BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | The conflict now is not democracy versus fascism or communism. It is democracy versus corporate capitalism.
A stunning example of corporate capitalism dominating our democracy and freedom is the appointment of Taylor Swift — with her song “Welcome to New York” — as New York City’s cultural ambassador. Sure, she is hot right now, top of the pop charts, cute and yes, good for tourism. But is that enough to be our N.Y.C. cultural ambassador? A face of tourism, O.K. But what is her connection to the city?
Is tourism more important than history, opportunity, the right of a New Yorker to make it here? The old “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere” is now what?
Our history is being erased, the high rents have made it difficult to stay in the community, the small businesses are being pushed out. It is important to realize, using Ludlow St. from Delaney to Houston, as an example, that many of the small family- and privately owned businesses were successful.
A partial list of business that have been forced out because of escalating rent includes the Pink Pony, Max Fish, Motor City, El Sombrero, Earth Matters and Spitzers — all closed.
Our area has become an entertainment zone oversaturated with bars, student dorms and tourism, and filled every weekend with spring break fever.
Change is inevitable, and, no, we don’t want the drugs and crime back. But there has to be a happy medium between middle- and low-income people being allowed to live, work and own small businesses, and the takeover by people with full pockets.
It was affordable rent and the chance to live an inexpensive lifestyle that created the chance for genius to develop. The history of the Lower East Side is filled with people who came to the city with little and went on to make a serious contributions to the culture of America: Madonna, Charlie Parker, Steve Cannon, Philip Glass, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Weegee, Allen Ginsburg, Alan Kaufman, Ellen Stewart, Emma Goldman, Dorthy Day, Leon Klinghoffer, who invented the Roto-Broiler, a metal oven that consisted of a rotisserie, and was killed aboard the Achille Lauro. The list is long.
The next generation of “Making It in N.Y.C.” is now imported talent like Taylor Swift. We have exported the jobs and imported the talent.
I cannot blame Taylor Swift for accepting this opportunity. The push to get her replaced by a N.Y.C. talent is not about her as a talent or a person. It is not about an older generation lamenting the loss of our past. I am working with a young up-and-coming band called DAMEHT, who I hope will become recognized and be able to survive as musicians. I too am in a position where the chances of my staying in N.Y.C. are slim. To save my photo archive and life’s work, I am working on moving to Austria.
The L.E.S. is a part of my being, of who I became. But what chance do any of us struggling artists have if the city is importing talent?
There is no question we have an overabundance of local pop and music talent that tourists would recognize as representing the city, as well, as New York songs written by local talent.
I have documented many of the changes caused by gentrification on the L.E.S. But this next form of gentrification, importing creative talent, is a form I could never have imagined. I was sitting around discussing this problem with Rivington, DAMEHT’s singer and songwriter, and his editor, Jeff Hammer.
We decided the best source for material that we had quick access to was my biopic, “Captured,” directed by Ben Solomon and Dan Levin and edited by Jenner Furst. Since most of the material in this movie belonged to Elsa Rensaa and myself, we thought, “Rip it, use the material.” Jeff did an all-nighter and came up with the video in this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukxGWe18GOs
It is not that we are saying GG Allin is the best example of an alternative to Taylor Swift, but he definitely represents a style of the ’80s and ’90s. So far, our youtube video has had more than 25,000 views: proof that people are disenchanted with being sold out.
It is time for a change. We need more than the Housewives and the Kardashians to aspire to.
I hope we can use this video to help make a change — to get the politicians to wake up and use a local talent as the face of tourism. Wake up, N.Y.C.!