Friday, March 23, 2018

Now More than Ever!

When Richard Nixon ran for re-election in 1972 -- in what was then the dirtiest, most crime-ridden campaign before 2016 -- his slogan was "Nixon: Now More than Ever!"

Now, almost half a century later, we find ourselves living with another corrupt, dangerous president who, embarrassingly enough, is also from NYC.

Yet he happens to be just one of the 8.6 million people -- you read that number right -- who call the "Big Apple" home (although he currently doesn't live here, thank the Lord Almighty). 

A new Census Bureau survey indicates that the population of our dear city is bigger than ever.  There are now, literally, more New Yorkers than ever before. In the 400+ history of NYC, never before have this many people lived within the five boroughs. The population has increased by almost 450,000 since 2010. We're now past the halfway point where, pretty soon, this'll be the place where we'll be talking about "nine million stories in the naked city."

But forget the gasbag from NYC who's currently stinking up the White House. Instead, read about this New Yorker, an amazing artist who uses metals and "overlooked materials" in his work. These are the kind of people who make this city great and, in the end, give us hope.

And we need hope -- now more than ever!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Memo from NYC

There are certain cities, at certain points in time, that become legendary, mythic, memorable; that grab the popular imagination for years, decades afterwards.

These cities and their golden eras are usually powered by a unique perfect storm of artistic creativity, cultural exuberance, sexual liberty, and, most of all, lifestyle, something that makes people from far away -- geographically, even temporally -- say, "I want to go there! I want to be there! I want to be part of it! I want to live that way!" 

And, most of all, "I wish I had been there!"   

To whit: Paris in the 1920s (think Midnight in Paris). Berlin in the early 1930s (think Cabaret). London in the 1960s (think Blowout). NYC in the 1970s (think Taxi Driver or early Saturday Night Live). 

And Portland in the 2010s. Think Portlandia

The popular sketch TV show is ending tonight after eight seasons. It's had an amazing run.

Perhaps it's too early to declare this but I will: thanks to this show, thanks to the era it started in (2011) and captured (mostly the Obama era), thanks to the "hipster lifestyle" it both ridiculed and lionized, Portlandia and Portland in the second decade of the 20th century have now gone into the history books as a city and era that will be remembered decades later as a mythic time and place. It defined something uniquely American at the time, something culturally trailblazing, and we'll be studying this place and its era in the future. 

Want to understand what hipster culture in general and the city of Portland were like at this time? Watch Portlandia. And understand Portland. It's that simple.

Remember Girls? The ultimate NYC hipster show of the 2010s started a year after Portlandia and ended a year earlier. It existed in the shadows of this show, almost like a satellite. Girls wouldn't have made sense without Portlandia.  

I take a little bit of pride that I was onto this show and its influence at the time. In 2010, a year before Portlandia premiered, I visited the city itself and had a great, memorable time. I saw it then as a special place, a city just bursting with culture and creativity, a place where people wanted to live and thrive (or retire, as the joke goes). 

Then, a year later, along came the show. I thought it would be good. I didn't realize it would become so popular and last almost a decade!

But eras end -- they have to or otherwise they aren't special, unique. Paris in the 1920s and Berlin in the 1930s were destroyed by Depression and War. London in the 1960s petered out. NYC in the 1970s went from crazy to boring. And Portland in the 2010s ... well Trump.

Great as it was, Portlandia these days seems more dated and a little less relevant. We can no longer laugh at the hipster lifestyle in quite the same way when the cloud of fascism hangs over it. And Portland, apparently, is no longer the same city that the TV show first parodied. 

You can't fully appreciate an era until it's long over and another era has come and gone. It doesn't come into clear, mental relief until the biases of its day are gone. So twenty-years from now we'll look back at Portlandia and laugh again. 

For now, however, we bid it adieu. From a grateful New Yorker, thanks for the laughs! 

Is Nixon the One?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A #MeToo Manhattan Rhapsody

For a long time, Manhattan was considered Woody Allen's quintessential movie.

