Reactor

Against Celebrity, In Defense of New York

by Jillian Steinhauer on February 5, 2014

I was wondering what would do it. I was wondering what essay by which person would send me into a fed-up frenzy. Turns out it was Moby, at Creative Time Reports, with this thing.

Based on the title of Moby‘s op-ed — “Los Angeles, The First City of the Apocalypse,” which, let’s be honest, I don’t know what that means — you’d think he had written something about LA. Ostensibly, it is. Except for the part where he spends the first half of the piece shitting on New York.

Shitting on New York is, of course, many a writer’s and famous-person-turned-writer’s (and daughter-of-famous-person-turned-writer’s) favorite pastime. Even when they’re not exactly shitting on the city, people are going around breaking up with it. And why not? New York is expensive. New York is difficult. New York makes you feel crappier when you already feel like crap. New York is also an easy target. New York can’t fight back, because, well, it doesn’t have hands or a voice. And so “leaving New York” has become a literary genre that every Serious Writer or Artist takes up in order to be Heard.

That genre began 47 years ago, when Joan Didion penned “Goodbye to All That,” an excellent essay and the unquestionable progenitor of the field. Sometimes I wonder, if Joan Didion had been able to see, back in 1967, the many thousands of words her essay would spawn in imitation and homage, would she have thought twice about writing it?

Probably not. But maybe she could have added a disclaimer, à la “do not try this at home” (do not try this unless you’re an exceptionally talented writer).

To return to Moby’s piece: although he says he doesn’t “want to create a New York-L.A. dichotomy,” that’s precisely what he does. Moby spends the first four paragraphs talking about New York and everything that’s wrong with it: it’s a “city of money”; it’s “Gremlin midnight” (yes, he actually makes this comparison, and yes, he means the movie); it’s a place “that people visit and observe and patronize and document, but don’t actually add to”; it’s “a victim of its own photogenic beauty and success”; it’s “exclusively about success.” He then spends six paragraphs talking about how great LA is “due to its singular pre-apocalyptic strangeness” and because it’s “relatively cheap” (relative to what?). And, sorry, one of those paragraphs is actually about New Jersey.

Here’s the thing: I like LA a lot. Unlike some people, I’m not here to smack talk the “other” city. But I take issue with how Moby portrays New York. His comments sync up infuriatingly with David Byrne’s from last fall, also writing in Creative Time Reports. (Side question: can’t Creative Time Reports find artists with far more interesting projects and thoughts to publish than these two lame op-eds?) Back then, Byrne said New York “doesn’t make things anymore,” and that “the cultural part of the city — the mind — has been usurped by the top 1 percent.”

Leaving aside the fact that this is a bit rich coming from David Byrne, the more important point is that Byrne and Moby are just wrong. New York may be many things to many people, but it is most certainly creative. It is weird and off-the-wall. This is a place where, at bare minimum, two costume parties, one themed burlesque show, three classes and lectures on some topic I’ve never dreamed of, not to mention dozens of art shows, plays, readings, and more, happen every week. I once watched a full-grown man dressed as a werewolf sing a David Bowie mash-up accompanied by a hipster orchestra at an illegal club. (It was awkwardly infectious.) We had a water tower speakeasy. If you honestly think New York isn’t creative, then you’re actively not looking for creativity.

Both Moby and Byrne contend they’re not just saying what they’re saying because New York was better back in the ’70s and ’80s, when everyone had an equal opportunity to be mugged and needles littered the streets. But that is, essentially, what they’re saying. Could it be that Moby and David Byrne are so stuck inside the bubble of celebrity that they have no grasp on what’s actually going on? Never.

Part of why these pieces — and as I said above, Byrne and Moby are not the only offenders, just the latest and most high profile — piss me off is because they dismiss out of hand myself and all of the creative people I know living in New York. But the other reason is that they’re completely self-indulgent, to the point of having a masturbatory quality. Does New York have a serious affordability problem? Yes. Are there currently more homeless people here than at any time since the Great Depression? Yes. Should the city do something about that, as well as try to accommodate creative people better? Obviously, yes. Does either of these articles say anything remotely valuable or constructive or insightful about any of these issues? No.

