The TONY 40 Whitewash
I'll start with a cliche-amending statement: Sometimes it only takes one picture to obliterate a thousand words of cant. That's what happened with this week's Time Out New York cover story, "The New York 40," a roundup of photos of, and interviews with, "New Yorkers who've made a positive impact on the city" since the magazine's inception in the mid-'90s. Of course, the TONY editors didn't dare to include non-celebrities in this group, but all things considered that's the least of their offenses.
The "New York 40" interviews compile rote statements about the supposed "Disneyfication" of NYC that were commonplace well before 9/11. Playwright Adam Rapp says, "Rents are making it hard for artists to sit and daydream." Actress Patti LuPone boasts, "I would rather have a sex shop than an Applebee's." Singer Nellie McKay laments, "I think the city is losing a lot of its character and a lot of its diversity."
The TONY editors certainly intend us--expect us--to agree with this chorus of celebrity complaints without skepticism. But the magazine's cover image, a Photoshopped gang's-all-here gathering of the "New York 40," complicates (to put it mildly) that assumed consensus.
The cover makes it immediately obvious that Time Out New York's social panorama is ruinously skewed. Of the 40 icons on view, only three (baseball superstar Derek Jeter, novelist Junot Diaz, and rapper/entrepeneur Jay-Z) are people of color. This 10-to-1 ratio, which doesn't reflect either actual NYC demographics or the heightened profile of non-white performers since hiphop gained mass acceptance, must be viewed as editorial preference.
Far from resisting gentrification, the cover concretizes ways of thinking that blot out non-white social and cultural contributions. The "positive impact" that people of color have had--can have--on their social environments is reduced to a token presence, barely noticeable amidst the capering and grinning of a benevolent white majority. This image in fact illustrates how popular culture (and design culture) itself has been gentrified in the last 15 years.
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