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View Full Version : smackdown: mcwhorter v. treme


nikkibong
05-10-2010, 01:35 PM
whoa!

http://www.tnr.com/blog/john-mcwhorter/please-treme-i-beg-you-get-over-yourself

(ties in nicely to the authenticity concept discussed in a recent DV, as well.)

note the references to my home of Portland, Oregon (always the cliched stand in for the "stuff white people like" set - for people who've never actually been here), and Minneapolis! (a great town that i just visited last month for the first time - my sister lives there.)

anyway, i really enjoyed reading this, and think you will to.

uncle ebeneezer
05-10-2010, 07:40 PM
Great article. Thanks for finding that. I frequently meet East Coaster's (of which I am one) who lament how Los Angeles just isn't "real" like Boston, NY, Philly etc. It's a conversation I've learned to simply walk away from.

PS- What's with the hating on Pittsburgh?

nikkibong
05-11-2010, 12:11 PM
PS- What's with the hating on Pittsburgh?

seriously! there's nothing "fake" or even unpleasant about a delicious primanti bros. (http://www.primantibrothers.com/) sandwich. fries on the sandwich!! how can you go wrong?

kezboard
05-11-2010, 09:04 PM
note the references to my home of Portland, Oregon (always the cliched stand in for the "stuff white people like" set - for people who've never actually been here)

And at least half of the ones who actually have. The others go back home and bother their friends about how great Portland is and how much they want to live there.

nikkibong
05-11-2010, 09:10 PM
And at least half of the ones who actually have. The others go back home and bother their friends about how great Portland is and how much they want to live there.

fair enough...

perhaps the "stuff white people like" favorite of the people who've never been east of 39th or south of division?

(sorry for the oregon references, forum!)

Whatfur
05-11-2010, 09:27 PM
fair enough...

perhaps the "stuff white people like" favorite of the people who've never been east of 39th or south of division?

(sorry for the oregon references, forum!)

Have a brother who has lived in Portland for a decade and likes it. Been there a number of times, never did anything for me. Like Mt. Hood though. Prefer the Cascades as they move further north more.

uncle ebeneezer
05-14-2010, 04:53 PM
On a somewhat related tangent, I agree with Ezra on the insufferable nature of New Yorkers who demand that theirs is the ONLY (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/05/new_york_smug.html#comments) great city!!

graz
05-14-2010, 06:48 PM
On a somewhat related tangent, I agree with Ezra on the insufferable nature of New Yorkers who demand that theirs is the ONLY (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/05/new_york_smug.html#comments) great city!!

Here's an answer to Ezra and Conor and Eb and those whose experience of New Yorkers is limited and selective:


A reply from the comments to a post from Conors Freiderdoofus (who happens to prize Jonah Golberg as a leading conservative thinker) (http://www.theatlantic.com/special-report/the-future-of-the-city/archive/2010/05/the-tyranny-of-new-york/56581/):Huh? What does this mean? There are 10 million people in NYC, who struggle with the realities of life just like every other American. They want their kids to go to good schools, they worry about finding a good job, they work too hard for too little money. What is so different about the citizens of NY? They take the subway?

Whenever one tries to make sweeping statements about the "citizens of New York", it might be worth remembering that your typical New Yorker is more likely than not to be a person of color, perhaps an immigrant, doing manual labor, and raising one of the one million children in the public school system. They aren't all 23 year old transplanted artists/lawyers from Toledo.
randallspqr

P.S. Lebron to da Knicks... and then NYC will be the only great city!

uncle ebeneezer
05-14-2010, 07:33 PM
I meant to say MANY New Yorkers. Not all. To me the surprising thing is the amount of NY worship I see from Non-NY'ers. Especially here in LA I routinely come across people who lived there for a year or something but absolutely rave about how it's the ONLY city (despite leaving and deciding to live somewhere else.) I wonder how much of it is like going to the big Stones/U2/insert legendary band here- concert and almost feeling pressure that not only are you supposed to rave about how awesome the show was (even if it was predictable, overhyped etc.) but that it was the BEST concert. I realize people in Boston, San Fran, you name the popular city all exagerate the awesomeness of their home, but I still think the level of hype on NY is on another level.