If you want to talk about New York’s problems, by all means, let’s. If you want to live in LA, by all means, do. If you want to waste people’s time by writing an unoriginal op-ed on a topic that’s been discussed to death (Moby twice acknowledges that he’s “stat[ing] the obvious”), further drowning it in myth and nostalgia, please don’t. There have been millions of words written on New York, and there will undoubtedly be millions more. Let’s at least make them creative.

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  • Romanapainter

    Talking smack about NYC is like slapping your mother….just not done.

  • LetsEatPizza

    I might hear Moby out if he actually grew up in New York, but he didn’t. Good to see he is getting in touch with his bad ass CT roots in an LA mansion.

  • The Bronx Art Exchange-NYC

    Jillian, you hit the nail on the head. If there are those who love LA–great, there are a lot of reasons to love it. However, when one needs to trash-talk NYC to make another city seem so much better that’s when the argument goes south. If you are going to something so profound and magically beautiful, why on earth would would waste 1 second bitterly criticizing what you left!? Makes no sense. Some friends and myself got into a debate about the article and one person mentioned that Moby still keeps an apartment here in NYC, so it that is indeed true–he appears hypocritical, at best.

  • Norma Desperate

    perfectly stated! as for Moby, the less said, the better. if he thinks that creative people can no longer contribute to the NYC landscape, then he’s better off in L.A. because lord knows, any city that spawned Juicy Couture, where everyone’s plastic surgery is a badge of honor and where everyone who serves you a drink is trying to be a screenwriter or actor, is certainly deep enough for the likes of his massive talents – and his ego.

    • http://visceralresponse.com/ visceral response

      No need to trash LA, when you’ve clearly not spent much time here, to support New York. Every city is great and every city is awful. There’s wonderful weirdness even in Boise, I’d assume, as well as out of touch rich people and vapid young ones in Milwaukee.

      LA has a thriving art culture and the largest employer is UCLA. Plus pretty deep Asian and Latin roots. And we have Michael Voltaggio and the Monte Cristo burger, so not everyone’s terrified of imperfections and we’re not the sum of our stereotypes anymore than NYC is just a bunch of thug cops stopping and frisking dark people while rich white Upper Whatever Siders step over the homeless to get in their town cars.

      So tell me why Moby’s wrong because of the great things about New York and I’ll applaud you, but using his same tactic makes you another East Coast snob.

      • Norma Desperate

        actually, I have been there – my brother lives there, so I know a bit about what I speak. also, I spent over 25 years repping actors, so I’m extremely familiar with the show biz culture of both cities, but if the best you can bring is a chef and a Monte Crisco burger my local diner’s had on the menu for over 20 years, hey, more power to you.

        Moby said that you can’t creatively contribute to a city where the 1% has taken over (so sayeth he from poolside at his mansion). did he try? did he offer to stay here and help other struggling artists? nope, he took his millions and split. I’d say that’s a snob move if ever there was one.

        • http://visceralresponse.com/ visceral response

          It’s not “the best.” We have plenty of world class chefs in LA, too, including Voltaggio’s own Ink by the way and Suzanne Goin and Mark Peel and, and, and, it was just a point against your own snobbery that LA is a bunch of vapid, plastic people. Please note that I also pointed out that the largest employer in this vapid city is a major university.

          Plus, I also mentioned the multi-cultural aspects of Los Angeles and the deep and thriving art scene. But if your life is more focused on the entertainment industry, I could see how the majority of LA that has nothing at all to do with entertainment would get past you.

          And one snob move doesn’t make your snob move correct. Is Moby a dick? Duh. But what does that make the person who employs the exact same logic in the opposite direction?

  • steppen

    YES!!!

  • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

    I think NYC is a difficult city, it’s hard to keep up with everything happening, it’s opaque, it’s fast. But all those things make it amazing if you’re willing to do the legwork, you have to meet people, you have to go outside, you have to be a little extroverted.

    The guy in the apartment next door may be a nobody and a year later the app he made has turned him into a millionaire, or the girl up the street that can’t give her art away has a show that turns her into a runaway success (but you might not know it because she’s been making art for 10 years and you never thought to say ‘hi why are your pants covered in paint?’).

