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The City Became a Giant Infomercial Set.

Everyone from Falun Gong to U2 decided to use the streets as their own personal soundstage.

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New Yorkers have long taken perverse pleasure in the city’s inaccessibility to outsiders. Tons of people visit here, of course, but their experience, we liked to think, was 100 percent ersatz, as close to the real New York as those going-out-of-business electronics shops on Broadway are to a genuine bargain. The hapless out-of-towners seemed to know it, too. They longed to get their pockets picked on the subway or to be propositioned by a transvestite hooker in the meatpacking district—anything that would give them license to run home and tell all their friends about their wild adventures in the big, bad city.

At least that’s how it used to be. The city remains big, but its badness has receded to the point where the accessibility issue has been reversed. This year it’s we locals who’ve felt out of place, as we’ve witnessed a steady stream of outsiders come to town and appear entirely comfortable using the city for their own alien purposes. There were, for starters, those Republicans. Need we be reminded of the shocking ease with which the red-state army waltzed into midtown? Sure, many New Yorkers shook their fists angrily, and some even got themselves arrested, but what difference did it make? The Republicans came here to shoot a big infomercial, with New York as a telegenic backdrop, and when they were done, they gleefully left town and rolled on to victory.

Then there are the Falun Gong folks, who are still with us, setting up their elaborate displays on the busiest street corners, sitting in cages and bloodying themselves with makeup to dramatize their persecution by the Chinese government. Falun Gong purports to be a harmless, nonpolitical group dedicated to meditative exercise, and it claims these demonstrations are not orchestrated from above but represent the individual initiative of hundreds of their followers. Could this be true? To New Yorkers dodging their pamphleteers, it sure looks like a professional operation that understands the city’s role as a global stage, the best place in the world to cause a fuss and get noticed.

This also explains the recent appearance in New York of U2, on the same day that its album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was released. On the back of a flatbed truck, the grubby Irish billionaires rolled through the streets blasting their guitars and then held a concert under the gleaming Brooklyn Bridge. What right does U2 have to align itself with New York? No more and no less than the Republicans do. It’s a damn shame the Strokes never thought of doing this. At least they’re from here.

Next year, all this threatens to gets worse: The Country Music Awards are coming to New York, NASCAR has designs on Staten Island, and if the mayor has anything to say about it, we’ll win the 2012 Olympics, which might make us fondly remember the Republican convention as a cozy gathering of a few dear friends.


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