Monday, March 7, 2016

Get Angry

If you're on Facebook, you know about the new "reactions," a set of emojis you can choose to react to a post. Instead of just "like," you can now express: Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. You can probably guess that this is all about collecting emotional data for the purpose of advertising. But it also provides data to the individual user about how readers are reacting to their posts.

And that confirmed something I've long suspected about the emotional state of New Yorkers--at least the ones who follow Vanishing New York.

Last week, we experienced a number of losses in the city, especially in the East Village. Trash & Vaudeville left St. Mark's Place. St. Mark's Bookshop shuttered for good. The Stage restaurant announced it would not reopen. I posted the news on my Facebook page and people reacted. While the majority still used the old "like" button, many others opted for an emoji.

How do people feel about these closures? Most feel sad. And not enough feel angry.

Reacting to the news of The Stage vanishing, 22 people chose Angry while 43 chose Sad. For the closing of 69 Bayard in Chinatown, 15 were angry while 26 were sad. For Trash & Vaudeville, 80 were angry and 148 were sad. For each post, it seems that twice as many people choose sad instead of angry.

And that's not good.

While sadness is certainly a natural reaction to loss, the emotion often comes with resignation and hopelessness. It can collapse on itself, coupling with a sense of futility, and may lead to apathy. Sadness does not move anyone to take action. Sadness curls into a ball. Or it sits on the couch, clicks buttons, eats snacks, and says, "What's the point?"

Anger, on the other hand, is energizing. It helps people to move, to fight, to stand up and say "No!" Anger can lead to action and creativity. Anger can lead to positive change.

While I understand the despair and its attendant feelings of powerlessness--I feel it, too--this city needs angry people. But every time I post news of a closure, I watch the Sad faces multiply twice as fast as the Angry faces.

I suspect that you feel more sad than angry because you think that all these losses are inevitable, part of the natural cycle of normal urban change. Listen: These losses are not inevitable and they are not natural. They are the direct result of decades of public policy. And policy can be changed--but only angry people can change them.

We can act up against the homogenization of our city. We can act up against hyper-gentrification. We can act up against rising rents and evictions. It is not futile. We are not powerless. But you're going to have to get angry. You're going to have to muster something better than a sad face.

Go to #SaveNYC and Take Action. Send a letter. Start a group. Organize an event, a protest, a rally. Make public art. Even simpler: Just talk about what's happening in a different way.

This is important. Stop saying "it's sad." Stop saying "New York is always changing." I'm sick of hearing that one. While there is of course truth in that statement, it is being used to disempower you and distract you from the truth. While we're on the topic, you are not "just being nostalgic." You are watching a city die. It is a global pandemic. It is real. And it has been engineered by the people in power. Doesn't that piss you off?

We have to change the discourse around this or we will not have a city tomorrow. At the very least, shift your emotions. An emotional shift can take us in a different direction. Get angry. Then tell your friends and families and coworkers that you're angry. Tell them that these changes are not natural. Tell them you're not just being nostalgic. And tell them what can be done to save the city.

Let New York see your angry face. It's now or never.


James Steeber said...

"Sad" is almost a red cape word for me, on Facebook.
I deal with similar topics in another city, aside from my own NYC, and I get the "sad" comment often, which I kind of abhor. "Sad" means "nothin' we can do about it". "Sad" means acceptance of the inevitable, as if the hand of G-d, not people, were bringing about these changes. Sadly (there I go now), the electorate in this country does something similar - awaiting the outcome before getting involved. Perhaps some success stories where people thwarted a closing or an eviction might be good to share.
Our neighborhood just got pretty active in resisting having our Associated supermarket (hardly the best but reliable) become a Walgreen's, via a large landlord who, of course, wanted to charge quintuple (or some hideous thing) the current rental of the property. Local board members and even Scott Stringer got involved. We don't yet know how this will end. Thankfully, people didn't simply say "sad", with a shrug, and then march on.

catt55 said...

Where's the middle finger emoji?? Because that's really how I'm sure most of us feel!

zuzuzpetals said...

Jane Jacobs sure as hell was angry. And she saved Washington Square Park for all of us. Without her anger, there would be a four to six lane highway through it.

Wake up people.

laura rubin said...

dont forget there was supposed to be an expressway through central park. NYC is one of the more civilized places in the world. in "developing countries" they demolish parks down to the last tree. either for a super highway, or mall or what ever it for the public good. (ha)! i mean corporate greed. enjoy what you have left.

John K said...

Strong agreement here about the "sad" vs. "angry" response, but I imagine that what partially motivates people toward the response of sadness is a sense of deep frustration and impotence because we're now into Governor Cuomo's second term and halfway into Bill de Blasio's first (with a new City Council head, etc.), but there's been no substantive change in terms of legislation to protect small businesses, to check the rapacious real estate industry, to develop truly affordable housing, to rezone to stop the hypergentrification, or to reform the laws and lack of regulations that are culturally razing New York City.

I also agree about taking action. But say you support *Save New York* wholeheartedly, you write, you protest, you engage the local community boards, the politicians, the media--then what? The laws are still the same. The laws still benefit billionaires, especially the real estate industry. The laws still provide tax abatements and incentives for those with money and almost nothing for small businesses and regular New Yorkers. How do we change this? And it's not just New York, it's happening in a number of cities around the US, and the globe. How do we get through to the politicians that could actually change things, especially when we don't have millions and freebies to throw around like those with money and power do?

It's doable, but people may feel sad and frustrated because they don't know how, and they don't see things changing, they're only worsening with accelerating speed.

Joey Blau said...

I gave up on the city. I was born here went to chool and worked here and found it to be crowded dirty expensive and annoying. And now bland and stupid. I was happy to retire and live in the country on a lake. I come in for some things, but seriously, masses of tourists, hipsters or Bros does nothing for me.