Archive for the 'New York' Category

Time Square’s Social Truth

Ruskin begins ‘The Lamp of Truth’ by noting, “there is a marked likeness between the virtue of man and the enlightenment of the globe he inhabits” He argues that architecture is a reflection of the society that built it. Is Time Square a true reflection of the values and aspirations of the society we live in?

Whereas Ruskin’s beliefs and the buildings he discussed were religious in nature, Time Square celebrates the ‘religion’ of capitalism. And like any religion, capitalism has its own rules and beliefs system. Times Square is the only neighborhood in New York with zoning laws requiring building owners to display illuminated signs. To not display billboards would be a crime against capitalism. But religion is also about community, as socializing and communal experiences are another way its ideals is re-enforced.

Time Square is an immense sluice of entertainment and commerce but also of humanity. The crowds that flock there illustrate our love of public spaces and people watching. And although this crowd consists mainly of strangers, depending on the day or event it becomes a kind of community. At the Metropolitan Opera Simulcasts, it is a community of opera enthusiasts and at the Jersey Shore premiere it consists of Jersey Shore fans.

Like Charle’s Moore’s discusses in ‘You Have to Pay for Public Life’, nobody believes that Disneyland’s mountain is real just like nobody believes the giant plastic M&M in Time’s Square is filled with chocolate, yet the experience of being in the space is a real and immensly exciting one.[1]

Photography is an integral part of how people experience Times Square. Almost everyone is snapping away on their camera or iPhone and most likely posting them to social networking sites to say, “I was here. I took part.” I watched in amazement as hoards of people, young and old, stood in the middle of the street taking photos of themselves on the Forever21 billboard. The billboard sits above a pedestrianized part of Broadway and features a virtual model, dressed in what I assume is a Forever21 dress, who interacts with the people below. The model takes a Polaroid photo of the crowd and brandishes it in front of her showing a close-up image. At times, she appears to pluck someone out of the crowd, kisses them or drops them in her bag. And although the billboard can be seen as some kind of strange commercialized surveillance camera, it also illustrates our own increasing obsession with documenting and sharing every part of our lives. People love to see themselves in Times Square and the billboard acts as a huge mirror. One can’t help but be reminded of Andy Warhol’s prediction that “in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” however in this case most people only get 15 seconds.

Although obviously concerned with promoting Forever21 it doesn’t directly coax you into that store. In fact, it does the opposite. The interaction extends how long someone looks at the billboard and encourages them to stay on the street. It is as if companies have property in Time’s Square to promote their brand and selling their products is not necessarily a main priority.

Having your image projected in Times Square relates is another way that Time Square attempts to make you feel like a celebrity. If someone goes into the Forever21 store, there are sensors that detect them causing the flash bulbs surrounding the threshold to go off, simulating dozens of paparazzi. Similarly, the TKTS booth 27 ruby-red steps rising 16 feet above the sidewalk are everyone’s personal red carpet to literally rise above everything to see and be seen.

The TKTS booth has more than doubled the amount of pedestrian space in the area. TV premieres are screened in the open air where the TKTS steps are transformed into a giant communal sofa where people gather to share in the collective excitement. These communal media experiences give Time Square a purpose and re-affirm it as real, social space. William Whyte refers to these kinds of events as ‘triangualtion’, external stimuli which provide linkage between strangers to talk to eachother as though they are not.[2] Eating and drinking are expected and encouraged as TV dinners are replaced by McDonalds takeout. You can look down on the lowbrow nature of Times Square all you want, but for many people it is a true and meaningful experience to. So, let them eat cake. Or fries. Or whatever they want.


[2] Whyte, William, ‘The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces’, Project for Public Spaces Inc, 2001


[1] Moore, Charles, ‘You Have to Pay for the Public Life: Selected Essays of Charles W’. Moore, MIT Press, 2001


Minetta Tavern and Mad Men

As a newcomer to New York, I made a lot of  mistakes in my first few weeks – wrong subways, wrong way, wrong change – and it was awfully irritating.  Because of this I spent most of my time wandering around with my nose in any of the four guidebooks I owned. I relied on them to show me the way and followed their advice religiously.

I had originally planned to visit  Brooklyn’s Academy of Music to see a movie about the city. But after several subway mistakes suffering through dodgy Brooklyn neighborhoods I decided to get back on my reliable L train and go to Manhattan. Manhattan is safe. It has a grid. Surely I couldn’t get lost. But I did get lost and ended up on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village.

“Why am I already familiar with MacDougal Street?” I wondered to myself. It sounds like a vaguely Irish name, but that’s not the reason. As I passed a small, understated restaurant on the corner, I remembered … Of course, The Minetta Tavern! The Minetta Tavern’s ‘Black Label’ burger is mentioned in no less than four separate articles in my Time Out guide. It also frequently features in the Mad Men series as one of the bars where Rodger Sterling and company have their after-work martinis. After my disastrous trip, I decided to treat myself and wandered in.

I almost stumbled inside the door because the interior was so dark. But as my eyes adjusted I began to recognize the classic interior; deep red velvet chairs, framed vintage caricatures and old-fashioned cream lamps. I really felt like I had gone back to an older, more glamorous time. The waiter was pleasant without resorting to the smiling fakery that I was growing tired of in other New York establishments. He showed me to my seat and I began to make my way through the incredibly expensive menu. I looked at the Black Label price tag – 28 dollars, not including tax or tip – and felt a pang of guilt. I was being excessive. I was going to waste most of my savings on my silly attempt to feel as important as a Sterling Cooper executive.

The guilt must have subsided, or the delicious rhubarb cocktail must have kicked in, because I found myself ordering a starter as well as the Black Label burger. The pâté was distinctly average and this brought back my feelings of guilt and stupidity. But the Black Label cured all those feelings. It was a simple creation: bread bun, caramelized onions and a beef patty. No frills. But the soft ground steak mince melted in my mouth like no burger has ever done before, or since. The meat had a distinctive smoky flavor that complimented the bun’s subtle sweetness. It was smaller than it had looked in the pictures in Time Out but I ate it slowly, savoring each tiny bite.

I watched as each new person entered the restaurant and ordered the same. It seems the Black Label burger has quite a reputation beyond the pages of Time Out Guide. It cannot be denied that the price tag is ostentatious, but luckily for me, it felt completely worth it. Was I mad to pay so much for it? Probably!

Torando on Twitter

Two nights ago a tornado-like storm rampaged through Brooklyn, my current city of residence. As I sat on my incredibly comfortable Herman Miller chair in the D-Crit studio on the West side of Manhattan I was completely oblivious to this. Yes, I heard some thunder and saw some lightening but I didn’t think much of it. (Our lecture rooms are situated across from a photography studio so their flashes look as though there is constant lightening.)
I found out about it through my boyfriend in Ireland. He found out about it from a tweet. Minutes later, he was sending me links to youtube with footage of it soaring through Park Slope and other areas. Bizarre. Another bizarre aspect was as I read the news coverage on NY Daily News about the tragic death of one resident I was informed that “611 people like this on facebook. Be the first of your friends.” Surely nobody actually likes the death of someone else. Facebook may need to consider a new term… The number of ‘likes’ is significantly larger now, as seen in the image below.

I know it seems like such an obvious comment but it still shocks me when because of the Internet someone all the way on the other side Atlantic Ocean can know more about the city you’re living in, and know about it faster.