Thursday, August 27, 2009

Naked City

I keep thinking about the sexual exhibitionism of the Standard Hotel guests and why, as much as it has captured the national attention, it isn't quite as compelling as one might hope.

First, a quote from Penelope Green's 2007 New York Times article "Yours for the Peeping," on the proliferation of glass towers in the new New York:

"City life has always been to some degree a public performance, and one of its pleasures is the opportunity to catch a glimpse of other habitats, to watch the movie of others’ lives through a half-drawn curtain, as Jimmy Stewart did in 'Rear Window.' But in the same way overheard phone conversations used to be tantalizing until cellphone use reached saturation point — 'I’m on 14th and Fifth,' bellows the guy into his Bluetooth, and your ear — ogling other people’s apartments is no longer so appealing..."

In the old New York of Rear Window, we do catch glimpses. Of Miss Lonelyhearts and her candlelit supper for one.

Of Miss Torso with her balletic legs and many suitors. Of luckless pianists, giddy newlyweds, bored housewives, and violent husbands. All of them unaware they are being seen. All of them caught in flashes and moments, half-hidden by curtains and brick walls. In the blanks, we are left to fill in the story for ourselves, using our imaginations. That is what the gazed-upon city as depicted in Rear Window was all about--the creation of mystery.

At the High Line's Standard Hotel, there is no mystery. The hotel management instructs, via their Facebook page, "We encourage you to exercise your inner exhibitionist... It's all about sex all the time, and you're our star."

What stories are we meant to create from these scenes? These aren't glimpses we catch of people caught unawares in their everyday life, but wholly exposed performances staged like the dullest of movie scenes. In his direction, the luxury hotelier lacks the depth and nuance of Hitchcock.

In this glass slab, a man opens his towel and blandly displays his penis to the crowd below.

photo: NY Post

Another shows off his magazine-glossy muscles and tighty-whities.

photo: NY Post

Men masturbate in tandem. Couples press against the glass while having sex. Nude women pick up lamps and wave them in front of the window to call attention from viewers, "Look at us!"

All of them have paid hundreds of dollars to be in those high-flung fishbowls. And all of them stand as close to the glass as they can get, where every murky aquarium-green window frame is the same, each scene starkly similar to the next.

photo: NY Post

None of this is as sexy as Hitchcock's Miss Torso in the arms of a sailor. Nor as seductive as the red-haired man smoking a pipe in his pajamas in Carson McCullers' short story "Court in the West Eighties," another classic of urban window voyeurism.

In the Rear Window city, in its tenement backyards and apartment-house courtyards, drama unfolded like an old striptease, piece by piece, simultaneously revealing and disguising. The uninvited viewer felt furtive, yearning, filled with the thrill of voyeuristic taboo. Like Jimmy Stewart, he longed to know what was happening behind the curtains. Like Grace Kelly, she could spin from it a romantic, tragic tale.

Each window was a world--unique, colorful, half-hidden--loaded with possibility. In those old windows, we saw not flat-screen-TV objects, but subjects like ourselves.

There are 8 million stories in the naked city. What story are the High Line's naked people trying to tell us?


EV Grieve said...

I haven't read a lot on the Standard's ongoing PDGO campaign (Public Display of Getting Off). But is it common knowledge yet that the Hotel is hiring model types/actors/what not/ to do all this?

Because I haven't seen any everyday-looking people in the photos. You know, the guy with the beer gut and three-inch chubby, for instance. Or the woman with the breasts that look exactly the same from any angle.

Or are imperfect-looking hotel guests given rooms facing the airshaft?

And what happened to the days of the man seeming shamed about coming out of the peep booths... hopeful that no one spots him on the street; worried that people might know he was inside jacking off. People might think he was a perv!

Anonymous said...

Some clever person will set up a panel and start rating these morons with numbers like in the olympics.

Want to stop these frustrated egomaniacs? give them all zeros. LOL

Jeremiah Moss said...

are they really hiring models? i'd like to see some chunky people, too. or at least some creative costuming. how about that? there's nothing less sexy than complete nudity. how about some jaunty hats?

NYC Rhymology said...

It smacks of narcissistic neediness and it's unerotic. Much like someone on the street dressed in over-the-top revealing clothing, it cries out, "I am desperate for your attention!"

