Anti-New York Fantasies

The following is an essay I posted on the c-opera listserv.

I am back in my West Village apartment, while the rest of the family is still in New Jersey. I am going to attempt to write something that connects this event to cultural concerns more directly related to c-opera. I apologize if trying to articulate this train of thought makes it a bit lengthy. I have written in the past about the "Third Stream of Performance" unique to large metropolitan areas such as ours. I have written elsewhere about the politics and sociology of art, of art as propoganda, and I work in a form of documentary theater using found object texts written by real but ignored historical figures. For me, there is absolutely no line between the music-theatre I try to create and the political discussions I wish to provoke. The bar for me is raised amazingly high, as I subscribe to Irving Greenberg’s dictum, referring to the Holocaust, that "No statement, theological or otherwise, can be made that cannot be made in the presence of burning children." Consider that there were tourists with children on the Observation Decks of the towers. They came to look in amazement at the massive beauty of New York City. We have lost those children, but we must not lose their vantage point.

Here goes

I am a human being. I am an American. I live in the New York metropolitan region. I live in New York State. I live in New York City. I live in the borough of Manhattan.

Many who work on the island of Manhattan live in the New York metropolitan region, in the suburbs and other boroughs, the so-called "bridge-and-tunnel crowd." Almost everyone who lives in Manhattan works in Manhattan, and many rarely venture outside of a certain group of neighborhoods. There’s a Village Voice Mark Alan Stamaty cartoon which shows various Greenwich Village denizens of increasing age bragging about how long it has been since they have been above 14th Street. There’s a famous New Yorker cover which shows an extreme Manhattan-centric view of the geography of the world. Even the mayor sometimes refers to "the city" when he means Manhattan, which is contemporary usage.

It is undoubtable that many of the plane crash victims, the Washington victims, the emergency workers and those visiting and working in the twin towers do not live on this island. I cannot write from their perspective. Of the people who flock to New York City to live, those who cannot find an apartment they can afford in Manhattan must disappear from its nightlife, or travel at late hours. We are the locals, who pay twice the rent for the privilege of being true New Yorkers. We are elitist snobs and we are hated.

For the past few years, we have watched in disgust as movie after movie has derived entertainment value from depicting the destruction of our city. We have the largest Jewish population outside of Israel, and are asked to tolerate "Hymietown" and "Jew York City" insults. Our Republican mayor, our Republican Governor, and our Republican President hate us (the latter would not even visit us). Although our mass transit systems transport some 18% of the United States commuters, we receive only 15% of mass transit funds, and a year or so ago a legislator tried to pass a law saying that no state could receive more than 12% (guess how many states this would affect?). The money that pours out of Manhattan in taxes is not returned in proportion to the borough, nor are the state and federal taxes pouring out of New York City returned in proportion to the city, prompting a movement years back to make New York "the 51st State" to address the imbalance. Our democratic Senators were elected by city voters, and one, Hillary Clinton, is reviled and demonized nation-wide. She is an honorary "Manhattan Liberal," a denizen of this coven of publishing, advertising, entertainment, fashion, education, free trade, free thought and other signs of decadence and sensationalism. Federal statisticians, both Democratic and Republican, refuse to normalize their data by population because they know it will show what they do not want to admit that the New York metropolitan region is enormous, and is refused our share of national resources.

The Disneyification of Times Square and the anti-civil libertarian police actions of our Republican mayor brought a resurgence of tourism to "the city," which has always been a magnificent and astonishing place to visit. Large 767’s plowing into the twin towers, and their subsequent collapse, certainly make for dramatic footage. But we New Yorkers know that when a Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, it was terror in the heartland, and Timothy McVeigh’s plight was tracked by the national news media to the end. When it turned out that America’s own anti-Catholic flirtation with anti-government militias was at fault, there was shame but less outrage. After all, this was the land of the X-files, of Waco. When the World Trade Center was first bombed, were there huge cries of "foreign terrorism on native soil"? Does anyone remember the names of those brought to justice? How about when Jewish children in a New York City school bus were shot at? Am I being completely cynical if I suggest that the attack on the Pentagon and State Department, not the destruction of civilian New York lives, has led to this "acts of war" rhetoric?

New Yorkers are New Yorkers, New Yorkers are citizens of the world, but the national news media is not portraying us as New Yorkers, or as humans, but as Americans. "Attack on America." America hates Californians as well, which is why the media plays up that the four flights were heading to California to be laden up with fuel, and doesn’t care whether there were a lot of Californians aboard. (Answer to that previous question about the 12% cap two, New York State and, to a lesser extent, California.)

The NEA has defunded grants to individual artists because a goodly proportion of individual artists reside in the New York metropolitan region. Movements toward "geographic diversity" similarly are intended as cover for the defunding of our fair city. We will get millions in disaster relief, but will real estate prices plummet as urbanites and suburbanites flee our "symbolic" spaces? Will the charm of "Seinfeld" and "Friends" and "Mad About You" and "You’ve Got Mail" be a painful reminder of a fantasy of New York that America has lot interest in? Will the nation get past its jealousy and treat us as humans? I can find out what commuter buses are running, what some pundit thinks about the Taliban, what building is next to collapse, but not whether the air I breathe is poisonous or whether my place of employment will ever be re-opened. The nation, fresh off of the national release of "Pearl Harbor", cares more about the magic number of dead victims than the magnitude of its impact on the families, friends and colleagues of those here awaiting the next attack. Is the evacuation of all residents below Canal Street only of interest to locals? Is this not a refugee population? To the national news media, we do not exist. America cares more about the 6,000 dead than the 8,000,000 living. God bless America, but not the Jews, Catholics, Latinos, Afro-Americans, gays, Asians and, yes, Muslims living in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami who were denied their proportional vote by the Electoral College. Welcome to the Twenty-First Century, where democracy is dead and freedom, liberty and justice are liberal propaganda. Let the profiteering begin.

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Last Updated: September 12, 2007