Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years Later

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

See Also:
Wisco Nice
Brooklyn Eats Manhattan (via Portland)
Gated New York
The Joneses Are Here
How 9/11 Sells


---------m said...

thank you once again jeremiah - for your clarity of perception of the 'new' new york state of being

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I left New Your City about 15 years ago after living there for almost 50+ years. I miss it very much and though I went back about 2 years ago it wasn't the same anymore. The danger, the darkness, the paranoia, everything was simply too merry and bright, a small town USA. It wasn't the city I grew up in. I suppose Giuliani and Bloomburg sleep peacefully in the night, hope they rot and turn over in their graves.

Elizabeth Manus said...

I may be that the conditions for change were optimal when the attacks occurred. From what I can tell, the big box stores and the condo proliferation was a creeping phenomenon for many years before. And Giuliani's car-friendliness benefitted people with a more suburban mindset.

Anonymous said...

This post really hits on so many levels. I honestly chose to avoid the radio/television/etc today, because I can't stand the ultra-patriotic drivel that's now connected with the WTC (particularly in that I live in Texas nowadays) - but this post is exactly what I needed to see. I agree with Elizabeth Manus as well - conditions were fast ripening for the mall-ification of NYC, when the attacks occurred.

Your examples of the American populace embracing NYC after 9/11 are all too true. I remember my sister-in-law (a truly stereotypical midwesterner) chiding me endlessly for my choice to move to NYC - she couldn't even allow the hackneyed praise of "Nice place to visit, but not to live" to be uttered. She basically hated the very idea of what NYC was. However, once 9/11 took place, it was all, "Our hearts are with you... we're planning on visiting and seeing 'Ground Zero'... New York is the heart of America!" - sickening. While I appreciate honest support, this was basically empty sentimentality, riding along with whatever the general populace had to say.

And sure enough, the tourists came, the cupcakes arrived... you know the story. I just really wanted to let you know that this post hit a profound nerve, largely for its truth.

Keep up the good work, as always!

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Anon. i also find this day, and all the media coverage, to be frustrating. that's not exactly the word. i think about how the New Yorker's experience of 9/11 became almost immediately co-opted by the rest of the country, the way having "been there," in the city, on 9/11 became something that people wanted to experience. as if breathing in that dust for days and being traumatized and terrified was a patriotic and heroic act.

i also agree with Elizabeth--the changes were already coming, already here. but i do think this psychic shift--"New York is America now"--pushed it to the point of no return.

lastly, would Bloomberg have been elected without 9/11? i voted for Mark Green that fall. one way or the other, without the attacks, this would be a different city today.

Michael D. Subrizi said...

well written, but don't worry NYC will change patient Jeremiah or their always cryogenic freezing like Hans Solo

Anonymous said...

1:08 Anon here again (I ought to just log in - old computer here, that hates filling out logins) - just wanted to second your mention that the New Yorkers' experiences were co-opted. When I hear people start up with the mawkish 9/11 talk, I actually refrain from bringing up the fact that I lived there for some years, and remember the date all too painfully well. Folks who know me and my past residence there tend not to talk about it, or approach it on a deeper level.

I should add the real shock that I got on Friday - I was at work, and a customer actually smiled at me on the way out the door, and said, "Happy 9/11!" That one made me cringe - and while I acknowledge that this person is usually a really decent person, I have to wonder if the event honestly has been made into a holiday of sorts. Sickening...

HPK said...

