Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New York In Denial Of The Rest Of The State (Good For What It Is).

The Good: Keeps New York City folk informed, Not excessively addy, Good photographs.
The Bad: Very introverted/focused on its own microcosm.
The Basics: Good for planning a trip or feeling the pulse of the City, New York is a magazine wrapped up in culture, gossip and politics of New York City.

I am a New Yorker, plain and simple. I have lived my entire life in New York: I grew up in Rochester, went to college in Binghamton and now reside in Canastota. And for the people looking at a map of the Island, you'll not find any of those places there. As I said, I'm a New Yorker. But there is far more to New York than New York City and I'm part of the masses of Upstate New Yorkers who likes to remind people that there is more to New York than New York City. We have a rich state filled with a lot of culture and class, not just skyscrapers and planned terrorist actions against us. Yes, there is a governor to New York, the highest political office here is not, in fact, Mayor. New York is bigger than just the City.

It might seem odd, then, that I would find myself picking up issues of New York Magazine to review. After all, the magazine is almost entirely about New York City and uses words like "Lubavitcher" without any explanation because (presumably) the target audience knows exactly what it is (I assume it is Yiddish and from reading it in an article, there is no way for one outside the circle to divine its meaning by context). If nothing else, New York magazine illustrates perfectly what I've said for some time: New York City is not a microcosm of the world, New York City is simple a self-absorbed microcosm of itself. Self-referential magazines like New York are simply reinforcement to people in the City who think they are in the know about the world to continue to believe that they are at the center of the world. And from that interpretation, New York (the magazine) works perfectly. This is a social commentary and gossip magazine and it is for those who love New York City or want to believe that this metropolis is, essentially, the only one on the planet.

New York is a weekly glossy magazine with an average of 112 pages. New York is available for a cover price of $3.49. To its credit, New York is not excessively addy, with only 25 full pages of advertisements with at least five more half-pages of ads, this is a surprisingly substantial magazine on New York City. Of course, all of the advertisements are for big places in New York City, like Tiffany & Co., Bloomingdales and Adorama. This offers a powerful advertising tool to those doing business in New York City without being overly addy for readers.

New York, the issue I am using for the review is the April 20, 2009 issue, is focused on New York City in sections starting with comments on prior magazines, the sections entitled "Intelligencer," "Strategist," "The Culture Pages," and "Agenda," with cover stories stuck in between "Intelligencer" and "Strategist" sections. The "Comments" section is a remarkably - some might say refreshingly - brief section with simple reactions to two articles from a prior issue. Unlike most "letters to the editor" sections, this is digested into a simple paragraph on each response with anonymous quick comments on the prior articles. There are no names, little depth and no real debate, just further back-and-forth notes on the articles that were presumably not in the original articles. One, for example, is a simple bunch of one-liners decrying Facebook, alongside another person declaring that the article was a very "old-person take on Facebook" (7). There is no high-minded debate here!

The "Intelligencer" deals with both local and strangely broader issues, starting with the state budget and what it means for those riding the New York City subway. This is useful and is presented as an odd map with political leaders mixed with their agendas and political concepts. Unlike a straightforward article, the diagram - which is presented like a demented subway map - is not as useful as it could be to those looking at how things connect and what the problem is and what it all means. The "Intelligencer" section continues with a reasonable exploration on the economic downturn and what it means for the maintenance of the skyscrapers in the City. It is a direct, blandly written piece that at least is comprehensible. The section loses focus then by including a diagram with news tidbits featuring different boroughs on the island and their local issues mixed in with articles about celebrity adoption, a historical note on the ConEd Building, a column on the effect of the recession on television programming, and an interview with Mike Tyson and his documentarian. The section closes off with a witless humor page featuring gossip and Rudy Giuliani, a page of celebrity photographs from New York City events mashed together as collages with quotes, and an interview with a City Council politician. The thing here is that the section has no consistency. Is it supposed to be information? Is it supposed to be gossip and rumor? Is it supposed to be funny? It is all mashed together with little regard for separating fact from allegation from satire and that makes it an incredibly unuseful nine pages.

The cover stories follow and New York does what it promises; it presents a very introverted view of New York City. The cover story explored celebrities who moved to New York City and their reactions. The article was wonderfully in depth and diverse, with personalities ranging from Connie Chung to James Franco to Danny Meyer to Ira Glass being interviewed. Their experiences all describe the excitement and horror of coming to the City for the first time and it manages to paint a picture that illustrates how important New Yorkers (or city-dwellers, anyway) find New York City.

The other features involved a pair of Jewish newlyweds doing work in Israel and the memoir is vital and relevant. The other article is an exploration of what Manhattan looked like four hundred years ago in contrast to how it is today. All three articles are remarkably in depth, well-written and interesting. The writers remain focused and present each story with a readable quality as well as a high level of diction and cultural insight.

The "Strategy" section does not exactly abandon that, but it focuses on Brighton Beach and how to get around that area of New York City. The pages mix food and shopping with a strange - some might say kitschy - collection of bargains found at stores in that neighborhood. There is a photo spread and a useful map which shows visitors how to get around to the places being recommended by the magazine. These are more snippets than in-depth articles and as a result, the "Strategy" guide to Brighton Beach reads like a diner placemat more than a cohesive article.

"The Culture Pages" is arguably the section most useful to those not living in New York City. New York's "The Culture Pages" are a collection of reviews on art displays, current movies, theater, television shows and music (c.d.) reviews. There are less useful articles like the Dance reviews (dance is highly subjective, though the article is well-written). One of the nice things here is that the three music reviewers all review and comment on the same five compact discs, so instantly one gets blurbs with different interpretations on the same works. The television reviews focus on a New York City perspective of current shows, so the review of "The Unusuals," makes comments on locations and concepts more than actually exploring the substance of the show and its performers.

The "Agenda" section caps off the magazine with movie listing times for the week as well as theater times and ticket information. This section is pretty much only useful for those living or visiting New York City. There is a New York City-themed crossword puzzle as well.

New York Magazine is well-written, but it does suffer some from the way it mixes commentary, opinions and what is written as if it were fact. While the personal memoirs are clearly just that, other articles are less clearly distinctly commentary or editorials. Still, there is enough here to illustrate why so many people love New York City and enough to help those planning a trip to the City to know exactly what to expect . . . like Jimmy Fallon twittering.

For other magazine reviews, please visit my takes on:
Natural History
Stargate SG-1 Magazine
Playboy Women Of Starbucks


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© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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