PS the Knicks will need more than LeBron to be champs.

Ocean
05-14-2010, 07:41 PM
I don't know whether New York City is the BEST, but it must be pretty darn close!

Haven't you heard?

I-L-O-V-E-N-E-W-Y-O-R-K.

kezboard
05-14-2010, 07:57 PM
I have no hate for New York, but I will say that New Yorkers are the only Americans I meet who regularly say that their city is the best in the world as if that's just a self-evident fact. That's really annoying. Come off it. I love Chicago, but I'd never say that it's the best city in the world.

I've never really felt the need, like I think a lot of people my age do, to be in the middle of everything or the capital of the world or the coolest city in the country. Part of this is because I'm not in a career where I need to be; part of it is because I just find the periphery more interesting than the center.

(Speaking of the periphery, I finally got my work permit and I'm moving to Slovakia at the end of the month. Finally!)

AemJeff
05-14-2010, 08:03 PM
(Gratulujeme!)

Baltimoron
05-14-2010, 08:07 PM
In the context of McWhorter's article, "authenticity" is akin to subjectivity. When literature champions local voice and scenery, what objective standard is there to judge when it goes overboard? Of course, a local voice would denounce another local voice. It's not really hard to believe the residents of the Big Easy would criticize Portland or Minneapolis, either. The literature and the politics match up: no one seems to speak lovingly, convincingly, or even lyrically for the national or the objective. McWhorter is criticizing the lack of objectivity without hmself offering a standard.

graz
05-14-2010, 08:09 PM
I meant to say MANY New Yorkers. Not all. To me the surprising thing is the amount of NY worship I see from Non-NY'ers. Especially here in LA I routinely come across people who lived there for a year or something but absolutely rave about how it's the ONLY city (despite leaving and deciding to live somewhere else.) I wonder how much of it is like going to the big Stones/U2/insert legendary band here- concert and almost feeling pressure that not only are you supposed to rave about how awesome the show was (even if it was predictable, overhyped etc.) but that it was the BEST concert. I realize people in Boston, San Fran, you name the popular city all exagerate the awesomeness of their home, but I still think the level of hype on NY is on another level.



But NY'ers can't help it if youse hangout wit... or, pardon me, make the acquaintance of a bunch a d-bags an wannabees out in La La. How much time have you spent in the real deal to form your impression?

One more comment from above:
prophecy1:

As one of those transplants from "real America" who only recently came to the shocking realization that he's now lived in New York longer than anywhere else, I should probably exemplify the snotty urban egoist you describe here. But honestly, when you're surrounded by 8 million other people of vastly different backgrounds you get a little humble about generalizing about the culture of the city, or making sweeping judgments about its culture based upon a small slice of glamorized, mostly white, upper- and upper-middle-class life that you see in TV and film--or I suspect that you meet at college reunions and Atlantic corridor media events. Most New Yorkers know that along with Manhattan, NYC is Queens, it's the Bronx, it's Brooklyn (it's even Staten Island!) and most NYers are sharing the sidewalk and rubbing shoulders with their fellow bus and subway riders every day. That's the true, unique (for America) greatness of the city.

When I read or hear these kinds of complaints about "snotty" New Yorkers I get the sense that the people who make these complaints are a very small segment of people invested in the status of where they live and what they do, having an argument with a very small segment of NYers who, as you describe, invest some kind of stupid status in where *they* live or in the perceived superiority of their job, because it's in Manhattan. And, often as not, they're the same kind of people--insecure and eager for affirmation.

Meanwhile, just under 8 million other New Yorkers go on with their lives, not thinking much about what a geographical location says about them. Many of us even dream about leaving someday, if we could only find the kind of job we want in a place where we could have a backyard, laundry in our home, and enough closet space.

Baltimoron
05-14-2010, 08:17 PM
How many cities in the world can boast of an ad budget like New York's? I think many of us here have swallowed too much hype. There are cities I've visited I don't like: Seoul, Rome, and Los Angeles come readily to mind. I've tried to figure out why I liked Houston, Baltimore, New Orleans, Busan, Budapest, and Osaka. I don't see how it's possible to be objective, if one takes the level of bitterness in local rhetoric as a criterion for judging the worth of a city.

nikkibong
05-14-2010, 08:21 PM
But NY'ers can't help it if youse hangout wit... or, pardon me, make the acquaintance of a bunch a d-bags an wannabees out in La La. How much time have you spent in the real deal to form your impression?