I lived in Manhattan during the summer of '93, but left - not enough money or chutzpah to make it. I'm still looking for the slightly sleazy, be-what-you-want, love-who-you-want city that some of Midtown still was at that point. Areas of San Diego have fulfilled a bit of that for me, curious for such a conservative area, but I return to NYC every few years looking for those ghosts. Thank you, Jeremiah, for your memories and your insight.

lauran said...

woody allen had it right. as long as hollywood & media are run by jews, NYC will always be apart. after all hollywood is brooklyn west of NY. i was reading a "white nationalist" web sight, many posts written by PHD professors etc. so i got curious- being jewish, & a media person. the major complaint from the heartland was that TV since the 80s has mostly jewish comedies (new york based characters) etc. & the "rest of america" could not relate. especially to the "obscene content" ! they wanted to bring back the 1950s -1970s TV. i wrote on the blog (as a jewish person) that if these shows (larry davids "curb your enthusiam", sienfeld reruns etc) did not make $ then they would not get advertisers. & it seemed many of the bloggers knew more about these shows than i did. this web sight was for "nordic race christian americans" & they described them selves as "fly over" country. mostly intelligent people, some very anti semitic. they did have one article (written by a jewish film critic) about how in the 1950s, jewish producers made sure that most of the major sitcoms/films were not too "ethnic", as it would alienate america. then later, that restraint lifted. in spite of new york's sleezy media image (rap in brooklyn, gay oriented TV shows, jewish/black/latino humor)... flyover is HERE! it has not alienated them. jeremiah's correct. between the world trade center, & all the tourist BS, well NY is just about honkey dory for america.

lauran said...

i grew up in new york. & spent most of my life between new york, LA, & miami beach. the rest didnt count. i never got to see real america untill the 80s, when i was working in the heartland. what was bizarre was sometimes i forgot what state i was in. as it all looked alike when i was in surburbia. & whats the difference between ohio indiana idaho....i never knew my geography anyway. i was lucky only 3 xs to see "main street u.s.a." & these towns were in farming communities. this way of life was disappearing before new york started to change. america lost it culture way before new york did. malls fast food chain box stores have taken over the world. & to change the subject: anon 3:38pm "happy 9/11"????? that says it all. its a holiday now, & an excuse to fly into new york for the tail end of labor day holidays. its an excuse to have a pat down @airport, take a room @the marionette, go to the gift shops, buy a mug w/an apple on it, see times square, oh yes get a tee shirt which says soho sept.11th.

Ed said...

I generally agree that at least culturally New York during Bloomberg's mayoralty has become more of a "generic" American city than before, and there is a much bigger gap here between the Bloomberg years and the Giuliani years than between the Giuliani years and even the Lindsay era.

However, I have some questions:

1. What is the anomaly, the city as it was in the 70s (and to some extent the 80s and 90s) or the city as it became in the 00s? There is an argument that the bohemian New York of the 70s came about due to temporary circumstances, the country turning its back on all inner cities, but New York, while taking a big hit economically and in population, was too big to quite die the way most other inner cities did. At other periods there wasn't such a big gap between New York and the rest of the country.

2. Suppose we want a big event to mark the beginning of the current era. It doesn't have to actually have to have caused the change. But are the September 11th attacks really a better marker than the Republican convention in 2004? Grant it, the convention probably would have been located elsewhere without the attacks. But I remember the city becoming much more, for lack of a better term, tighter in 2003-4, after the blackout. In my memory, the years starting in 2004 sort of blend in with each other, but 2002 still feels like the late 1990s.

3. Has the city really become just like elsewhere in the US? Its still much more pedestrian friendly than just about anyplace else, for example. The look and feel of the city is still different, more pre-WW2 buildings have been preserved. I'm typing this from a small city in the South and I think New Yorkers don't realize how strange just having a big densely populated city is at all compared to the rest of the US. I agree that in other places its now easier to fade into anonymity and do your own thing.

4. How much of an effect did new restrictions on foreigners living and working, or even travelling, in the US have on the change in New York? This is complicated, because the US effectively has at least two immigration policies, one for low skilled labor and one for everyone else. But the less American feel of New York may have been because so many people in Manhattan were, well, not Americans. I'm aware that there are large numbers of immigrants in the outer boroughs, who work in service industries in Manhattan, but the big change in the tone of the city has been specifically in lower and mid Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn.

