Entries tagged with “cosmopolitanism” from Patell and Waterman's History of New York
Given Rudy Giuliani's special relationship to the city, then, I feel more than justified in saying something about his rabid-attack-doggery last night. In case you couldn't bring yourself to watch it or read the full transcript, here's the bit I'm interested in, which came close to the end. It's from his defense of that extraordinarily experienced executive, Palin. Rudy claims she's
already had more executive experience than the entire Democratic ticket combined. (Cheers, applause.) She's been a mayor. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) I love that. (Cheers, applause.) I'm sorry -- I'm sorry that Barack Obama feels that her hometown isn't cosmopolitan enough. (Laughter.)See, it's his use of "cosmopolitan" as a pejorative that jumped out at me, probably because one of the biggest arguments Cyrus and I make about NYC -- along with historians and commentators like Tom Bender and Marshall Berman -- is that NYC offers Americans a model for civil society that's unique and uniquely appealing precisely because of the possibilities it affords for cosmopolitanism.
For Bender, NYC's cosmopolitanism is an appealing alternative to national origin myths founded in Puritanism or Jeffersonian agrarianism, which both tend toward xenophobia. For the ever optimistic Berman, even in the face of Giuliani's Disneyfication of the city, all the corporations in the world won't be able to eliminate entirely the "complex practice of sharing space," which is what he believes "gives people ideas, new ideas about how to look and how to move, ideas about being free and being oneself and being with one another." This is, essentially, the force behind cosmopolitanism, and why such an idea and experience matter to the world we live in.
What it means for this anti-cosmopolitanism to come from a former mayor of New York, then, is that we (meaning Waterman and Patell, but you, too) need to remember to keep the city's countercosmopolitan moments in view as part of the histories we're creating. There are lessons to be learned from the history of petty tyrants like Giuliani, who often did seem like a small-town mayor, more concerned about banning ferrets than in taking care of the total citizenry of his cosmopolitan city.
This summer, New York is awash with visitors from abroad, who are expected to top last summer's record number, tourism officials say. Thanks in part to home currencies that are holding strong against the dollar, even middle-class vacationers from Hamburg, Yokohama or Perth can afford to scoop up New York style -- the clothes, the hot restaurants, the nightclubs -- at bargain prices.
But for New Yorkers trapped on the other side of the currency imbalance, it's easy to feel ambivalent about the invasion. An infusion of foreign money is welcome in a city faced with a wobbly economy and a possible budget gap in the billions. But even some locals who consider themselves cosmopolitan and internationalist confess to feeling envy, not to mention territorialism, in watching a outsiders treat their city like a Wal-Mart of hip.
Yet another way in which the Bush administration's policies have undermined what Tom Bender has called "the historic cosmopolitanism" of New York City"! See Bender's essay "New York as a Center of Difference" from The Unfinished City ), which is one of the touchstones of our Writing New York course.
Yesterday's New York Times article about the Q train (and Bryan's post about it) reminded me of a famous comment made some eight years ago about the diversity of the ridership on New York's subways, in this case the 7 train.
The comment is a perfect illustration of Thomas Bender's point in the essay "New York as a Center of Difference" (from The Unfinished City ) that New York's "historic cosmopolitanism" puts it odds with the cultural mythologies that have dominated Americans' understanding of what it means to be American. Bender identifies these as Puritanism and Jeffersonian agrarian and argues that neither can give positive cultural or political value to heterogeneity or conflict. Each in its own way is xenophobic, and that distances both of them from the conditions of modern life."
The comment is also a good illustration of the mindset that Thomas Frank describes in his study of contemporary U.S. conservatism, What's the Matter with Kansas (2004): "People in suburban Kansas City vituperate against the sinful cosmopolitan elite of New York and Washington, D.C.; people in rural Kansas vituperate against the sinful cosmopolitan elite of Topeka and suburban Kansas City."
The comment was made by major-league pitcher John Rocker, a native of Georgia, and (at the time) the closer for the Atlanta Braves. In an interview, Rocker told Sports Illustrated in the spring of 2000 that New York is "the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark, looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."
Rocker's views may well have represented the views held by a fair number of Americans about their fellow citizens in New York. Indeed, one salon.com writer wondered whether Rocker "merely an expression of the national id whose blurted-out comments represent the sinister opinions secretly held by all the rest of us?" Nevertheless, Rocker's comments were deemed offensive not only by New Yorkers, but also by Major League Baseball, which suspended Rocker for the rest of spring training and the first 28 games of the season (though the punishment was reduced on appeal to merely the first 14 games of the season).
Rocker never really lived down the controversy and (perhaps by coincidence) his pitching performance declined thereafter. By 2003, he was no longer playing major-league ball. Last year, he was implicated as a steroid user during an investigation into an Atlanta steroid ring.
You can learn more about Rocker's views (and order a "Speak English" T-shirt) from his website, http://www.johnrocker.net.
I was reminded by the piece of a late-eighteenth-century account of travel by stage from New York to New Haven. It comes from the diary of a 25-year-old NYC physician and poet named Elihu Hubbard Smith, a central figure in my book Republic of Intellect. Here's his take on his fellow passengers, 29 November 1795, just following New York's yellow fever epidemic that year:
We were six, beside the driver: an old, greasy, gouty, lecherous Jew; a huge Irish manufacturer of Fleecy Hosiery; a South Carolina merchant; a middle-aged, decent Frenchman; a young mercantile Hamburger who spoke French & English; & myself. The Israelite was for fun and singing; but no one sung. He & the Irishman discust politics & The Fever. The Frenchman & the German, first fell on the French Emigrants, next on the Fever--& lastly upon this country. All these topics they handled, with prodigious volubility, in French. The Carolina growled a little, & muttered something on merchandise: I was silent. . . . A rambling talk, on religion, at Supper, gave opportunity to all the guests to discover their infidelity; & the Hebrew, in particular, disclaimed Moses & the prophets; & emphatically pronounced this sentence, that--'from Genesis to Revelations, all is trumpery.'The Times article makes a point that 8 passengers with iPods refused to be interviewed, raising the well-worn specter that headphones are going to cause us all to be bowling alone someday. Nevertheless, the point remains that most subway riders wouldn't be as engaged with their fellow commuters in quite the way Smith was with his -- even though he clearly positions himself above them as an observer. And that doesn't even get to the issue of New Yorkers then and now who, by virtue of class, never condescend to ride with the rest of humanity.