Opinion: Gritty Glamour is Bunk

opinion_icnOccasionally, The City Desk will present to you a real opinion piece concerning the cities in which we live.

Maybe it’s because I was a failure as a bohemian (one has to be a true bourgeois to become a true bohemian), but all this hipster wank about how “authentic” New York was in the 70’s really gets up my nose. I understand the love of vibrant density, variety, energy and chaos, but I’m not willing to romanticize the downside of such environments, or the fact that the backdrop of such fantasies are populated by people who are experiencing real suffering. It’s only glamorous if you can escape it; playing at being “decadent” is just a childish, predictable trope. Drop the silly act and have a picnic, for heaven’s sake.

Northeastern cities are still a filthy, dangerous, feudal mess (our friends who live in cities are robbed with some regularity), but I’d never want to see New York, Philly or Atlantic City return to the singularly dark depths they had plumbed in the 70’s.

In my own way I’m just as guilty of this misguided nostalgia: I’m fascinated by old New York, the world of the Bowery and Five Points–but I’d never, EVER want to set foot in such a living horror. Everyone you and I know would have been eaten alive within a day. So yeah, goodbye and good riddance to you too, 1970’s:

If you weren’t a scene maker, New York’s crumminess held a lot less allure. Stagflation, rotting infrastructure, sanitation workers’ strikes, and rampant crime didn’t just turn New Yorkers into ninjas and jungle cats—it made the city an incredibly unpleasant and often terrifying place to live. I have a memory, from around the time I was in second grade, of a perhaps forgotten New York folkway: the breakfast table distribution of “mugger money,” cash that parents would give to their kids before packing them off to school. The idea being that a $20 bill would placate the mugger so he would opt not to blow a child’s head off.

(…) There is something gross about nostalgists aestheticizing squalor that they never really, fully experienced.
[New York in the ’70s: The Grit Wasn’t So Splendid | Salon.com]

– Victor A. Crawford III
Reproduced, with permission, from his LiveJournal.

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