Posted by Brian Connor
During the Superbowl, the largest superficial display of consumerism in the U.S., one commercial aired had the rare quality of genuineness. The "Imported From Detroit" Chrysler commercial displayed brilliant shots of various iconic statues and buildings in Detroit, announcing the phoenix-like return of a city that's "been through hell and back." It was a statement of municipal pride that transcended the normal sports rivalry hoopla and challenged the motor city's detractors as "people who have never even been here, who don't know what we are capable of." Though its tone turns sentimental and corny as a solemn Eminem addresses us in front of a cliché African-American choir, the message of civic solidarity, of the need for a city to determine its own reputation and destiny, is one we should all take to heart.
Last October, an article appeared on Skidmore Unofficial titled "From 87 to the L: Demystifying the Skidmore Migration to Brooklyn." After a protracted, rambling introduction, the author, an alumna, attempts to weigh the pros and cons of moving to Brooklyn after graduation. The author then makes various assumptions, about which I have much to say.
Firstly, the article ignores the fact that many Skidmore students are from Brooklyn, a simple but still resoundingly inane omission. The author writes that, New York "is the city I have wanted to move to since fully grasping the meaning of suburb. And since most of you are likely from Massachusetts or the Tri-State area—with a dash of Midwest for novelty and San Fran for scruff—you will understand that sentiment." The reality is, Brooklyn, Bronx and the other outer boroughs are fairly well represented at Skidmore, and many of these students are from low-income and racially diverse backgrounds. This statement marginalizes an important sector of the student body.
Secondly, the article assumes its audience can afford to "migrate" to one of the most increasingly expensive areas in the U.S. (due in no small part to the influx of post-liberal arts college gentry, who drive up real estate prices, and force out low-income residents).
And finally, the author describes Brooklyn, albeit facetiously, as a "hipstered-out clusterfuck."
I sincerely hope I don't need to tell you that Brooklyn is much more than that. A borough of 2.5 million people, a borough which on its own ranks among the top five most populated cities in the U.S., Brooklyn is arguably the most ethnically and culturally diverse communities in the nation.
This article epitomizes the misrepresentation of Brooklyn I have observed in the words and behavior of young "migrants." These members of the Williamsburg liberal arts gentry believe they are pioneering and invigorating a thrilling new urban world, naturally grasping the subtleties of multicultural city life. What they don't realize is that they are turning much of Brooklyn into "New Connecticut," a bastion of upper-middle class white culture, replete with Indie bands, trendy bars, and expendable cash. Characterizations of cities by newcomers and outside commentators, such as that of Brooklyn as a "hipstered-out clusterfuck," necessitate a renewal of civic pride, a will to refute these misrepresentations.
A lack of will on the part of inhabitants to determine their city's reputation, has led to commentary and municipal criticism such as this, as well as the use of a term that is in much need of analysis and criticism. Though the author doesn't use this term, her evaluation of Brooklyn smacks of that classist and ignorant label that is far too widely used: "that city is very ‘livable.'"
This term, like most insults, has the opposite effect of its user's intention. It is often meant to convey cosmopolitanism. Its user aims to present him or herself as a citizen of the world. Instead it merely conveys its user's misconception that everyone is jet-set like him or herself and can afford to pick the locales in which they reside. It reveals its user's total ignorance for the reality that the working class, low-income peoples of the world, to say nothing of the starved and impoverished, are very much tied to their cities.
Let me demonstrate this word's obnoxiousness by paraphrasing its subtext. Phrase: "That city is very livable." Subtext: "I can find all of the amenities to which my white privileged background entitles me. Also, my expensive bachelor-of-arts degree has made me an expert on urban sociology and I feel entirely comfortable passing judgment on cities the world over."
The most odious implication of the "livable city" designation is that some cities are "unlivable." Phrase: "That city is unlivable." Subtext: "that city is a post-industrial wasteland in which lazy philistines have doomed themselves, by their inherent lack of worth, to toil away their days."
For these reasons, the Chrysler commercial's reclamation of Detroit's reputation is important. I imagined its declaration of civic pride to be aimed at the exact type of municipal marginalizing and disparaging that I refer to. It announces Detroit's indifference toward elitist detractors who would label it "unlivable," who would stigmatize it as a rust-belt "clusterfuck" of impoverishment. The Skidmore alumnus refers to "the stigma of moving to Brooklyn as a Skidmore grad". Well, future alumni, if your "migration" is stigmatized by Brooklynites, it wont be because your moving to a "hipstered-out clusterfuck;" it will be because you have no shame in characterizing our city as such.
Brian Connor is a senior American studies major from Brooklyn who spends his summer nights at Siro's. He is a gourmand and an amateur Chinese Handball player.