Released in 1979, it tells the story of Isaac Davis (played by Woody), a New York writer who is caught at the intersection of romantic, professional, and personal struggles. He's 42, twice divorced, and has recently quit his miserable but high-paying TV writing job to work on a novel. Also, his best friend is having an affair, one that Isaac gets drawn into. Ultimately, he realizes that his friend is not really his friend, the woman he thinks he loves is not who he thinks she is, and that he hasn't really valued the people and things in his life that give him real happiness.

Yes, one of those people includes his 17-year old girlfriend. 

To me this movie has always been about what and who we value, about what we do with our lives, and who we let into them. It asks the question "Who and what makes us happy?" -- and why? And it says that, in order to do this, we must embrace optimism, no matter how hard it is. The final line of the movies says it all: "You just have to have a little faith in people."

None of the matters today. The themes and messages of Manhattan are no longer cared about. They've been lost completely. This amazing movie is now viewed as something criminal. 

Why? Because of the 17 year old -- or, as one character says in the movie, "the little girl."

Needless to say, I take a slight umbrage with this blunt dismissal of this classic film. I have two daughters, and wouldn't (and will not!) brook such a relationship with them. But I think a few things should be kept in mind when evaluating this movie, this relationship, and the ensuing broo-haha in light of the #MeToo movement.  

First point: the idea that Isaac is exploiting the 17-year old is, in fact, clearly refuted in the film. Issac is constantly agonizing over the relationship, realizes it’s inappropriate, and eventually ends it. He adores this girl but realizes that she’s just too young.

So, you might ask, why does this relationship even exist in Manhattan in the first place? Isn't Woody still a perve anyway?

That gets to my second point: Woody Allen was born in 1935 and got married in the mid-1950s when he was 19. He came from a generation when many people got married and started families right out of high school, meaning they had begun their courtship before graduation Back then, childhoods were short, adulthoods began once school (not college, not grad school, not your twenties) was over. The idea that a 17-year old was still a "child" was not, up until recently, a real concept. These days, society has extended childhood -- and all the protection it demands -- well into what was once considered (and legally still is) adulthood. But this is a recent, very recent, phenomenon. So a woman (or girl, depending on your view) dating an older man was not the scandal in 1979 that it is in 2018. 

And this raises my third point: The idea that 17 year-olds were then, or are now, these precious little flowers, these innocent creatures who must in protected at all costs, is a relatively new one in our society. I remember being 17 back in the 1990s and many of my peers that age were living fast and hard (with all that implies). They were not "innocent" creatures -- hardly. They had fake IDs, they snuck into bars and clubs, they stayed out all night, they smoked weed (and did harder drugs), they partied, and yes, they had sex with people, lots of people, including older people. Again, they were hardly innocents -- they were agents of their own destinies, masters of their own fates, in control of what they did with their bodies. Perhaps they lacked maturity but if you look at our president -- the oldest one we've had in history -- maturity is not necessarily tied to age.

Should a movie with a relationship like the one in Manhattan be made today? Probably not. If she was in grad school, around the age of 25, it might be better -- although some might still consider that creepy. Which also begs the question: where's the line where the age difference between a man and woman in love isn't creepy? When it is okay? Who's the arbiter of this? Who's to say? 

Fourth point: if you reject Manhattan because you find this relationship offensive, then you must also reject, well, A LOT of stuff. Why is Manhattan more scandalous than say Revenge of the Nerds, where a woman is raped and is played for laughs? Cultural revisionism needs to have some standards otherwise its just everyone’s separate opinion and ultimately means nothing.

I don't think Manhattan should be rejected or not watched today. After all, if it wasn't such a great movie, why would The New York Times be running long, agonizing "think pieces" about a movie that came out 40 years ago, when Jimmy Carter was still president and disco was still popular? Instead, we should take a "mature" or "woke" approach: watch the movie, appreciate what a great work of cinematic art it is, and also recognize that the central relationship in the film, while not entirely appropriate, was more appropriate at the time even though it's outrageous by today's standards. We call that "context." #MeToo. 

First Day o'Spring Nor'Eastern!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Fake MTA

When getting around NYC, it's best to have a sense of humor. Delays, frustrations, etc. with the subway and buses is part of the deal and one has to deal with the best we can.

