Until 9/11, New York was not quite America.
In 1977’s Annie Hall, Woody Allen joked: “the failure of the country to get behind New York City is anti-Semitism… The rest of the country looks upon New York like we're left-wing Communist, Jewish, homosexual, pornographers.” At the same time, a spokesman for Gerald Ford, in those “drop dead” days of fiscal crisis, compared New York to “a wayward daughter hooked on heroin.” Throughout the 20th century, the city was seen as the anti-America, a space apart, exceptional. Despite Giuliani’s Disneyfication efforts, this vision of the city continued through the 1990s, when New York magazine’s cover story explained “Why America Hates New York.” In short, we were liberal, multicultural, and bereft of the right-wing’s version of Christian Family Values.
It was a badge of honor that many New Yorkers, especially Manhattanites, wore with pride. The city was different, brighter, better than the Heartland. It eschewed suburban norms and snubbed the shopping mall. It was a beacon to those of us who never fell in step with the “American way”--the artsy, lefty, Commie, and queer among us—and we came here to make art, make a mess, and find ourselves in a city that embraced and understood us in ways our hometowns and families of origin never could.
Then it all changed.
photo: According to G
On the morning after 9/11, the fractured, frightened city awoke to find itself cradled in the arms of the nation. It was a major turning point. After that terrible day, we heard the phrase “We are all New Yorkers” echoed across the country and the globe. Suddenly, New York was viewed as acceptably American as apple pie. The New York Observer proclaimed, “The Heartland Loves New York.” Lower East Side radicals who had once burned the flag in protest were now hanging Old Glory from their fire escapes. For a little while, it felt good to be accepted into the fold. But then the floodgates opened. Despite the consistently high terror threat level, the city now seemed safe, familiar, normal, and newcomers with suburban sensibilities flowed in, giddy to realize their Sex and the City dreams.
In the past decade, more than ever, New York City has become a vertical Suburbia—complete with big-box shopping mall experiences, golf courses, and condos that function like gated communities with manicured rooftop lawns and barbecues. The city has lost its cranky, critical, cultural soul. Ten years after 9/11, we are no longer the black sheep. We’re just like everybody else.
As Fran Lebowitz recently said in an interview, "Present-day New York has been made to attract people who didn’t like New York. That’s how we get a zillion tourists here, especially American tourists, who never liked New York. Now they like New York. What does that mean? Does that mean they’ve suddenly become much more sophisticated? No. It means that New York has become more like the places they come from."
Maybe the terrorists have "won" after all.
photo: According to G
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