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Tag Archives: Times Square

You May Find Yourself In Another Part Of The World*

Judy&Mickey

We are all creatures of our environment, often to a degree not realized until we step out of that environment. It is tempting and predictable to assume that one’s small sliver of the world is an accurate sample of a larger reality. It is only when we step away, even briefly that we have a “Yowza!” moment. If you’ve ever spent time in Times Square you’ve seen the “Yowza” expression synchronized on hundreds of faces. Many of those people have never seen anything so brash, so bright and so ludicrous in one place. They will go home & tell their friends how overwhelming New York City is. And they’d be right; for them NYC is overwhelming. For a New Yorker the equivalent experience would be traveling anywhere that is not NYC.

For many the disorientation starts with food. We all know that seafood should not be eaten in landlocked areas, and that Chinese food is best prepared by those who’ve eaten it. A decent bagel or thin crust slice of pizza can be challenging to find between coasts. However seeking something as mundane as skim or soy milk for a good cup of coffee can also take on mythic proportions. (The holy grail of morning beverage can become all-consuming and sometimes it’s best to just switch to tea for the duration.) Familiar foods are very important to people; it’s why there are McDonald’s and TGIFridays in Times Square. But eventually a traveler adjusts (an average adult can go for three weeks without food) and can take a good long look around.

Much of what we know about the mood of the nation is through what we read or watch. We might be tempted to cherry pick stories and developments that suit our own political agenda. We might be lulled into thinking that people think as we do (a dangerous and narcissistic assumption if there ever was one.) It is by traveling out of our comfort zone that we discover how discomforting the world really is. It is embarrassing to discover how ignorant we really can be about our fellow Americans. There are few issues in America that are as topical a gauge as race and gay rights. It is tempting to assume that we’re rounding a corner and headed towards a finish line of sorts. Popular culture and media would have us believe that gay is the new, well, the new black. And black? Well black has been beautiful for almost fifty years, no? No.

One person’s experience in a Midwestern area (right outside of a major city) is hardly scientific, but it is illuminating nonetheless. Walking through downtown areas, socializing at large events, dining out and taking in culture, I was struck by the racial divide. Beyond the staff & entertainment there were few if any faces of color. I saw only heterosexual couples (which is barely anecdotal let alone scientific.) Far more telling were the conversations I overheard. If any reference was made to homosexuality it was in regards to entertainment. (Some readers might recall a time when African Americans were often only discussed in terms of entertainment.) I overheard an educated woman discuss attending a Halloween party in black face. It was so popular amongst the party guests that she did it again the following year. Twenty years ago Ted Danson, at the very height of his popularity, almost lost his entire career because of a similar antic. Twenty years ago.

I’ve no doubt that many of the people I encountered would find my way of life confusing if not abhorrent. Without question people are entitled to live the way they wish. It is imperative however that we all realize there is a larger world. We may choose to live amongst people who are like us (i.e., of like mind, religion or skin color) but we must stay conscious of the bigger picture. We cannot lose sight of the fact that not everyone views human rights as progress. We cannot discount what may very well be the majority sentiments of this country. It is far too tempting to look around our mini universes and slide towards complacency. Yes, it’s comforting to be surrounded by what seems “right” to us. But it’s important to keep in mind the larger reality. Taking that decaf cap with skim for granted is one thing (we can always get tea) but we should never take progress for granted.

*Once In A Lifetime (1981) – Talking Heads

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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Travel

 

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Making Noise With Silence

ART=AMMO

Times Square is all about sensory overload. Even during daylight the cacophony of lights and video are enough to give a person vertigo. Thousands of disoriented and staggering people whip their heads up & down and to & fro taking in any and everything. Advertisements flash and beckon from the sidewalk up to the sky. Spotting themselves on the jumbotron, visitors wave frantically to big brother. They squeal and scream in disharmony with ticket hawkers and coupon dealers. Underneath their sound is the white noise of traffic, preaching and ranting.