Should the city have become more like the rest of the US? If you had asked me that in 1990 I would say economically, yes, but culturally, no, but we seem to have gotten the opposite.

Emily said...

I lived in NYC for many years and go back and visit once a year.Most of the quirky wonderful things are gone. I was there last year and noticed that midtown east has become the manicure and pedicure capital of the world just walk up second avenue starting around 45th street. On Monday things are quiet but they work up to a fever pitch on the weekend.

Marty Wombacher said...

Great 9-11 essay, Jeremiah. When David Letterman came out wearing a flag pin on his coat I knew we were fucked.

Crazy Eddie said...

Jeremiah, great piece, it should be on today’s Op Ed page of the NY Times.

Question: How do you say Bloomberg in Yiddish?
Answer: Giuliani.

cityofstrangers said...

Hi Jeremiah,

Interesting post, one of the better I've read recently about 9-11. I would agree though with some commentators that the change was already in place before 9-11 - late 90's NYC was well on its way to becoming what it is now. If anything, 9-11 slowed that down. Many of the gentrifying class left the city, and in general NY became a much warmer place. You felt connected with everyone in the city. I agree with Ed that the real change started around 2004 or so, with the Bush re-election, the Iraq war. I agree with Ed as well that the new political climate kept out a lot of foreigners who might have otherwise come here. Quite a number of people commented on that at the time.

I was back in Canada for a couple of months when 9-11 took place. My then girlfriend, a native NYer, was though and was in Soho when the first tower went down. When I came back, we went down to the Ground Zero site. Already, the first responders still sorting through the wreckage, a family with midWestern accents was taking pictures of each other posing in front of the rubble, quite oblivious to the memorials, or my girlfriend crying, or the exhausted, very obviously traumatized workers coming and going from the site. Incredible.


Jeremiah Moss said...

Ed, thanks for your thoughtful question. i wish i could give them all thoughtful answers. maybe some readers will jump in?

i wonder most about question #1--was it only in the 70s that NYC became "not America"? i'm not sure. i suspect that, due to its long history of harboring bohemians and other nonconformists, the city was exceptional at least during the 20th century.

undeniably, though, 9/11 made NYC "heroic" and "patriotic" in the minds of many Americans--though we here did not necessarily see ourselves that way.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i meant to say questions, plural.

thanks crazy eddie--i wrote a version of this essay awhile ago as an op-ed for the Daily News, but it was related to the mosque controversy, and it didn't make it in.

Ed and COS, why 2004 as the dividing line? it seems that major changes were already in effect. also 2001 is when Bloomie got elected. but you're right about the late 90s--the zombies had already started arriving.

Eric Brasure said...

@Anonymous 3:38:

I don't exactly know what I would have done if someone wished me a "Happy 9/11", but I do know that it would have required bail.

Caleo said...

First, excellent piece, as always.
Second, It's fascinating that others are mentioning 2004.
For me, the blackout in 2003 was not only one of the best nights of my life ( spent most of it in TSP around the bonfire ), but almost a last gasp of Old NYC, a last hurrah, before the forces of gentrification truly put their foot on the accelerator and cleared away all the shadows and ghosts.
Yes, those forces were certainly picking up serious steam in the late 90's, but in the 8 years since the blackout, the forces of luxurification have been in overdrive, resulting in the endless closures/disappearances so eloquently detailed on this blog.
And it always did bother me that it took 1000's of New Yorkers being murdered for the rest of the country to " accept " us.
I, for one, don't need their acceptance.

Gary A. Wexler said...

Is it possible that the customer uttering "Happy September 11th" was being sarcastic and the author just didn't see it?

I sure hope so!

Elizabeth Manus said...

Back again, Jeremiah, just to return to your point about the city being cradled in the arms of the nation.

Yes, exactly.

I think some people in the city felt lonely and sad in an entirely new way. The wise baby knows that there's no such thing as a free cradling (a "freedom cradling"?)

