The Tyranny Of NYC, Ctd


Amy Davidson of the New Yorker defends our cultural capital:

One hears about places where one can live for twenty years and still be seen as a newcomer. New York is more generousyou don’t have to be here for very long before those of us born here consider you a New Yorker, and before writers for the Atlantic think nothing of holding you up as an archetype for our city. For a city of supposed snobs, we are quite good at making people feel right at home.

And not just people from Akron. How could Friedersdorf write about our role on the American scenein the American dramawithout mentioning that a third of the people in places like Akron and Allentown have an ancestor who passed through Ellis Island? New York has welcomed generations of immigrants and, by teaching them that they belonged to the city, also made them feel a part of America. This has made the rest of the country immeasurably stronger. Far from being a brain drain, we have been a schoolroom for new Americans and their children, and have done a pretty decent job.

Conor responds:

[Davidson's post] is a well-crafted, forceful and enjoyable rebuttal --  though I hasten to add, addressing everyone who has responded, that I neither wrote nor believe that New Yorkers are especially narcissistic, smug, or even blameworthy for the state of affairs that I lament. My post has been taken by some as an effort to diminish the esteem afforded to NYC. It is my intention to raise the esteem in which other cities are held by airing posts that describe their strengths (extending a project I began at Culture11 called Pins on a Map, and my current boosterism for the photography site What America Looks Like). I also want to call on the progeny of other cities to better them as inexorably as New York has been improved, though in a manner true to their own identities.

Insofar as I've been misunderstood, flaws in my initial post are the biggest culprit. This followup seeks clarity via a specific example: The cultural supremacy that worries me is exemplified in the world of journalism, and the particular way things play out is instructive.

Exceptional publications exist outside of New York City. Subscriptions are available to one obvious example. Just as The Atlantic is a tribute to a long line of people in Boston and Washington DC, and is partly a product of the civilizational capital offered by those locales, New York City deserves credit for its exceptional journalistic products, a list longer than any other metropolis in the world can claim.

Abridge that list for the sake of brevity: let us take The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and New York Magazine. A moment's thought about these publications clarifies why it would be folly to blame New York City for its cultural supremacy. After all, these began as publications for New Yorkers, NYC remains indispensable to their identities, and serving its audience remains central to their editorial and business success. How else would we have them act?

The unhealthy thing is, for example, that every week in San Francisco when the Sunday New York Times arrives at the doorstep or is picked up at the Starbucks, its readers get international coverage, national news, and a first rate national magazine, accompanied by a bunch of cultural commentary, slices of life, and other miscellany filtered through the lens of NYC, magnifying its ethos and crowding out the local equivalent.

The whole post is worth reading, especially Conor's telling correction that "This American Life," founded in Chicago, has now in fact moved under the tyrannical umbrella of New York.

(Photo of sidewalk lanes via Choire)