Yesterday the chaos of sound was silenced and the sight was undistracted for several minutes when a couple of hundred of us raised our hands in synchronicity and protest of gun violence. We held up our hands for 26 seconds, each second representing a victim in Newtown. Instantly the crowd was silenced. We slowly sank to the ground as our ‘partners’ held their hand over our hearts for 26 seconds, and then outlined our bodies in chalk. Lying on the ground, and hearing nothing, absolutely nothing was more realism than most of us bargained for. It was the subway rumbling underneath that reminded us to get up and chalk our partners’ body. We wrote inside the body outlines.; “Crisis” “Boy” “Joseph” “Glock” “Emilie age 6” and quickly dispersed. Making our way through the tour groups and Elmos we looked back. The ground was covered with chalk outlines in a chilling and strangely beautiful tableau. On the perimeter of the ‘performance space’ the assigned police officers still solemnly stood. Moments before the start time they had asked for their friend’s name to be chalked into an outline.

 

Thank you to ART=AMMO for organizing this event.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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The Mean Streets of New York

New York City is a world unto itself. The names of its roads conjure full-length narratives; Wall Street, Broadway, Fifth Avenue. A harbor city with a rich commerce and immigration history, it is also a trendsetter. NYC and its rugged individualism stems from its bursting at the seams size. A recipe with millions of ingredients is bound to be unique. If you look hard enough (and factor in tourists) you might just find every type of human being imaginable in NYC. For years business in NYC mirrored this diversity and singularity.

However, as tourism has boomed commerce has followed suit with entire areas now resembling a mall. Times Square is the most obvious example. An area once considered sordid (if not flat out dangerous) home to PeepLand is now an amusement park for tourists and children. Enormous stores hawking (vending machine) candy and anything and everything branded with the candy’s logo, dot more than one corner of the square. Chain restaurants pop up like three-card-monte games once did. Cartoon and puppet characters now troll the streets in a plush walk that echoes their prostitute foremothers. They shake down “family men” for $5 after giving them a hand in creating a photo op.

But stray from midtown and it’s still pretty much an Elmo-TGI Fridays free zone (for now.) Yes Banana/Taylor/AnthroUrbans dot the landscape from the Bronx (up) to the Battery (down.) But real neighborhoods do not cater to or court tourists. The further you stray from the middle the more interesting things become. Neighborhoods bubble up, dissipate and bubble up again in the span of blocks. Retail reflects the nationality and/or ethnicity of local residents. Style and trend is set and followed locally. For better or worse there are many New Yorkers whose world does not expand beyond a one-mile radius. (How many times have you heard someone boast of “never setting foot above 14th street” or “getting a nosebleed above 86th street”?)

Given the almost insular nature of some city neighborhoods it’s jarring to spot a uniformed police officer (and marked car) stationed in front of a local movie theater. While the theater is not technically in the middle of nowhere, it is nowhere in terms of foot traffic or visibility. Living in New York one becomes accustomed to seeing incongruous evidence of heightened security. Body men outside of a diner? President must be in town. Federal and international agents milling about? Deposed leader in town. But one police officer in front of a rather dull movie theater on a weekday morning? Batman. That’s right, during a summer of obscene levels of street/playground shootings in New York City, there is a police officer assigned to the outer wall of a movie theater.

Decisions are made everyday that focus on image rather than logic or substance. But what makes this particular NYPD decision so baffling is how incredibly reactionary it seems. Was there intel about a ‘copycat’ attack in NYC? Would anyone unbalanced enough to actually do such a thing be deterred by the sight of a lone police officer leaning against a wall? Is there anyone actually living in the area who is concerned about their safety in a specific movie. Is the police officer a comfort to any local people? Or is this officer (and perhaps officers standing in front of every theater showing the film) a public relations move aimed at tourists? Tourists are probably not visiting the playgrounds and streets where children (and adults) have been shot. But they may come to the big city and go to or walk by a movie theater. Cynical conclusion? Perhaps that what comes from too many Grover/Pooh/Goofy/Shrek mingling.

 
 

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