What exactly is the saddest/funniest thing about The Wall Street Journal's landmark new article "Cool Arrives in a Slice of Chinatown"? Let's try to figure that out.
Is it that The Journal's article, about a tiny sub-neighborhood in Chinatown given the hideous name of "Chumbo" that's being colonized by enterprising young creative types, is some weird pastiche of the clueless trend story that is such a hallmark of its rival The New York Times? Every newspaper publishes one of these clunkers once in a while, it's not the sole provenance of the Times, but this kind of daft, New York-specific, "let's talk to the most annoying representatives of the subculture we can find" type of thing is so uniquely their style that we just assumed it was the Times when we started reading the article. But it's not! This is actually the Journal emulating that rarefied tone, which is both kinda sweet and a little shameful. We know these articles are popular, but you're better than this, Wall Street Journal!
Oh, actually! The best worst thing about "Cool Arrives in a Slice of Chinatown" has to be the characters The Journal found to narrate its tale. We hear from a 25-year-old young man who fell in love with the neighborhood while working on a Winona Ryder movie there. He describes Chumbo ("Chumbo," Chumbo -- it's the name of an evil clown) as "remote and genuine and beautiful." Ah yes, "remote." Nothing more remote than a neighborhood crammed up against another neighborhood in the middle of New York City. Genuine and beautiful we'll give him, but this isn't Frontier House. It's a part of Manhattan. We also hear from "a 24-year-old writer for literary magazines such as n+1," which, does that do it? Do you need more info about him that an n+1 association doesn't already imply? OK then, here's his quote: "you either live in Bushwick or in Chinatown." To be fair that's just among his friends, but still, you heard it here first. Everyone lives in Bushwick or Chinatown. That's just where people are living these days. Lastly we hear from a 25-year-old artist who describes Chumbo (oof) as both "the last cool neighborhood on the island" and "a typical setting for avant-garde activity." Ah yes. "Typical" and "avant garde"! Aren't 25-year-olds great?
Or maybe the truly funny/sad thing about this Chumbo (some children somewhere just started crying at the mention of that terrible name) trend piece is what's implied at the end of this sentence: "Some now call the neighborhood Chumbo, combining the names of Chinatown and its high-brow Brooklyn neighbor across the Manhattan Bridge, Dumbo." Wait, what?? High-brow Brooklyn? Have we really gone so far in the unending quest for hip, hot neighborhoods that we've now looped back and found ourselves in Manhattan again? Brooklyn is now being described as too high-brow for young artists, while Manhattan, albeit a tiny barely existent sliver of it, is heralded as their new playground? Up is down! Down is up! What's next, a thrilling exploration of this curious Park Slope-esque neighborhood just off the West Side Highway? "Some call it 'the West Village.' And some call it home." Obviously the ever ongoing New York neighborhood discussion has been eating itself for years, but this seems to pass some particular sort of milestone, doesn't it? You know where's really cool and new and exciting? No, not scrabbly Bushwick! Not the Polish-flavored corners of Greenpoint! Manhattan. Lower Manhattan, guys. That's what's hip.
All we really know is that we now feel like total losers because we don't live in Chumbo (shrieks, so many shrieks). Oh Chumbo! If only we lived in you. We could invent a dance called the Chumbo wumba, we could thump our tubs, we could be young and cool and artistic again. But instead we're left to suffer in neighborhoods that are closer to the subway and don't have annoying articles written about them. Alas.