I'd say that yunnies and big glass windows are a marriage made in heaven. Or, in the case of the exhibitionists, as close as they'll get to a perfect marriage, since their exhibitionism reveals one thing above all: they get their sexual thrills from exposing themselves, not from actual intimacy. In that respect they are handicapped people with their own special needs.

Bowery Boogie said...

i get the feeling these PR stunts will backfire.

kingb said...

This city is full of brats
and/or i'm growing old and bitter

either way, i dont like it here anymore

is it me or has the city shifted too much towards a young (aka 20-something) / wealthy (or at least trying to act wealthy) clique? I mean, there was always some of it, but to me it seemed like at least "the adults were in charge". I dont think thats the case anymore.

Girl said...

Great post, Jeremiah. Recently saw "Rear Window" again and was reminded of what a truly great film it is. What's left unseen is so much sexier and seductive than these pathetic loser narcissists who actually believe they're interesting, hot, and are creating performance art by posing nude, having sex and/or masturbating? Yawn. What assholes. I can't wait for this publicity stunt to wear off and the hotel to shut down. Karma's a bitch.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

The weird thing is that the neighborhood used to be known for its public displays of lewdness and this hotel (and others) have obliterated that scene. Now they seem to be trying to reclaim the very thing they destroyed, but it's staged and fake - a sanitized and scripted version of the old Meatpacking District for the Thursday Night Prime Time viewing masses...all they need is a laugh track.

Jeremiah Moss said...

goggla, you took the words right out of my mouth. i was just thinking about how this really fits perfectly with the new high line park, which is a sanitized version of the old high line.

this neighborhood was once filled with sexual "perverts" (and i mean that as a compliment)--big fat leather daddies, angry trans girls--few of whom were "model perfect."

the argument that this display keeps the history of perverse sex alive in Meatpacking is off the mark.

the sexual adventurers who once prowled those streets did so because they lived on the fringes of society--they were marginalized. there is nothing marginal about the Standard's guests.

KnicksBasketballNY said...

What ever happened to your hamster?

I remember you mentioning him in a similar post a few months ago.

Having already experienced living in a glass bowl and being seen by different people on a daily basis, how would you hamster feel about all of this?

Anonymous said...

It's OK for the city to ban go go bars and peep shows, but this is OK?

hntrnyc said...

must be a real drag when you spend that much time and dough to think you look that great just to realize nobody cares.....
perhaps one day these same people may realize that they themselves are just as disposable as the life they have created.......the aesthetic bankruptcy marches on. Ugly Stalinesque hotel architecture included.

btw, great post Jeremiah, I love any reference to that marvelous series.

Anonymous said...

I think the New York of 2009 is a bunch of try hards. Everybody is trying to hard to re-create a quirky,
eccentric, NYC vibe and it's DEAD.
Manhattan barely has any juice left as far as quirky and eccentric. It's filled with a bunch of posers.

The only one's with juice are the locals who have been here before the "change" happened, and even the few thousand or so left, are beginning to vacate and soon completely gone.

To be honest it really pisses me off that that New Yorkers who have been here for so many years are moving to dead end places like Jersey and Long Island (no offense to those places) but they are retreating! It sucks.

To me, just be real and be yourself. Don't come here trying to act like a New Yorker. It takes YEARS AND YEARS to become New York. You can't study it on some online guide.

It takes years of molding to the city to understand how it works and meeting thousands of people.

Anonymous said...

Crap, I booked The Standard for an upcoming past due visit to my home town (yeah, another displaced New Yorker here), just thinking it would be nice & new with pleasing amenities and a good location and now all these articles I am running into about the superficial/artificial peepshow are putting me off...

Can a cynical introvert non scenster enjoy this place or is it officially lost to the naked attention whores?

Anonymous said...

You could call a mental health hotline and explain your predicament, but the part-time work/study counselor with no health insurance on the other end of the line will tell you what I’m telling you now: GET OUT.

Rabid, soulless, douche bags have overrun the city.

And you’re broke.

If not financially, then mentally and spiritually.

You can’t fight all of them.

There was a time when you could fight them, yes, even two or three at once, verbally if that worked, but if not, with a tire iron or a sport sock filled with rolls of quarters.

But not now.

You can’t beat an infestation.

It’s time to get off the anti-depressants.

It’s time to leave New York.