A Positive Note in the Debate About the Supposed “Death of New York”

I take no sides in the current debate about the supposed “Death of New York.” This raging debate for the summer of 2020 is powered by articles about people (who could) leaving the city for the suburbs, and images of rioting’s aftermath beamed out to the world.

We live in a time of melodramatic headlines. Regardless of whether I think the current city administration is hopelessly incompetent or not, breathless pronunciations of collapse seem a bit too hot of a take.

Heck, you need go no further than the Crown Prince of New York himself, Jerry Seinfeld, to point out that cities change over time and to pronounce things as “dead” is a bit of a stretch.

Also, I don’t live there and so it doesn’t impact me all that much. If people are leaving in large numbers, then the tax base of the city might collapse and that’s not really good for their infrastructure, but they’ll just learn to adapt just like Detroit did.

In my 20s I loved the idea of New York City as much as anyone else. I also had vague notions that the city had a bit of a rough edge. I remember taking trips to Manhattan and being given strong admonitions to be careful.

Reinforcing the Notion

At least part of that vague notion of the city’s inherent dangers came from comic books, of all places. Daredevil made no secret that he existed in a New York City closer to reality than Gotham or Metropolis tried to be. (Being a Disney®©™’s Marvel®™© character, he also seems to avoid the current “superhero criticisms” that are laid on Batman or Superman.) I only knew Hell’s Kitchen thanks to that comic, honestly, though I did read up on it later in life.

Billy Joel also highlighted rough sides of the city. Who didn’t sing along with “You May Be Right” and understand that him walking through the Bed-Stuy neighborhood alone was a crazy idea? I mean, he said it was, along with riding his motorcycle in the rain.

Who am I to question a multi-platinum recording artist from the city, and his assessments?

Film’s Role

Never mind that on your first trip to New York City through Penn Station in the summer, the concentrated smell of urine and rat vomit would take a minute or two for your nose to accept.

The largest source for the image of the dangerous Big Apple, however, are the films that came out of the 1970s and 1980s. Dog Day Afternoon. The French Connection. Fort Apache, The Bronx. Serpico. Year of the Dragon. Shaft. All classics in their own right!

The Warriors wouldn’t have existed without the accepted fact that gang violence in the city was a serious problem.

Some of the greatest portrayals of gritty New York City, though, came from Martin Scorsese. He and Robert DeNiro (and Harvey Keitel) were evangelists for the coarse subculture that powered what Dennis Leary might call the “Good Block/Bad Block” game. Taxi Driver alone cemented an indelible image of the city.

Mr. Bright Side

And this is all why I think a grittier, more terrible New York City could be a great thing in the long run. We could get some terrific movies out of it. Some of the ones out of the “gritty New York era” are stone cold classics.

Look, I’m just trying to make lemons from lemonade here. Trying to look for the positive. If Seinfeld is right, then that’s great for the city. If he’s wrong, I get terrific entertainment.

Since I don’t live in the city, it’s sort of a win/win.

This one won’t win me any friends, but if you’ve spent any time noting my sense of humor on this blog, or know me in real life (“IRL” as the kids say), it shouldn’t cost me any, either.
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