Brooklyn Then and Now

espo downtown brooklyn

The image of the new Brooklyn has, “with remarkable speed,” almost entirely displaced the image of the old Brooklyn, wrote New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott apropos of Spike Lee’s now notorious rant against gentrification at a Black History Month event in February. In movies, television, books and real life, the old Brooklyn was a melting pot of ethnic communities from which the ambitious fled. The new Brooklyn shares much with Portlandia, said the story.

The tension built into the “Brooklyn” brand is that it’s both a local, artisanal, communal protest against the homogenizing forces of corporate culture and a new way of being bourgeois, and as such participating in the destruction of non-middle-class social space. Its rebellious energies are focused largely on restaurants, retail and real estate.

The story ends by saying the old Brooklyn is not quite gone, and the artists and writers who live in the borough now must write (or make art) about the two Brooklyns.

The Brooklyn of that time, as recalled by Mr. Lethem and Mr. Lee, is a place where a painter and a writer — or a schoolteacher and a musician — could raise their children in relative comfort. It was also a place where such families lived in close, sometimes uncomfortable proximity to people in very different circumstances, where class and race could not be wished away. That Brooklyn still exists and cannot entirely be bought out, built over or exiled to the kingdom of memory. It will be the task of the artists and writers who live there now, native and otherwise, to discover it.

Do you agree?

Whose Brooklyn Is It, Anyway? [NY Times]

One Comment

  • Who’s Brooklyn is it? The journalists’, of course. The Manhattan of Sex in the City was quite different than the Manhattan of, say, Taxi Driver. One could opine about what that says about socioeconomic changes in Manhattan between the mid-70s and the late-90s, or one could opine about the different individual perspectives of the artists who created those works. Of course Brooklyn has undergone tremendous change, which should and does resutl in some serious reporting about it. But these kinds of articles are more about the fact that so many journalists live in Brooklyn, and are constantly mining the borough for new things to write about. That said, there is always going to be a difference between works that use memory and perspective from a time past vs those that try to imerse themselves in the here and now. It’s a great moment in Crooklyn when the kids are jumping on the bed watching Soul Train — it’s a slight moment but steeped in memory. I suspect we’ll see more interesting works about the Brooklyn of today when the children growing up here now become the authors and screenwriters who tell those stories. .