One more comment from above:[/I]

those are good comments. those commenters must have strayed over from fallows' blog.

i was also going to make this argument, myself:

It seems to me that London, Paris, Tokyo, Moscow, Seoul, Buenos Aires and Mexico City -- to name the more prominent examples -- possess utterly dominant roles in their countries -- with, yes, a good deal of "unhealthy pathology" created by the imbalance. But New York has a serious rival in size and cultural influence in Los Angeles. And DC in political power. And San Francisco in technology. And Boston in education. And so on. And a number of American cities exert such strong regional influence (Atlanta, Chicago, Miami), that they genuinely rival New York in importance for those Americans who happen to live in the regions in question.


and was glad that someone made it for me. it seems that young friedersdorf isn't aware of any countries where one city really is dominant. (40% of south koreans live either in seoul or its suburbs)

Whatfur
05-14-2010, 08:42 PM
NY is great. When New Yorkers are anywhere else they come off like domestic ugly americans.

Ocean
05-14-2010, 09:59 PM
None of the stuff you mentioned there has anything to do with the magic of New York City.

It's difficult to explain to skeptics. I've been to many beautiful cities in various countries. I'm not a New Yorker. I like to live where I live, but I also like to be near the city for when I want to be there. It's a fascinating place. Just walking and looking at people and places is enough of a delight. The diversity and the way people mix and mingle, the pace and rhythm of the city, the coexistence of the richest and the poorest, unconflicted, side by side, in its peculiar balance, the sounds and sights that make the city alive and powerful. Come on! Where else?

uncle ebeneezer
05-15-2010, 01:46 PM
Graz, that was funny. I should clarify. I'm not talking about the quality of New York (which is a very cool city!), I was trying to point out that even once you account for the high population, and the douchebagginess of the people who make these kinds of claims, it still seems like the amount of NY-is-the-greatest!!-ism is disproportionately higher than you find for any other city. Half of my family comes from the Bronx, Long Island and going way back, Harlem. Die-hard NY'ers, who are more of the go-about-their-day brand than the cocktail party LA types who like to name-drop the borroughs. So I know all about the vast majority of NY'ers being regular joes, just like in any other city. In fact that is a point I regularly bring up with all the LA-haters that I meet (which seems to be the inverse phenomenon to NY-love...everybody loves to hate on LA.) What I'm saying is that of all the douchebags that I have had silly late-night alcohol-induced rap sessions with over the qualities/flaws of any given geographical area, the most common place that is praised to the hilts (oftentimes with seeming reluctance to admit ANY flaws) is the Big Apple. Moreover, if you compare the intensity (obnoxiousness) of the arguments made, NY-lovers also usually take the cake (in my experience.) Admittedly, anyone who makes these kinds of sweeping statements about their beloved city, is by default treading into pretty obnoxious territory, but I still find it interesting how much NY dominates these types of silly discussions even given the obvious elements that put it in a higher league than many cities. Anyways, I just find it peculiar and think that the memetic element of buying-into-a-narrative by people is probably playing a large role. That said, I love NY! And Philly! And Boston! And LA! and San Fran! and Seattle!

Ocean
05-15-2010, 03:21 PM
I don't think I understand your point.

There are two aspects here. One is the expected love that anyone could have for the place where they were born, raised or where they live. It's obvious that people, in a very subjective way, which we all have, would find their own city to be particularly attractive for all kinds of reasons. But, we can agree that the main reason is the subjectivity that is carried in those kinds of assessments.

The other aspect is that there is a possibility that certain cities are truly extraordinary, and that people from all kinds of places will agree on that. The attractiveness can be in culture, architecture, history, population and many other features that when mixed in a particularly favorable way, gives the place that special enchantment.

If you recognize the second aspect as possible, why would you be surprised that New York has that quality?

uncle ebeneezer
05-16-2010, 02:21 PM
Hey Ocean, as usual I think my ramblings may have suffered from being a bit too meandering. Let me try and tighten up the main point I'm getting at.

