tonight i went to the bar to say hello to my friend before the burlesque show began. i'm sitting around learning all the girl songs for my gig tomorrow night at the rainbow room and i needed a distraction. the group of people that he works with are a lovely little family and the truth is, i'm a part of it. i used to sing there every week for a few years with jc hopkins, so whenever i go, it's always a warm moment.
while we were all standing around talking, a bouncer from the french place across the street came over to say hi to the regular weekend barback but he was out. lots of casual chit chat ensued, stuff like yeah it was slow last week, oh yeah we're always slow on fridays, it'll pick up soon. stuff like that. there were some honeywagons on allen street and we all wondered aloud as to who was shooting what and where. the bouncer said his goodbyes and left, only to reappear a few minutes later with a bit of strange news: the trailers were there for a disney movie called enchantment, starring jodie foster. (actually, imdb.com says susan sarandon but what do they know? that stuff is always subject to change.) the bouncer was dejected, like someone had popped his balloon. i threw back my head and laughed. welcome to the commodification of the lower east side, i said as i waved my hand in the air. everyone agreed.
it was only a matter of time until hollywood made downtown new york city into a palatable and safe place for middle white america. actually, they've been at it for quite a while. hollywood has to homogenize everything they touch and suck the individuality and uniqueness out of it until it becomes some stereotype that's easy to sell. and make fun of. what's funny to me is, when they do it, they think they're doing you a favor. they don't even realize what they're destroying. the rest of the world would say that's such an american thing to do. and they're right. cultural homogenization. soft power. global media domination. media-cultural imperialism. heck. imperialism, period.
it's like manifest destiny, except the deity in question is money. or media.
my friend said that disney (which epitomizes soft power if you ask me) making movies in this neighborhood is the beginning of the end, and he's right. it was one thing when mickey mouse took over times square -- that was already a tourist trap anyhow and nobody downtown cared. this is different. the lower east side already looks like it's the back end of a portal that begins somewhere in wisconsin. it's been this way for years. these people all look like they're trying to outhip each other and everyone is trying way to hard. they're all so well put together and somehow, they all end up looking exactly alike without ever reflecting any of their individual selves. it's like fashionista garanimals. and that has nothing to do with style, which can never be bought.
williamsburg is even worse.
when i got here in the early 90's, the city was a dangerous place -- and you knew it. you'd get knifed on the street for the loose change that someone thought they heard in your pockets. you could smell the crack on the sidewalk. there were no bistros. there were no boites. there was the bodega on the corner and everybody knew that it was a front, that they were running hard drugs along with everybody else. it was a filthy nasty rat-infested stinkhole and there was nothing fun or cute about it. you didn't live in that neighborhood because you wanted to. you lived there because it was all you could afford -- and as soon as you could do better, you left.
and that's another thing. there were lots of black people, lots of puerto ricans, lots of mexicans, lots of everything except white people, unless they were a junkie or an artist or some other kind of freak-wierdo -- none of whom could be counted on to have any money, ever. i had a friend with a straight job who lived down there and for years, he would dress in jeans and a t-shirt and change into a suit when he got to work, because he knew that if he didn't, somebody would beat him down. if you were white and traipsing through that neighborhood back in the day, and if you looked like you had money, you got your ass kicked. period. that was then. nowadays, it's nothing but white people, practically. the neighborhood looks like some fraternity/sorority mixer just let out, and they're all drunken hopeless fashion victims, with trust funds and/or their parent's money to pay for their lifestyle, culled from everybody's favorite blueprint about this town, sex and the city. i glide past them and i think, is it really this much fun to be drunk in public?
the problem is, this is still new york city. it's still dangerous. the lifestyle and the look of things have lulled people into believing that it's safe. but it will never be completely safe. no big city ever is, especially a place like this. people get killed in this neighborhood for being drunk and thinking they're impervious to danger.
i've got to get out of this city, the bouncer said, shaking his head, to us and to no one in particular. my friend and i looked at each other and smiled knowingly. that's everyone's reigning cry right now. leave the homogenization behind. but then again, isn't that why most of us left the suburbs in the first place? won't it always follow you? isn't that what it does?