    NYC is constantly reinventing itself, added and subtracting to the conversation, money may drive things. But so what? If you don’t like that find a different crowd to hang with.

  • Mark Strodl

    Yea, when I grow up I want to make it in LA. LMFAO Life as we know it ends past the GW bridge. Thats why Cristi tried to close it.

  • Mark Strodl

    But seriously, it is a rich international city, as I am sure that LA can be as well. I don’t mind anyone trashing NY, because it is just another example of how incredible that she is everyday. You have to be a total ignoramus to attempt to do so. There is no where else on earth that it’s cultural zenith reaches further, deeper, richer.

  • http://www.zacdigitalagency.com/ Zachary Adam Cohen

    Considering the author of the piece does more to attack Moby, and David Byrne, also why leave out Patti Smith, or so many of the other established artists who were once NOT that, than she does on rebutting the points made. Or what about mentioning so many of the artists that are loosely affiliated with this outlet who’s whole artistic practice is based on this whole very topic?

    Actually the piece reads more like a hope and prayer more than an intellectual rebuttal. As if New York can’t be dead, New York can’t be changed forever because i just got here and where am I supposed to go if im already here and now you are telling me its over? but but but.

    Ive lived here for 33 years and this city has absolutely lost something essential that increasing numbers of artists, politicians, thinkers, futurists, and other assholes of note are capturing, again and again and again.

    It may be that Hyperallergic feels so embedded here that to declare or join in the discussion about what New York’s lost might feel like a betrayal of some kind.

    This piece is link bait basically.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Having ruminated on this topic for months, I quite resent the accusation that this is “link bait.” The reason I don’t spend substantial time presenting an “intellectual rebuttal” is because there’s barely a scrap of anything intellectual in either of these pieces to rebut. They don’t make any new, nuanced, or thoughtful arguments. Of course New York has changed—I never said it hadn’t, and to think that would be naive at best. But just because it’s changed doesn’t mean it’s devoid of creativity or only for rich people. There’s a difference between constructively or thoughtfully criticizing/reflecting and simply condemning based on nostalgic ideas (especially when you fail to take into account your own celebrity). I’ve read many essays about NYC, and I will continue to do so, as well as write them. I salute the smart ones that actually talk about what’s changed, what’s been lost, the problems of gentrification, and what Bloomberg has wrought. But the essays I’m talking about are not those.

      • http://www.zacdigitalagency.com/ Zachary Adam Cohen

        but you didn’t discuss those, link to them, or quote them, the “smart ones” instead you took some dumb dj’s ruminations which were easily dispensed with, and which you did a fine job. How about figuring out what Moby was trying to say, and which I agree with you, he did so in a cliche’d manner. so yeah, kinda link baity.

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          There’s a time and a place. Not every piece can (or should) be everything. This was a rebuttal, meant as such—and to repeat what I said above, I didn’t find enough intelligent ideas in Moby’s piece to engage with them further than I did above. So no, not link baity. Honest.

  • Beau Toutant

    (Disclaimer: I didn’t read Moby’s essay.) I think NYC can be creatively accessible short-term. But now, it’s not sustainable. Most “creatives” in their 20s are either paying their high rents with parental help or are living with 3 or 4 people. And, most in their 30s and 40s do not want to remain in that situation, possibly aspiring to home ownership, actually building a nest egg and living by-oneself. Is NYC fun? Undoubtedly. Is it long-term affordable? Hell, no. Only if you’re financially endowed…filthy rich.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      I agree that this is a huge problem, and one I’ve been returning to more and more. I do think it’s also an issue beyond NY—DC, SF, and LA, none of those is particularly long-term affordable either. BUT, yes, real estate here is fucked, and it’s nearly impossible to stay, and that means people can’t come here and make it their home. (And many of those who have homes are losing them.)

      • Beau Toutant

        I know rents are high in cities beyond NY, especially in DC and SF, but I wonder if the salaries/fees in these are commensurate to the high cost? In NY, salaries/fees are frozen at the actual level (not adjusted), if not much lower, than that of NYC’s in the supposed creative golden ages, from the 60s through the 90s. I really don’t know…I only hope so.