So it could be that the psychic shift is spiked with a profound sense of alienation.

Did the terrorists win? The government certainly did.

A French friend told me, "Welcome to the rest of the world."

A Californian friend asked me why New Yorkers were hoisting flags. Why, she wanted to know, weren't they filling their windows with flowers?

Some days I think, "I love New York," and many days I think, "I miss it so."

Anonymous said...

I've been out of NYC for a number of years now, but I will always be a New Yorker to my core.

I'm completely disgusted at the complete walmartinazation of 9/11.

it's as if the buildings fell and the deaths were but a side note. They pay "tribute" to the dead, but they don't honor them.

It's just another reason for corporate retail American to run sales for the midwestern mouthbreathers.

I spent my day quietly and reflected on my friends I lost that day.

Any shred of dignity, we once had as a nation, has been lost.

Katrink said...

Beautiful. Thanks.

vashtie said...

this article truly summed it all up. I had to reblog this on my site

thank you.

it makes me sad, yet it gives me insight on how the new york city i've known changed for the worse...

randall said...

@ Anon 8:26,

I wouldn't even say the dignity has been lost, I'd say it's been sold.
What I found particularly repulsive were the "memorial" ads on during the NFL games yesterday. Not that I'd expect anything less, but I was really hoping for more.

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering this morning if the terrorists WOULD think they had won. We're in this perpetual recession, Democrats and Republicans are so divided they avoid finding common ground on purpose. Both just seem like tickmarks on their agenda, you know?

Anonymous said...

the big change in this entire continent was in 2005. but the "prep" was around '04/03. there were a few massive global events: 1) the "NW corridor" to connect mexico to canada was completed. this was secret & illegal. 2) the NA trade agreement went wild. in many different & corrupt ways, this affected mexico, central america, middle america & yes new york! its a very long story but it all works together on a global level. it is very complex & too long to explain on this blog. the changes in mex/central america are beyound imagination. the global business complex is well..."global......" things kind of happen together. back to NYC & some other specifics: this is not about yunnies, bunnies & bars. universities have become corporations & now theres several thousand more students here to get useless degrees in an over credentialized society. they need housing, stores, what ever, & many of them will stay in new york, & yes many college kids are from the mid west. enough about trashing people who have careers. this is not about "sex in the city", please.... tourists on bleeker yes thats bad, & yes that IS from TV. people have to stop being so naive & self absorbed. also the colleges are a very small part of the picture. there are billions being poured into new york etc. most of these properties which will be residental are not for yuppies students what ever. there will be a flood of executives form china etc coming to new york for meetings. they need empty apts for their stays. thats also a long complicated explanation. as long as people see this as a simplistic thing.... well new yorkers can be simple simons. as for the "attacks"- whether its related to the globalization i cant get into. i have seen some documentries which tie it together, no conpiracy theories today. i think this would have happend w/out 9/11. but its all like a network, & one big OP.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jeremiah. I share your feelings, and the piece is beautifully written, as always.

The thing that really sticks in my craw is how now, just as before the attacks, so many people love to bash on NYC -only now they do it a mere 364 days a year. On 9/11, they think they're all New Yorkers.

Anonymous said...

After 9/11/01 we allowed the invaders in and lost our city. We need to regain our home either by revolution, crime rates back to 70-80's proportions and for the soul sucking, carpetbagging Bloomrat to be hanged, drawn and quartered, burned at the stake in Times Square with a carton of cigarettes and container of trans fat shoved down his esphagos. Perhaps a repeat of the 1977 blackout?

laura said...

anon 6:36pm which invaders? the muslims? thanks to your politically correct delusional axs. you want crime? move to the bronx. be careful what you wish for, you may just get your wish.

Anonymous said...


A very confused 6:36pm here. I don't see anything in my post that states any anti muslim sentiment. If you, or anyone else for that matter, feels I did, my sincerest apologies.