New York

No, I’m not in New York.  I’m still in mighty Texas.  But as I bop about the country, I spend a lot of time comparing places to NYC.  So I’ve rather enjoyed reading the recent chatter on the internet about the place.

This particular meme has focused largely on whether or not NYC is oppressive.  Leading the anti-NY charge, we have Connor Friedersdorf, who kicked off the discussion with his post “The Tyranny of New York”.  He’s backed by Andrew Sullivan and Ezra Klein. And himself again.  On the other side, Amy Davidson mounts a lone defense.  Amy, I’ve got your back.

The haters claim that New York culture is so dominant that it leaves no room for other cities to develop their own local scenes.  They also claim that New Yorkers are smug assholes.

On the first point, Friedersdorf explains:

In Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego, and San Antonio, all among the top ten most populous cities in the United States, the smallest with well over a million residents, the average person has watched countless hours of television set in various New York City apartments, and perhaps never seen their own city portrayed in a sitcom.

Tyrannical.  This criticism may have been more salient in the SeinfeldFriends era of television.  Or the Sex and the City-Sopranos era.  But what about now? Well, according to the Nielsen ratings for last week, the top two shows on television are both American Idol.  Number three is Dancing with the Stars, followed by NCIS (set in DC), NCIS: Los Angeles, The Mentalist (set in Sacramento), Two and a Half Men (Malibu), The Big Bang Theory (Pasadena), Survivor: Heroes, CSI (Vegas), Survivor: Heroes again, Criminal Minds (Quantico, VA), The Good Wife (Chicago), Desperate Housewives (the fictional town of Fairview), Dancing with the Stars Results, Glee (Lima, OH), and finally, tied with 60 Minutes at 17th, CSI: NY.  May as well round off the top 20: Grey’s Anatomy is set in Seattle and CSI: Miami is set in, well, Miami.  So the claim that New York City somehow dominates television is frankly wrong.  At least it was wrong last week.  Oh yeah, in other TV news from last week, long-running NYC series Law and Order was cancelled.  Friedersdorf continues:

The executives read The Wall Street Journal far more carefully than the local newspaper, the aspiring writers dream of getting a short story published in The New Yorker, the local Starbucks sells The New York Times, the romantics watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s on AMC at six month intervals, and every New Years Eve people gather around to watch a tape-delayed broadcast of a ball that dropped on Times Square hours earlier.

I love the phrase “the local Starbucks sells The New York Times.” The tyranny of Seattle?  People don’t read the Times for local news.  They read it for national and international news.  Same reasons they watch CNN.  The tyranny of Atlanta?  It’s not like Times articles are framed through the lens of New York City. Imagine that: “Rand Paul won the Republican Senate nomination in Kentucky Tuesday, something that could never happen in New York State because he supports whack-job positions like eliminating the Department of Education.  Despite coming from a state one-fifth our size, if he wins the seat in November, he will have the same power as Sen. Schumer and Sen. Gillibrand.”  The tyranny of non-proportional representation in the Senate?

Oh, and those aspiring writers should set their sights a bit higher.  The New Yorker has the 89th largest circulation in the country.  American Hunter, published by the NRA, is 88th.  Maybe that’s a better target.

If New York is tyrannical, the tyranny reigns over its own people more than the denizens of other cities.  Rent in New York is expensive, which makes it hard to open, say, a casual venue with cheap drinks, lots of space, no cover, and live music every night.  Such places, I believe, are the bases of local scenes.  I saw this in Little Rock and in Tulsa.  Sure, New York has “The Talk of the Town,” but just because Bostonians who read literary magazines don’t read 800-word blips about New Orleans’ characters (and sometimes they do), doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

On New Yorkers being smug assholes, I like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ position: there are smug assholes everywhere; New York has more because New York has more of everything.  There is, however, one kind of smug asshole that we don’t have.  That’s the kind that likes to claim that places like New York are not part of the real America.  Screw that.  Since I’ve ended several recent blog posts railing against that position, I’ll tag-in my ally Amy to close this one out.  She claims that contrary to popular opinion, New York is actually quite welcoming:

One hears about places where one can live for twenty years and still be seen as a newcomer. New York is more generous—you don’t have to be here for very long before those of us born here consider you a New Yorker, and before writers for the Atlantic think nothing of holding you up as an archetype for our city. For a city of supposed snobs, we are quite good at making people feel right at home.

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