New York City: Shorthand for Evil

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Suspicion of big cities is not a recent development. From A Harlot's Progress (Hogarth, 1731) on through The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson (Groening, 1997), there's a longstanding tradition of equating large urban centers with sin, avarice, and man's inhumanity to man.

As The New York Times points out this week, a number of ads for the 2010 midterm campaign sit comfortably within that tradition. The ads, which attack candidates as diverse as Democrat Jim Marshall, Republican Pat Toomey, and Tea Party anointee Rand Paul, make heavy use of iconic New York City imagery like Wall Street, Times Square, the Chrysler Building, and the Statue of Liberty. The associations clearly aren't meant to be positive:

In one spot, the Statue of Liberty is enveloped by threatening shadows. In others, photos of a Wall Street street sign segue into scenes of corporate types swilling cocktails or puffing cigars, and smug-looking bankers roaming the streets of Manhattan ... The Democratic ads criticize Republicans for supporting the privatization of Social Security (or gambling on Wall Street, many ads say) and protecting corporate tax breaks (or benefiting their rich friends in New York).

The piece goes on to quote Stu Loeser, press secretary to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who laments the ads' one-sided portrayal of New York and Wall Street. "More than half the New Yorkers who work in the financial-services industry make $71,000 or less," Loeser told the Times, "but the reality that these are middle-class jobs sadly isn't reflected in campaign rhetoric here or anywhere else."

As Loeser seems to know, it's easy to cherry-pick facts and make a city seem like something it's not. Or, as Marge Simpson once put it, "Of course you'll have a bad impression of New York if you only focus on the pimps and the C.H.U.D.S."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.