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          That’s a great question. I don’t know. Will have to look into this.

  • Guido

    i find it hard to believe that anyone would waste time reading anything written by moby. he’s just a loser, no?

  • http://nickmontemagno.com/ Nick Montemagno

    Thank you for writing this! As a New Yorker myself, when I read Moby’s piece I was sick to my stomach. As many others have stated, LA is a great environment for contemporary artists, but it should not and cannot be compared to New York for the same reasons I wouldn’t compare Paris to New York, or any other creative city for that matter. Each artistically flourishing city has positives and negatives, and that can depend entirely on the individual artist. New York may work for one while LA is the place to be for another. Some may not give much of a damn as to which of the two they are in; it’s completely subjective.

    That said, the biggest crime Moby commits by writing that unoriginal and unthoughtful piece of trash is that he takes it upon himself to speak on behalf of everyone, and write condescendingly as if he knows what’s best for all creatives. Why is he so worried about other artists? Maybe he has no creative inspiration left, but a large chunk of New York still does!

    P.S. Love Hyperallergic! And this comes from someone who normally is not too fond of blogs. This one’s a keeper!

  • rthorn

    Byrne and Moby are not from NY. They are also the reason most New Yorkers can’t afford to live here anymore. We don’t need your lame views on our cool city.

  • http://www.n-gon.com/ Victor Liu

    Anger suits you. One of the best lead-ins here (actually, entertaining throughout), but wtf with the link bait accusation? Off-base.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      “Anger suits you” is like the best thing ever. Thank you.

  • gerryvisco

    Poor old Moby. He just couldn’t cut the mustard no more. I agree, driving to the mall is easier when you’re older, but I’m still shaking my ass in NYC. Also, let’s face facts. LA is cheap for millionaires like MOBY, but not for us ARTISTS WRITERS and PERFORMERS!!

  • Eyelevel Artists

    moby who?

  • J S

    Here’s something else: NEW YORK IS RUN BY NAZIS. Don’t believe me? Please tell me why, when you go out to a part in Brooklyn (and it’s always in Brooklyn, it can never be in Manhattan) there’s a 1 out of 2 chance it will be shut down by the Nazi stormtrooper police (NYPD), and if you don’t believe me please look up two venues recently shut down called 285 Kent and Steel Drums. Look up past venues Rubulad, the Lunatarium, Volume, the Old Dutch Mustard Factory, the list is endless.

    Not bad enough? How about having 14 subway lines SHUT DOWN OR REROUTED TO HELL EVERY WEEKEND, despite you paying the highest taxes in America and having the highest concentration of rich people in the country.

    Is your rent high enough? For a shitbox closet that opens out to a brick wall, where your room is just barely big enough for a full mattress and some clothes? Not giving that billionaire property developer enough rent money? Well you better stick to your nose to the grindstone for the next 20 years, otherwise THERE IS NO WAY IN HELL YOU WILL EVER AFFORD TO BE ABLE TO BUY SOMETHING IN THIS CITY.

    What’s that you say? Look at all the “It’s Showtime Folks!”-colorful people on the train as it crawls painfully slowly over the Williamsburg Bridge and you can’t escape the train car while you get kicked in the head? Not enough crazy or homeless people in the stations or on the streets you have to step over? Not enough asshole cab drivers or insane cyclists or snooty rich housewives from LI, NJ, Westchester or whatever far-flung province clogging up the streets?

    So you got to watch a crazy coked up drag queen swallow her own shit while paying for 17 dollar drinks at The Box?? My, how artistic!!!! Hope you don’t forget how your life is endlessly richer for the experience!! Maybe you can tell all your friends who never have time to see you because they’re working too hard or trying desperately to get laid but it’s damn hard because people are so pent up with rage, envy, despair, or apathy. Oh, did you get to see your favorite band at Bowery Ballroom or Governor’s Island or wherever? Where the doorpeople need your firstborn child before admitting you and the venue is so regulated by the city it feels like you’re being watched by a pervy uncle?

