June 26, 2006
Tales of the Cities
Tina Brown, English and once editor of VANITY FAIR and THE
NEW YORKER, and who helmed the fabulous magazine burnout at
century's end, TALK, recently announced that New York, a town
which has been fabulously kind to her, is no longer the "Capital
of Cool." London has now been given that title by Ms.
Brown. It is more of an "international" city now
than New York.
The chill that has settled on New York results, she believes,
from the changes in environment in the town since 9/11. It
has become more insular, less frenetic, less passionate, a
more hesitant city than it was before the Towers fell.
I suspect she is correct; I look around the city where I
do much of my work and agree: the city is a different place
and the changes can be attributed back to 9/11. For many the
sounds of several police sirens still results in momentary
paralysis to see if there is some larger issue causing the
cacophony than just the ordinary run of crime. A certain boisterousness
has exited the city's soul. There is still much to do and
much to consume yet the tone of doing and consuming is more
There is a certain hesitancy on the part of New Yorkers,
a sense, perhaps, they have yet more to endure. There is less
laughter in the streets and less outrageous behavior. I cannot
attest that "cool" has moved to London; I will keep
my eyes open next time I am there to see if the wild wonderful
spirit of "old" New York has migrated across the
If New York has changed, it is because the entire country
is changing. A sense of seriousness is falling across the
land and the youthful enthusiasm of America, a quality both
endearing and annoying to the rest of the world, does seem
to be migrating abroad.
In New Orleans, the city devastated by the terrorism of nature,
had to call out the National Guard this week to help maintain
order in its streets after a crescendo of murders this past
weekend. And at the same time its police force is frequently
called to intercede as depressed citizens attempt to take
their own lives. The other day the police waded into the wild
waters of the Mississippi, convincing a man attempting to
drown himself to give life another chance even though he had
been left bereft and bankrupt by Katrina.
Washington, D.C., at no time a very mirthful town, has been
particularly dour since "W" ascended to the Presidency
in 2001, a sobriety heightened by 9/11 and punctuated now
by ruling party anxiety about losing that status as Bush's
popularity plummets and pundits peck like verbal vultures.
New York's lack of "coolness" is, perhaps, rooted
in its sense it is no longer "the capital of the world"
while the rest of America feels the heat of global competition
and the press of global issues. There is an endless stream
of immigrants wanting to settle here, one way or another.
While the illegal unskilled seem to find their way, the skilled
find visas hard to get and so turn to other countries eager
for their knowledge in such things as quantum physics. New
Orleans' crazy lifestyle ended with the breeching of the levees;
New York's descent from Capital of Cool began with the tumbling
of the Towers and America's sense of ever growing ascendancy
has faltered as it assimilates the limits of its wealth and
power and fights global competition for both natural and human
We cry for a Kennedy like voice to call us to aspire beyond
our selves. When faced with the national trauma of 9/11, the
current crop of crustaceans running the country extolled us
to go shopping rather than to grapple with the causes of our
vulnerability. A sobering war has failed to conquer terrorism
or convince a world we are fighting from a moral base. Failing
to confront reality, political leaders delay in formulating
plans for resolution of the issues that have caused New York
to lose its cool and New Orleans to become half a ghost town.