I'm going to start off by saying that I get what the Times was trying to do with its article "Will.i.amsburg." I get that one of the results that the Times was trying to achieve was the furious clickety-clacking of a thousand MacBook keyboards, as bloggers all over Brooklyn profess indignation and just flat-out disgust at the "humorous" exploration of Brooklyn done by Henry Alford in today's Styles section. So, in that sense, well-played, New York Times. "Will.i.amsburg" will undoubtedly be linked on many other websites (including, obviously, this one) and blog post after blog post will marvel at the new nadir that the Times has reached in what they might claim is an attempt to be funny, but what is really just an attempt to generate buzz. And, speaking of buzz, I will honestly say that I can't wait for the Times to discover BuzzFeed because you just know that a newspaper that makes a Black-Eyed Peas pun in a headline will have its mind blown by what's going on over there.
But before the Times attempts to send Henry Alford back to the 90s or get his take on gifs of animals hugging babies, let's talk a little bit about why this particular piece is proof that Alford is the Times' answer to Andy Borowitz. Which, that's not a positive comparison. Anyway, the following things are the cultural reference points that Alford mentions in a "middle-aged avowed Manhattanite" attempt to "educate himself" on all things "hipster Brooklyn." And they are all indicative of why, ultimately, this article is successful only as blogger bait, not as anything even approaching humor.
1) The Wythe Hotel: "I had fallen into conversation with the affinity marketer (beard, plaid flannel shirt, vintage work boots) in the lobby of the Wythe hotel in Williamsburg..."
2) Beards: “Leave me alone during this awkward period of beard growth.”
3) Nose-piercing:"a beehive of instrument-bearing musicians, nose-pierced locals and twentysomethings who use the word “ridiculous” in nonpejorative contexts..."
3) Kale: "this middle-aged avowed Manhattanite checked into the Wythe and spent a long weekend trying to educate himself, canvassing Kings County’s artisan-loving, kale-devouring epicenter."
4) Girls: "I wanted to see what the demographic behind nanobatched chervil and the continually cited show “Girls” could teach me about life and craft cocktails. "
5) Rooftop farming: "So I decided to embed myself among the rooftop gardeners and the sustainability consultants and the chickeneers."
6) Portland: "Portland is the Lorna Luft to Brooklyn’s Liza. We’re thinking of you, Lorna."
7) Mumford & Sons: "When a scruffy, ponytailed salesman in his 20s approached, I told him: 'I’m going for a Mumford & Sons look. I want to look like I play the banjo.'”
8) Locavores: "I picked up a pair of argyle wool socks from a nearby wicker basket and asked, 'Are your socks local?' The salesman self-consciously said no."
9) Mustaches: "Enjoy the ’stache. Honor the ’stache."
10) Bicycles: "On a 'fixie,' you see, you can’t coast or backpedal, you’re always moving forward: the shark of the bike world...It was, as the kids say, totally ridic."
11) Roberta's: "Roberta’s has the ugliest entrance of any restaurant I’ve ever seen, barbed wire leading to heavily graffitied concrete cinder blocks: gulag in da hood."
12) Mast Brothers: "The store smells like heaven; I would happily die there."
13) 3rd Ward: "3rd Ward, a continuing-education center in Bushwick that is heavy on classes like chicken raising and rooftop gardening and cardboard furniture-making."
14) Repurposing (also, stupid young people): "After class, another 3rd Ward student asked me how the class went, so I told her 'Well' and then added, 'I’m thinking about turning my spare guest room into an abattoir.' She looked impressed."
15) Used Books: "I presented the calm, bespectacled Molasses employee on duty with three books whose resale value could accurately be described as limited; a collection of Ronald Reagan’s speeches, a 1993 book about the health care crisis and 'Hitler Laughing: Comedy in the Third Reich.'”
As you can see, Henry Alford really gets what's so funny about Brooklyn. It's all the stupid, earnest young people who have opened up businesses and are trying to combat the perhaps inevitable trajectory that much of Manhattan has taken into being nothing more than a sea of chain drugstores and banks.* Which, isn't that just so funny and so totally worthy of mocking? I mean, beards? Ridiculous! Portland totally did that first, you guys. And just as I understand that this article is meant as a spoof—because nothing is funnier than middle-aged white guys trying to be cool—I also feel like we reserve the right to be offended that a newspaper that routinely mocks the idea of "Brooklyn"—an idea that it has been key in perpetuating—is just straight-up publishing a Catskills-style humor piece that forgets the fact that Brooklyn is actually a place where millions of people actually live and work. And it's not all fixed-gear bikes and artisanal mayonnaise.
Brooklyn is not, even in jest, some exotic place that can best be reached from Manhattan by taxi (as the Times once recommended). It's a place that has become weirdly fetishized by the Times and routinely derided for being a place where people do things in a way that is not familiar to, I guess, the average Times editor. But what is really so exotic about anything that was mentioned and mocked in this piece? The only thing really laughable is that Henry Alford seemed to think that the reason the girl he talked to at 3rd Ward was dumbfounded about his suggestion that he turn his "spare guest room into an abattoir" is that she maybe didn't know what "abattoir" means. In fact, she probably just could not wrap her head around the concept of a spare guest room. That's the thing with these Times Styles pieces. They all come from such a rarefied tier of privilege that all they manage to mock is the idea that anyone could be living in a way other than the one that the Times mandates as being normal. So it becomes a joke to try and barter books at Molasses, because, who needs to barter anything? Haha, what a quirky lifestyle Brooklynites lead, with their vintage clothes and rooftop farms. The fact is, Brooklyn isn't what's exotic anymore. The Times should try spending a weekend in TriBeCa or the Upper East Side if it really wants to explore a lifestyle that's not relatable to most people. Of course, the Times will probably never do that, because neither of those neighborhoods will allow them to employ the word "hipster" in a headline, nor do they lend themselves to being turned into a Black Eyed Peas pun. The Black Eyed Peas. It's 2013, New York Times. Try harder.
*Note: At this time(9:30 am), I noticed that the Times changed the name of this article from "Will.i.amsburg" to "How I Became a Hipster." Unclear to me which is the worst headline. They're both pretty fucking terrible.
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