What you say about subjectivity and the feelings people have for the area they lived in makes alot of sense. I can't cite any specific research but I've always thought that it was pretty well established that human beings, when we identify with something whether it's our city, our sports team, our country, our favorite band etc., have a tendency to oversell the positives and under-report the negatives. So if we asked a bunch of people to give an assessment of their home town (or even just any city) we would expect that sort of emphasis on the good stuff (after all they like it.) But I still would expect to see some variance in the reports and I guess the main thing I'm getting at is that in all of my experiences I have found the variance with regards to NY to be extremely low (like almost non-existent.) Aside from some people who just hate cities, or others who rave about "coastal-elitism", I've almost never heard anyone say they don't like NY or that they think it's overrated. So the question is why is that so. A couple possibilities:

1.) My sample size. I just haven't met enough or the right variety of people. There are any number of NY-critics out there but I have just never met them.

2.) NY is just so qualitatively great that nobody (or almost nobody) doesn't love NY.

While I will admit that number 1 is most surely true (my take on this is admittedly unscientifically based), I have a hard time thinking that 2 would be enough to account for the lack of variance I've witnessed. It may just be my skeptical nature but anytime I see anything where the reviews are almost universally positive, I start to suspect that something along the lines of a societal-pressure or hype phenomenon is at play. If I look at amazon book reviews and see all 5-star reviews, I wonder how much of it is do to the reviewers feeling it was a 5-star book, and how much is the reviewers feeling like they are "supposed to" give it a 5-star review.

The thing that made me start thinking about this was a girl I once dated. The topic of New York came up and she meekly admitted that she doesn't really like NY. Too overwhelming for her taste. And she said she often feels like expressing a dislike of NY is like committing blasphemy. So it got me to thinking, and I realized that in fact, she was the first person I could remember ever making such a statement candidly and not doing it just to be a NY-hater or be contrarian. So when I was out with some friends from mixed geographical roots I tried the same thing and I was surprised at how strong the reactions were. "How can anyone NOT LIKE New York?!!" And I found it strange in that as you pointed out, it is an entirely subjective matter of taste and it should be expected that some people just won't care for it, just like they might not care for Jackson Pollack, or Feta Cheese, or back-country camping or anything else.

Anyways, so while I think NY is a great city which earns it's fair share of high praise as one of the most unique cities in the world, I also wonder if the low variance in criticism (at least in my experience) is influenced by more than just the city's quality, combined with the amplified regional affinity that we all feel for our favorite areas. I wonder how much is subject to a form of societal pressure/groupthink and people not wanting to commit cultural blasphemy. Hopefully this post has been a little more clear.

PS I think a diavlog on the phenomenon of hype (whether it's the hot new movie, or a sports team that everyone suddenly roots for etc.) from a psych perspective would be highly interesting.

Ocean
05-16-2010, 02:46 PM
Thank you for your detailed response. I now have a better idea about where your question is.

It's not a good idea to generalize (do not ever, ever, make general statements! ;) ). I'm sure there is a range of opinion from the most positive to the most negative about NYC, just like you would expect. But, surely, I agree that it seems like the proportion of people who have a very favorable opinion about NY is very high. I think this has been the case for a very long time (decades), so, the idea of a fad seems unlikely. It is very possible that NY is so unique in its characteristics that it breeds people who can only feel satisfied there. But, that doesn't explain similar opinion from people that come from other places. I have known a couple of people/ tourists (literally two), who didn't like NYC. One felt overwhelmed by the crowds and the pace. One didn't like the dirty areas of the city (!), including subways and streets. Most people talk about the diversity as one of the most interesting features. But there are all kinds of associations with movies, for example getting to visit places that were depicted in famous movies and the like. There is so much variety, that it is indeed difficult to think that anyone wouldn't find a few things, at least, as very interesting. I never had an impression that people were saying that they liked the city because it was the cool thing to say, although I'm sure there's a small number who would do that.

I think I responded to much of the above at the beginning, when I first visited. Later I started to appreciate the city's "personality". I'm never surprised when I hear that others love NYC. It's so easy to understand and relate to it.