Andrew Sullivan has been talking about New York in a series of blog posts called “The Tyranny of NYC”.
Andrew begins the series by quoting Friedersdorf’s “The Future of The City”. Friedersdorf suggests that despite all the wonder and excitement of New York City, that:
[E]ven if you love New York as much as I do, revering it as the highest physical achievement of Western Civilization, surely you can admit that its singularly prominent role on the national scene is a tremendously unhealthy pathology.
Sullivan happens to agree. What a tragedy:
I love it to death, but would never live there. And the narcissism of its inhabitants (yes, I know I’m not exactly one to talk) is deeply irritating. It’s much less different than it once was; and nowhere near as interesting as it believes.
I truly hope Sullivan has stayed in NYC longer than a few days to truly appreciate the awe and comfort that can be found in one of the world’s most chaotic cities. I lived in NYC most of my life—since I was three years old—and still have most of the city left to explore. I hope to do so one day when I return with my beloved wife. 17 years and I still had not experienced a recognizable fraction of the city. I may not have been the most outgoing person in the world but I NYC was my lady and I loved her passionately. I did walk her streets often and explored her crevices, like a lover would explore his lover.
All this love talk is really no different than found anywhere else. I’ve lived in Indiana, Vermont, North Dakota (thankfully for a very short time) and the vacationed for months in the Dominican Republic, where I was born and most of my family remains. The love for one’s adopted land is no different. People in Indiana swear by the blessed ground their house sits on.
Ta-Nehisi Coates disagrees with Sullivan:
I think New Yorkers only seem more smug, because there are more people in New York and thus more arrogant New Yorkers. In my time, I have watched mo-fos from everywhere from Dallas to Cleveland to Columbia, Maryland hold forth about why their neck of the woods is touched by God. This kind of person would be that way, no matter where he or she were born. Regrettably, in New York we have more of those kinds of people, because we have more of all kinds of people.
Ezra Klein explains the smugness very well:
[New Yorkers] have what’s considered the greatest city in the country and can’t stop talking about it. It’s like an A-student bragging about his grades, or a rich guy making everybody look at his car. It’s unseemly.”
It’s very obvious considering the way I massaged my big apple above.
A reader wrote Sullivan and pretty much laid it all out:
Are the people of New York narcissistic? Yes, but the phenomenon of narcissism is not any more widespread here than anywhere else, including the small rural town and suburban sprawl where I grew up. It may be that the narcissism of New Yorkers is particularly recognizable because it so often looks like worldly self-congratulation; but people find all sorts of ways to congratulate themselves, including being dismissive of New York.
The writer then explains an instance where his father dismissed the city using the well known exclamation: “New York is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to raise a family there." I’ve heard this plenty of times at work in Indiana where people enjoy the quiet, simple life in a community where the kids get so bored they dig into more sex and drugs than ancient Rome at its worst. That’s not to say NYC is bereft of such vices but when going to a bar is the primary source of recreation for adults, you know you live in the country in Indiana. Sadly, the father in the story Sullivan’s reader recounts didn’t bother actually entering the city and instead stayed in Penn Station.
And here’s part of the beauty of New York City, explained by Sullivan’s reader:
If you come to this vast, bewildering city honestly and alone, there is nothing about it that congratulates you. There is nothing in it to even acknowledge you. If the city itself has any direct influence on a person’s self-conception, that influence must at first be humbling, not inflating. It is an experience I wish more people could have. If you grew up in the places I did, you can drive from Erie to Detroit and see nothing to challenge your world view or your sense of self; the same cannot be said of the distance between Wall Street and Harlem.
… I would say that New York does not loom large *enough* in the national consciousness – it is a chimera of New York that looms, not the real experience of the city itself.
You can walk through a crowd in downtown Manhattan and be as invisible from the world as driving down an empty country road outside of Milan, Indiana. You can also make noise and get noticed. You’d probably annoy people but that’s probably the point; why would you want to acknowledge the rest of the peons living around you when you’re no better?
The world is a very, very large place. Its expanse is unimaginable to someone living out in the country. Its size is very much acknowledged by someone living somewhere like in NYC. I posit the experience of living in NYC, as long one doesn’t practice a closed mind, alone is capable of reminding people that there is a larger world than one’s self. There is a clear distinction between the smugness of a New Yorker and the smugness of the country folk that dismiss New York.
Country folk tend to inflate their self-worth beyond their true value. Their smugness comes from living in a world that’s a lot smaller than they are. They may travel a long distance to get anywhere and, in a sense, they can realize they’re a tiny speck on a big world, but when you see only a few people on a given day, you as an individual will think yourself more vital to the inner workings of society. That’s a mere illusion.
New Yorkers don’t really inflate their self-worth in this way. A New Yorker’s smugness comes from the city itself. It really is one of the greatest places in the world and its beauty, size and complexity as well as the history you can smell in the air (no, that’s not raw sewage) is s
omething that ca
n’t help but fill a resident with joy and pride. A New Yorker’s smugness isn’t an inflated sense of self-worth in the same way someone in the country would think of himself: a New Yorker’s smugness is limited to the fact he or she is a New Yorker. That’s where it ends.
This is, I think, because New York reminds you that you really are a small cog, if even that, in a big machine. You come to the realization that you’re a tiny speck among many specks instead of a tiny speck at the center of the universe outside of Milan, Indiana.
This video Sullivan embedded on one of his blog posts is wonderful. I wasn’t much of a cyclist but Bob Cesca is very pro-cycling and has turned me on to biking as a primary source of transportation. Considering the distance from where I live outside of Milan, Indiana to anywhere else nearby is enormous and the lack of room for biking on the road to anywhere on top of that, it’s not much of an option. Nevertheless, NYC is a great place to be a cyclist—even with the crazy yellow taxi drivers.