape the city I live in reminds me of my incredulity at certain comments I remember reading on a Curbed thread last year, comments that stated outright that women in my Manhattan neighborhood, Kips Bay, wouldn’t consider dating a man unless he had the right job, the right watch, and the right jeans (!).
Silly me, I used to grin at the apparent superficiality of those Chinese women I read about who had supposedly updated Mao’s “four musts” of bicycle, radio, watch and sewing machine for the twenty-first century, requiring that each of their romantic partners come complete with a Rolex, a plasma TV, a BMW, and his own apartment. Boy howdy, though, the gestalt that comes across in pieces like this is worse – tackier and more awful – than any Chinese attitude I’ve ever heard of. I mean, given the stark historical inflections they’ve lived through, Shanghainese women my own age can probably be forgiven for wanting at some level to get while the gettin’s good. I’m not so sure the same can be said of the average resident of Kips Bay – and not to single the women out, either.
Uh, what happened to, like, being with people because you loved them and responded to something ineffable in the makeup of their character? What happened to making do together, because it was the “together” part that was more important than how far forward you were seated on the plane? Thank god I’m shielded from having to please people like this relationshipwise, although I’m nowhere near as buffered as I’d like to be from some of the other consequences of attitudes like this.
I guess that’s the point of this rant. I don’t begrudge folks like the ones depicted in the Times piece the right to exist, not in the slightest. My resentment is simply that the city seems increasingly to be tuned exclusively to their needs and requirements, pushing other alternatives of the map entirely, almost literally, in some slow, grinding, horribly Greshamesque process of exclusion.
Have a look at Third Avenue between, say, 23rd and 34th Streets if you don’t believe me. It’s not a pretty thing. (The relationship between the spreading blight of sports bars, tanning salons and Tasty D-Lites and the increasing percentage of my time spent far, far from here is left as an exercise for the reader.) I know we’re not the only ones who feel alienated by and from this Newer York and the set of values that appears to govern it, at least for the time being. You don’t have to be Richard Florida, either, to speculate that at some point in the relatively near future, this alienation will have significant cultural and economic consequences.