    Where every meal is 20 dollars, regardless of whether it’s at a restaurant or bought from a supermarket, where the only green space is in one fucking giant place that’s a pain in the ass to get to so you never go there.

    Let me tell you something, I live in a city where you don’t even NEED ID at the door of a club or bar to get in, where the buildings have TREES OUTSIDE and giant courtyards and it’s DEAD QUIET in the middle of the city, despite 3.5 million people living here, where the items in the store have NO TAX OF ANY KIND ON THEM, where cigarettes don’t cost the same as a hernia operation, where THE SUBWAYS RUN ON TIME AND ALL NIGHT AND GO EVERYWHERE AND ARE NEVER SHUT DOWN, where people bike and don’t get hit by a car or a truck or a city bus because you can actually bike on the sidewalk (and oo, maybe hit a pedestrian or two, but no one’s going to die), where the streets are FUCKING SPOTLESS, BECAUSE PEOPLE GIVE A SHIT because they weren’t raised in weak-ass public schools that are underfunded because the society is really two societies where you’re either rich or you’re poor, and you damn sure don’t want to be poor. I don’t have to eat POISON-laced food because the population of the country I live in is too stupid or too lazy to prevent the giant food corporations from putting pesticides and chemicals and gene-altered substances into what I and my kids eat, I don’t have to worry about my kids going to good schools (or paying for them), I get free care when I’m hurt or injured or I have pain or anytime I feel like it basically. The best thing of all: my rent is FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS A MONTH TO LIVE IN THE VERY HEART OF A WESTERN, INTERNATIONAL, SOPHISTICATED, COSMOPOLITAN CITY, COMPLETE WITH A GREAT TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM, HONEST POLITICIANS, AN INCREDIBLY SOUND, SOLID AND WELL-MAINTAINED INFRASTRUCTURE, AND ALL THE RESOURCES AND LUXURIES OF NEW YORK CITY. And yes, that includes being able to see coked-up drag queens eat their own shit on stage if I want to.

    No, I’m not going to tell you which city I live in, because I don’t want hordes of ugly neurotic sweaty New Yorkers fleeing their overpriced city to come here, but I can tell you, it does exist, and I am LAUGHING MY ASS OFF at anyone defending the supposedly “great life” you have there. Please, tell me another good story…

    • Beau Toutant

      JS, you’re deadly accurate about NYC. Obviously, you’ve been here. One question: Is it warm there? (I know you said you’re not going to divulge the location, but your utopian city, I believe, has to be in Europe or Canada?)

    • vladamir

      Toronto

  • OttoErotica

    The only idiots that don’t think NYC currently sucks are the 20-something morons trying to make their Daddy’s investment pay off. (But it’s only 3k/month! I’ll get a non-paying job at a blog to pay you back!) Like you couldn’t have written fact-less, snarky articles about famous people you will never met from your parents basement in Leavittown? I’m sure the author believes she’s a ‘New Yorker’ now that she lives is the ultimate cliche, Brooklyn. With a cat! Wow,you really made it. As a born and bred Brooklynite (yeah, that’s the word) Brooklyn is a place you leave. Only fools move there – and then only stay 2 years before they start talking about how NYC is dead.

  • omar yacoub

    I came to ny 21 years ago. Even then Manhattan didn’t seem worth the money if you were just trying to spend as much energy as possible on your work, rather than socializing. ( In art I think you get out what you put in). Greenpoint was nothing but polish working class and Williamsburg was equally off the hipster map. Obviously that’s all changed now, in fact it had already changed enough 12 years ago that I moved to Bedstuy. The point is: change, instability, creativity, they all tend to be present together. The nice thing about NYC is there are SO many wonderful new grungy or awesome neighborhoods for an artist to find, just like I found Greenpoint 21 years ago. From the Bronx to Queens to the neighborhoods of Brooklyn which nice ppl are cautioned to stay away from, there are always new places to live your ‘life of the mind’… Manhattan had gone the way of ’boutique lifestyle’ long ago. Why lament that?

    • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

      I completely agree with you, Omar. Why are people forgetting the fact that there are SO MANY neighborhoods in NYC? What’s wrong with living in Canarsie (which isn’t expense) or Jackson Heights, etc.

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