Opinions Gained From This Week’s New York Magazine
Here are some questions that might come up at a dinner party whose answers lie in this week’s issue of New York Magazine:
Q: What’s happening to New York’s bike lanes?
A: The cover of New York Magazine promises the story of a new “culture war.” Inside, some members of a newly crowded older generation in Park Slope, Brooklyn find bike lanes dangerous and claim that promising statistics about usage and safety, which make New York look like Portland itself, have been intentionally exaggerated in favor of bike enthusiasts. But, between Bloomberg and the entire creative class’ enthusiasm for bikes, the minority doesn’t stand a fighting chance, even equipped with a probono lawsuit from George W. Bush’s lawyer of the contested 2000 election.
In time, the author admits his own passion for the unparalleled feeling of freedom that is cycling in New York. He attends a community hearing whose first two speakers are two adorable children who say even they want bike lanes, inviting questions like, are New York’s youth being big bullies? And, does a squeaky bike chain of resistance constitute a “war?”
Q: Aren’t Kate and Wills so much duller than Diana and Charles were?
A: “The Real Housewives of Kensington Palace” compares Princess Di and the future princess Kate. Princess Di, through scandal upon compelling scandal until her scandalized death, created an unprecedented media maelstrom from the moment of her engagement and made the social lives of the British royal family a genuine economy. By contrast, Kate and Wills seem painfully ordinary. Wills did not attend Oxford and is marrying, without concern for social class, Kate, a preppy girl, composed like Helen Mirren’s queen. The author supposes that analysts predicting super-bowl-sized spendings during their televised April wedding are overestimating public interest in this dull couple and, I quote, “that thinning royal pate.” Ouch.
But by the time the author states his point, he has already undercut it, having first painted a thoroughly fascinating picture of these supposedly normal, Americanized Brits. Sure, hanging out at hot Chelsea clubs and using witty nicknames might resemble a certain familiar American type. But to need to draw a social line between those with short Anglo-Saxon names and compound ones? Or to use conversationally the terms “wags,” (women who love footballers), and “willabees,” (women who love William and his posse, who are, in turn, “The Throne Rangers?”)–priceless! Just because Kate and Wills dated in college doesn’t make them like any other couple. In fact, a certain amount of Americanization has only made the British parts more interesting for still existing at all. In the post-Real World world, we hunger for royal cool more than we do a royal scandal, and nothing will sell me more magazines than articles, like this one, that document extraordinary ordinariness.
Q: What do you think of Michelle Rhee’s education reform tactics?
A: Another deft article profiles education reformer Michelle Rhee who gained fame for her high-performing class on national TV and founded StudentsFirst, a highly patronized nonprofit opposed to teachers’ unions and firing by the dozen those Rhee deems bad teachers. The article paints Rhee as an demagogue, who is launching a rhetoric-heavy crusade (remember the children!) that bears resemblance to both the 2008 Obama campaign and the Tea Party, implying a closer connection to the latter. Thearticle plays it safe when it comes to picking sides (Rhee has liberal and conservative support, and Waiting For Superman was a really good movie). But, it questions the efficacy of mass firings, and whether using the “ch” word is ever fair–even in war (on education policy)–because it automatically makes dissenters Child Haters. As for objections about how to identify a “bad teacher,” as a recent student, I remember this much: you know one when you see one. But I also remember that administators were rarely as perceptive.
Q: Have you heard about that new restaurant called, What Happens When?
A: Yes, you have. It’s being called a “temporary restaurant installation” and, this month, all the menu items are named after characters from A Mid Summer’s Night’s Dream, complete with psychedelic forest decor.Throughout the review, Adam Platt includes remarks from his “skeptical uptown guests,” who, despite having presumably fulfilled lifetime goals by befriending a food critic, insist on complaining. One of them, who said, “I can’t believe they’re serving food in this chicken coop!” should be thankful Adam didn’t invite him last month when the restaurant was Hamlet-themed: I can’t believe they’re serving meat in this graveyard!
Q: Have you heard the new Strokes album?
A: You heard that Nitsuh Abebe thinks it is “messy but chock full of ideas.” The band was forced to record most of the record without Julian Casablancas, with whom, the article implies, the band would have fought too much, and oppressed by Casablancas’ aggressive style. You don’t come off looking so impossibly cool and laid-back without repressing an uptight side.
Q: Wanna go on a “bruise cruise” with me for Spring Break?
A: The new concept from Carnival Cruise Lines is a boat load of indie rockers, hired to entertain music fans alongside more typical cruisers. The bands are taking advantage of the scenery to shoot music videos on location and otherwise behave like rockstars on vacation. Every band the cruise director asked to participate accepted the offer. It may not do much for the environment, but every interviewee said the fun had exceeded their high expectations.
Q: And, finally, have you seen Tracy Letts in Steppenwolf’s new production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in D.C.? It’s supposed to be particularly highbrow and brilliant.
A: No. I haven’t got around to it.
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