Saturday, August 23, 2008

New York Times Loosens Definition of Journalism

Now, we never would have thought that we'd be uttering these words on BoogieDowner, but nonetheless... New York Times, you have let us down. Well, maybe not The New York Times as a whole, but more specifically Andy Newman and Richard Perry's joint multimedia piece, "The Curious World of the Last Stop." This uninspiring article and accompanying photos, as the title would suggest, examine the neighborhoods that exist (although by Newman and Perry's point of view, barely so) at the terminus of each subway line.

The article is pretty long and all over the place, but I encourage everyone to at least look at the photo slideshow for each nabe. If you live or hang in an end of the line hood, let us know if these pics accurately represent your environs.

Firstly, didn't Time Out New York already do a piece very similar to this, except much more thorough and much less insulting? Oh yeah, they did. It was called "Subway Tour of New York." Check it out if you're interested in learning more about those dreaded outer boroughs.

Now, about those dreaded and lonesome outer boroughs. I took one look at the photos associated with Norwood, the neighborhood directly north of us where we often stroll and shop and it was unrecognizable. Three of the seven shots of Norwood where just of straight-up graffiti, one of strange Mexican figurines, one of Virgin Mary posters on a store front, one nondescript photo of a window with a balloon and a Puerto Rican flag, and one of a young lass riding her tricycle from the bowels of hell into Williamsbridge Oval.

Were we walking in a different nabe all along? I became so distressed I almost put our co-op on the market tonight to flee to the safe haven of Midtown, or at least somewhere further from the end of any subway line in the whole city. It looks like every terminus hood only has chain-link fences to peer through, graffiti of which to take photos, a few open fires, and a couple pairs of abandoned gloves.

I get it, they were going for some edgy, artsy-fartsy point of view with a lot of their photos. But I can't help but get the feeling that Newman and Perry set out to research their story with the singleminded goal of digging up the grittiest, most ghetto-fabulous images from each neighborhood to which they traveled.

Although we write many of our posts to attempt to break down the "Bronx is Burning" 1970s mentality of our beloved borough, I took offense at this article on behalf of Queens, Brooklyn, and even Northern Manhattan residents as well. A few examples of Newman and Perry's outrageous depictions of the few neighborhoods left in this city where working class people can actually afford to live are as follows:
  • Jamaica Center (Queens) : Singular picture of an NYPD "Wanted" poster featuring a sketch of a rapist - yikes!

  • New Lots Avenue (Brooklyn): A looming NYPD watchtower

  • Wakefield (The Bronx): A burned-out car in a McDonald's parking lot

  • 207th Street (Inwood): My personal favorite, an open fire in a trashcan on the street!

As for the article written by Newman, it reads like a poem scratched out by a first year undergraduate student at Touro College. One of my favorite excerpts:

"At the city’s often-threadbare fringes, there is an inescapable sense of lonesomeness. There might be a Last Stop Deli, a forlorn bar, a maintenance yard populated mostly by rows of empty trains. There is, surprisingly often, a cemetery." [NY Times]

Or another of my favorites:

"Beyond the station gates, a priest dreams of a vineyard. A car bursts into flame. An ancient sign in a boarded-up window opposite the platform reads “Wrestling Weight.” A stuffed bear mans a betting window in a struggling OTB parlor. The dead lie in rows uncounted, and the living mourn and wait and work and love and strum guitars on the front stoop, annoying the neighbors." [NY Times]

The dead lie in rows uncounted? Is this guy Hemingway writing about the Spanish Civil War?

If anyone has ever exited the D train at 205th (it actually lets you out on 204th) Street, I'm sure they'd agree that what you'll find is a bustling thoroughfare alive with restaurants, bakeries, salons, and delis (as well as, according to Newman and Perry, a hell of a lot of graffiti). Where are the pics of the Mosholu Parkway's green pathways? Where are the pics of St. Brendan's Church? Where are the pics of the Valentine-Varian House? What about a pic of the tennis courts or the newly renovated astroturf playing field in the Williamsbridge Oval, instead of just an ominous tunnel?

I'm not saying that the outer boroughs (and termini of subway lines) do not each have their own quirky sights and sounds (some good, some bad). However, I certainly feel that Newman and Perry could have, and should have, painted a much more balanced picture of these communities where working class residents raise their families and live their lives.

Way to cut your teeth on a non-story, fellas. Now go take some pictures of the hookers in Hell's Kitchen, through a chain link fence.



Anonymous said...

I can't speak for the other places, but I was just at the "end" of the #6 today (on my way to spend an afternoon eating great seafood and enjoying the sun, cool breezes and small town, quaint atmosphere on City Island) and wished I had read the article beforehand so I could've snapped some pictures of the area - which was surrounded by a huge park, grand homes, women jogging on their own, etc. Very disappointing fare from the NY Times!

Simone Davis

Carla said...

Hey there, I can't find this item. Where in the article or Web site did you find it?

# 207th Street (Inwood): My personal favorite, an open fire in a trashcan on the street!


Boogiedowner said...

Hey Carla,
If you click on "photo slideshow" in the 2nd paragraph of our post, it will take you directly to the Times' page with all the images. You'll find the A train/207th Street image in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Simply click on that and it will take you to the famed "burning trashcan" shot. Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Terrible images of Norwood, which is a pretty attractive area. Boogiedowner is right, they seem to be trying to do something "edgy", rather than give a varied and accurate representation of the neighborhood. I wasn't able to view the other neighborhoods for some reason. I'll try again later.