Monday, July 6, 2009

Manhattan: "An Island of Lost Souls"

I have never seen "Gossip Girls" or "NYC Prep." I have it on good authority that these shows offer a voyeur's eye view of the world of New York City teenagers.

Still and all, I was intrigued by an article in today's New York Magazine entitled: "The NYC Reality Freak Show." Its concept: "Is Manhattan really as bad as it appears." Link here.

This is a strange thought at a time when a lot of people are beginning to think that the worst is over for New York City and that life will soon return to normal.

According to author Vanessa Grigoriadis things are worse than we think: "In NYC Prep, as in many low-culture products, the emerging picture of Manhattan is an upper-class farce.... Post-crash, the city is a symbol of spiritual emptiness, an island of lost souls, almost submerged in colorful cocktails. And much of America wants to laugh at New Yorkers suffering for their sins."

If true, this is not encouraging. Yet, do televisions shows parody reality or do they depict it? Does art, even lowbrow, shine a light on the truth or obscure it?

And then, are we New Yorkers suffering for our sins? Are we paying the wages of sin, especially the sin of pride, now called narcissism and arrogance?

Surely, there are more lost souls in New York today than there were a year ago. But that begs the question: were Manhattan's movers and shakers, its financial wizards and megabankers, always somewhat lost souls?

Lost souls suffer from anomie. You can say that they are spiritually empty, but theirs is not a problem that will be solved by more charity work.

I prefer to analyze the problem in terms of community. New Yorkers got so caught up chasing the gold ring that they forgot what they had to do to exist within a community.

Our failure to learn how to work together, to feel that we are in it together, contributed to the excesses and extremes that set the stage for the market crash.

Whether or not lowbrow art can reveal hidden truths, the market crash surely did.

Apparently NYC Prep centers around the character of one PC Peterson. As the grandson of billionaire financier Pete Peterson, PC uses the show to embarrass his family by making a fool of himself on national television.

Clearly, Grigoriadis sees PC's situation as emblematic of the mindset of the up and coming generation. If so, it is not encouraging.

Yet, there are some encouraging signs too. When the show's producers were trolling Manhattan trying to find children to star in NYC Prep, mostly they encountered disdain and refusal.

Meaning that things are perhaps not as bad as they seem. Grigoriadis reports that no student from the most competitive schools deigned to participate.

The lure of celebrity is potent, indeed. But New York City is not going to come back if its best and brightest aspire to turn the city into Hollywood East. It is encouraging to see that many high school students know this already.

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