Saturday, March 5, 2011

"The Big Apple:" Good or Bad?

I want to expand upon a previous post to this blog titled "Cities in Literature." I was very captivated by Lydia Maria Child's Letters from New-York, as I live an hour outside of New York City and visit there regularly. She mentions places I like to go to, like Broome Street and The Battery. It was interesting for me to compare her observations of NYC in the 19th century with mine in the 21st century. While I view NYC as an inspirational, cultural hub where anybody can be whomever they want to be, she presents a more raw, harsh observation of New York and explores the contradictions within the city, from its poverty to its beauty. For those New Yorkers out there, or for those tourists of New York, what were your reactions to this reading? Or, how could you relate it to what you see in Washington, D.C.? I find myself arguing with friends here who have visited NYC a few times and dislike it compared to Washington. What do you think about "The Big Apple"?

I couldn't help but thinking about Bret Easton Ellis's postmodern novel American Pyscho, especially when she mentions Wall Street on the first page, page 1081, poverty in Letter XIV, and women's rights in Letter XXXIV. American Psycho is a reaction to the high crime rates in the 1980's in New York City, and the main character, unlike Child, has little sympathy for the poor or for women. This novel has stuck with me, not because I think it is so well-written, but because it is so disturbing. For those of you who have read the novel or have seen the film, what do you make of this more contemporary portrayal of New York City compared to Child's less gruesome, 19th century version? I suggest reading this article on the book, if you're interested in learning more about it and think you can stomach it.


  1. I actually just watched American Psycho for the first time last night after getting it on Netflix. So finding this post, I had to comment. I, too, found the film very disturbing. I think Patrick Bateman's actions are the most extreme reaction to the yuppie lifestyle of 1980s Wall St, New York City.

    Child's "Letters from New York" is less gruesome than "American Psycho" because it was written in the 19th century and back then it was probably considered as intense as "American Psycho" is now.

    For me, personally, it was a hard movie to watch and it's definitely not for the faint of heart. But I would recommend it because it does satire people's obsession with pop-culture and the yuppie lifestyle and goes to the extremes of how people respond to it.

  2. I am from New York as well, and when I read Lydia Child's Letters I could totally relate to what she saw. Whenever I go to the city I flock to the more hip places like Union Square, the Village, or 5th Avenue. But if you ever wander outside of those areas, poverty and homelessness become more and more obvious. I took an Urban Poverty and Affluence last year and we learned about how the I Love New York campaign ( of the 1970s was put in effect in order to change the negative connotations that came with NYC and with its state of squalor. My mom always reminds me and my brother that when she was in high school, Bryant Park (now a very family friendly, gentrified tourist spot) was pretty much the scariest place she knew--a haven for drug dealers and addicts and homeless drunkards. As much as we like to pretend the city is an "inspirational, cultural hub," once we open our eyes, as Child suggested, the poverty and inequality is obvious and rampant.

    When visiting Washington, DC for the first time at night, I was in shock. I found myself tripping over homeless people everywhere I went. They sleep outside of apartment buildings, and especially in the parks surrounding our school. I never saw that quantity of homeless people in one place, even in NYC. Also, once you wander outside of Foggy Bottom, the beauty of the city is lost to the sense of poverty and despair. My friend and I traveled on the Metro and got off at Benning at night to see a hockey game and we were both paralyzed with shock and disbelief (and fear) that we were still in Washington. There is definitely a more blatant sense of poverty in Washington.

  3. Yeah, well, I'm from Massachusetts, so all of you can keep your Yankees and your Knicks and your thirty dollar hamburgers. Also, you can think back to the "Rotten Apple" days as you ponder this post. Lydia Maria Child might be more relevant than you think.

  4. I am always so surprised to hear that NYC used to be dumpy. All you see of NYC nowadays is the glorified Times Square and the I love New York campaign brought up earlier. It seems as if the grunginess of cities has become a staple of (perhaps romantic?) American culture. I lived for a few years in Minnesota and notice an extreme difference between Minneapolis and cities like D.C., New York and Philadelphia. The streets of Minneapolis are essentially spotless and everything is extremely new and fresh. There are skyways connecting each building so that you don't have to walk out in the cold, but even when you are outside the cleanliness of the streets makes you feel like you are indoors. The city had an eerie, creepy feel to it that I had a hard time explaining to natives. It seems silly but I really did miss the grime I was familiar with in most cities.

    "Those who romanticize our dark age need a tour, too. The harmonica man’s song is still down there for those who care to listen. Heed the echo, and tremble." I guess I fall under this category, I'm not sure what my need for grunge signifies but it seems to be a staple in our culture.