Tuesday, May 18, 2010



It astounds me how much material I can mine from newspapers. Every story is rife with hidden biases. Every perspective is jilted. Every judgment is faulty--at least from particular angles. My writing, too, is faulty from particular angles. But newspapers "disseminate information on a large scale." They even claim to publish "the truth." I make no such claim. I am just a lonely Nietzschean in a categorical world. My facts are my perspectives, no more. To say anything else would be presumptuous at best.

Yet I am not writing to attack factual inaccuracies in news reporting. Rather, I write to illustrate the ubiquitous, subtle value judgments that underlie even the most innocuous articles.

Last week, for instance, the New York Post ran a brief article about the new "Limelight Mall" that opened in the old Episcopal church on 6th Avenue. See N.Y. Post, May 8, 2010 at p. 6. For New Yorkers, this is a seismic shift. Beginning in 1983, a notorious nightclub called "Limelight" operated in the space. It closed down a three years ago. It remained vacant. People thought the building was falling apart. They thought it was ugly. Actually, they never liked it much when it was a nightclub, either. People used to have sex, do drugs and dance there.

But now it's a high-end shopping mall. You can't hang out with lascivious nocturnal denizens in the Limelight anymore. You can't get lost in Byzantine mazes searching for chance encounters there. Nor can you dance away the night to the techno beat. No, now the Limelight has regular business hours. And rather than offering New York nightlife, now it peddles $400 dog collars, custom soaps and Petrossian caviar.

This is Bloomberg New York at its finest. Out with fun. Out with uniqueness. In with drab, revolting commercialism. In with chain stores, banks and luxury boutiques. It makes me want to vomit.

Yet the New York Post voices its values by praising the transformation at Limelight. Although the staff writer does not directly say that a boutique mall is better than a nightclub known for rollicking Epicurean license, she uses a surrogate to make the judgment for her. Specifically, she quotes a 30-year-old lawyer with a 7-month-old daughter who came down to check out the new shops. The lawyer said: "It's fabulous. It was really a dump before."

Wait a minute. What could a 30-year-old lawyer possibly know about what the Limelight was 20 years ago? She was 10 years old back then. She probably didn't even live in New York. The Limelight has been closed for three years. That means she was 27 when that happened. Kids usually graduate law school at 25, which means that for three years before that, she probably never set foot in a nightclub, let alone assessed whether the Limelight was a "dump." Even assuming she did have the time, most law students don't go to places like the Limelight; such indulgence might reflect poorly on their character applications for bar admissions.

In all likelihood, this lawyer moved to New York very recently and rented an apartment in the neighborhood at some obscenely inflated rent. She had a job waiting for her, then popped out a kid. She probably noticed that the church was unoccupied. She probably also noticed that the other buildings in the area housed nice little restaurants and shops, so the church looked "run down" by comparison. So when a boutique mall opened in her neighborhood, she probably thought to herself: "How consistent! Just what I expected for my block! Now I can get caviar!"

This is revolting value imposition. Who the hell is this little lawyer to say whether the Limelight was a dump? She could never have gone to the Limelight in its heyday. She was studying contracts and torts during its last years in operation. She merely heard about the Limelight and immediately concluded that a boutique mall is better than a nightclub. That is a value judgment. And it reflects allegiance to quiet bourgeois comfort. The Post endorsed that judgment.

Screw her. I think boutique malls are dumps. I'll take the nightclub.

Alas, she made the paper, not me.

Thus spoke Oesterhoudt.

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