That's why I love the Fake MTA Twitter account that makes "announcements" that'll make you chuckle.

You can also find fake MTA signs in the subways that look disturbingly real until you actually take the time to read them. They'll give a second of reprieve from the travel blues. 

Humor and MTA -- not exactly birds of a feather but they do flock together. 

Ignoble Rot

If you like wine and consider yourself a connoisseur, then you learn all the lingo (the wine "breaths", it has "body", etc.). And if you're really knowledgeable, then you know what a "noble rot" is: "a gray mold that is deliberately cultivated on grapes to enhance the making of certain sweet wines." Without the rot, the thinking goes, the wine wouldn't taste so good. The rot makes the wine.

Perhaps we've underestimated the appeal of rot. Certainly we've underestimated the power of it. 

Rot ... the process of decay. Decomposition. Something valuable turning into trash. 

You see it in our justice system, particularly in the case of Harvey Weinstein. Three years ago a young woman that he assaulted went to the NYPD to get him charged. The police worked with her, got Weinstein to admit what he'd done in a secret recording, then referred the case to the District Attorney. And this is where the rot comes in: instead of prosecuting Weinstein and protecting the victim, the opposite happened. The victim was victimized again, terrorized by the DA's office, asked to answer totally irrelevant questions about her past, distracting her and the case away from the assailant and the crime. The police had to protect her, not only from Weinstein, but from  the DA's office! The case was twisted around and eventually dropped by the very people who should have prosecuted it. This was power protecting power, money controlling the justice system to perpetrate injustice. This was rot, plain and simple.

And that's not the only case close to home. The Kushner Company, the family business of the current president's son-in-law, apparently lied to city agencies about having rent-stabilized tenants in their buildings in order to kick them out and sell the buildings at a huge price. The city agencies responsible for uncovering this didn't -- for years! Again, rot -- the system meant to protect us victimizes us.

That's what rot is: the transmutation of something into something. Protection into threat. Justice into injustice. Something solid becoming something weak.

This is what's happening in our country right now, under the Trump presidency. A strong country being weakened by a bad man and his accomplices. Can it be stopped? Even if it is, how much damage will have been done?

Weinstein eventually faced justice of a kind, fired and shamed into professional exile but, as of now, he remains free. Trump's political, and that of his family, is in free fall, but they remain in the power. That's part of the rot: the delay of consequences. The powerful protected, always protected. 

Rot is never noble when it comes to the public good. It's always bad. But until we the people create a system where it cannot and will never be tolerated, it'll be the rot that makes us. It is us. And it's ignoble. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Banksy's Back!

In 2013, the world's most famous street artist, Banksy, hit NYC like a tidal wave. His politically-tinged, social-critique pictures appeared all over the city, causing quite the stir, and there was even a documentary about it that came out a year later. 

At the time, along with the rest of the media, Mr NYC gave this "residency" lots of coverage. Its has, in its way, gone down in history. 

And now he's back! 

A huge Banksy mural appeared late last week down on the Bowery, a protest against the imprisonment of a political activist in Turkey. Smaller pictures have also popped up on 14th Street and 6th Avenue and couple more in Brooklyn, in Midwood and Coney Island. 

Banksy's Back Baby!   

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It's a little cold but otherwise the weather is perfect for a wild St. Patrick's Day. Take one of the craziest party days of the year and have it fall on a Saturday and, well, it's gonna be one big day!

The parade kicks off on Fifth Avenue and I'm sure it'll be one of the best attended parades in recent memory. Also, several LGBT groups will be marching which is a great thing (there's been a LOT of controversy about this over the years, nay decades).

So, if you're Irish (like me!) let all debauchery begin! (Don't get too drunk.)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Will Weinstein walk -- or go away?

It's been several months since Harvey Weinstein fell from grace, exposed as a sexual predator. This begs the question: will he go to jail?

He probably should have been charged several years ago but, for various reasons, wasn't. But rumor has it that the Manhattan DA is poised to arrest him soon. How soon? We shall see. 

This saga will, apparently, just go on and on and on ...