Brooklyn’s Brand Ambassadors6

Posted by Deirdre // 03-07-2014

The Brand of Brooklyn

The Brand of Brooklyn

About a week after my post about Ditmas, the NY Times published this article about “the Clubhouse,” a sort of modern day Bohemian boarding house / studio, nestled on a quiet street in that very neighborhood. But Ditmas is just a bit player in the piece, which is really about the roommates and their…work. Musicians, video artists, tech stuff, you know the drill. It’s hipster to the H degree for sure, but there’s more: the house has a sponsor. Or as the NY Times refers to it, the house is “closely aligned with a new media company called BKLYN1834, which is dedicated to selling the borough’s image beyond its borders.” Um, yeah. And 1834 refers not just to the year in which Brooklyn was incorporated, but to THE AGES OF THE TARGET CONSUMER to which all the projects will marketed.

The article seemed to offer zero acknowledgment that this premise was ridiculous or at least vaguely laughable. So I immediately went to twitter to enjoy the spew of disgust that surely was being vented and add my own version of a Spike Lee-esque rant, as someone who admittedly never lived in any less than gentrified part of Brooklyn and definitely appreciates the good restaurants and shops, but who is still grossed out beyond belief by this. Yet all I saw were accolades and cheers from “friends” of the Clubhouse.

Were these people being paid? It is not an out of the question question. Is it all the more gross to me because I’m in marketing and have been a part of the conversations in conference rooms about that elusive demographic? Perhaps. Am I just really old and jaded? This too, could be the case. Thankfully, a few days later I learned that The New York Observer felt pretty much the same way and so much so that they claimed Brooklyn was “over”. The $10 latte played a part, as did the $8 million condos and all the other Brooklyn is so expensive and also just so Brooklyn that it’s become a parody of itself news of late. Look, it’s not that I moved to Brooklyn to be an artist or even pretend to be living an alternative lifestyle. And while I don’t think of “consumption as an art,” I do feel that the whole foodie/etsy/flea movement was at least interesting to behold and experience as it became a part of and helped shape the culture here. At least before it just became too much.  

“The borough’s creative class has long focused its talents and energies on producing pickles and artisanal doughnuts, bespoke blue jeans and exquisitely renovated brownstones rather than a creating definable school of art of [sic] literature, music or social movement.”

Ouch. It is selling the borough and all that’s happened here in the last ten or so years a bit short I’d say, as well as the efforts of all those who wanted to be pickle makers because they were good at making pickles (or t-shirts or jewelry), not writing novels. That’s not their fault or the borough’s fault that this is who lives here and more importantly, who has made it here. And remember what our friend Moby said about New York no longer being where artists can feel free to fail, and in this piece David Byrne (who admits he is one of the 1%) rails on about New York — at least Manhattan and much of Brooklyn — only being a playground for the rich.

I don’t want to get too off track as this was not meant to be a we-are-the-99% piece. I don’t know what it’s supposed to be. I guess I’m having an issue with the fact that there are people selling the brand of Brooklyn and not just on a t-shirt on a person but the person himself, and he’s basically cool with that. Maybe it’s just The Real World coming full circle?

This is combined with the the fact that this rise in artisanal appreciation and cool factor, along with the money that’s infiltrated Brooklyn, has come the astronomic rise in the price of these things. I’m glad that people who make things are making money but it’s gotten so ridiculous that to buy provisions for a cheese plate and dessert at the local (grass-fed, organic) cheese shop for a night in with friends, now costs what it would to go out to dinner in more normal cities. New York has always been expensive, of course – you make more money here, you live in a shoebox and that’s the way it is and always has been. Yet it has gone beyond farcical. Pickles and $10 loaves of crafted bread and up-cycled wood furniture were a bit pricier but we happily paid for the stuff because it was real and made here in our beloved borough. And we could chuckle at the Brooklandia aspect of it all because we could kind of afford it. But something seemed to have switched. And now the moneyed are not just buying up brownstones for cash but happily paying not $10 but $15 for loaves of crafted bread and then swooping in from midtown to take whatever vestige of real cool that’s left and sell it as “content” that makes it feel almost beyond repair.

Am I just too poor now that I’m a freelancer to enjoy the spoils? Is it our age? Is it another one of those exhausting conversations about Brooklyn that are now just over too? I’d love to know what you think.


4 Responses

  1. Jenna says:
    March 7th, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    I feel all of these things, but yes…it’s complicated isn’t it? I don’t want to gloss over our privileged life in here in Brooklyn, particularly our neighborhood (and by that I mean I acknowledge that even though we are 2 self employed people trying to make a living in this expensive city and making it work for the most part on our relatively modest incomes, – we are privileged). But there are often the same struggles in my head about all of this, particularly since we were right there at the very beginning of the foodie/etsy/flea movement that you speak of. Oy! So are we partly responsible? Ha! But I often think that we’re not even our demographic (and apparently too old anyway, according to the 18-34 reference). I can’t afford to buy $10 artisanal loaves of bread, that’s for sure, or even $8 package of cookies for that matter (though as fellow food companies, we often trade wares with each other so we do have jars of artisanal jams and pickles in our fridge, but not because money has been exchanged – there’s something really lovely about that, you know?). But I also know how much work and money it costs to run this business and I’ll tell you that we’re making money, but not getting rich by any stretch of the imagination. For the most part, none of us are, and many of us are scraping by. So I guess what I’ve come to appreciate is that Brooklyn has enabled us and others like us to open businesses and actually make a go of it, as evidenced by all the independent businesses that are based here. I was thinking the other day when a foodie colleague of ours announced that they are leaving NY that it’s going to be a lot harder to do what we can do here over there, at least in terms of making a living from markets and being in a fairly close knit community that does exist here. Something about Brooklyn enables this to work in a way that I don’t think can easily be replicated, and it’s ironic because doing business in NY isn’t easy, what with the costs and red tape, but there’s something about this place that makes it possible. Maybe it’s because there is plenty of money flowing and a market to buy all these goods, I don’t know! Now as an “older” (oh dear) native New Yorker who has lived in Brooklyn in pre-gentrification times, the commodification of Brooklyn has me rolling my eyes all the time. I mean look at how over the top it is at the Gowanus Whole Foods and Barclay Center. Can they shove it even harder in our faces? I think not. But I sort of hate all those constant articles that declare Brooklyn (or the in the past, the East Village, or Soho, or Nolita) is over. I mean, who cares? Probably not for most of us living here, and especially those of us who have chosen to plant roots and raise our kids here. And if you’re only living in a place because it’s cool, you’re probably just going to move on to the next place anyway.
    Totally rambling comment. Like whoa. Sorry!

    • Deirdre says:
      March 7th, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      Yes to all of those things! It is so complicated. And although I guess brands like yours ARE partly responsible, it’s not like you set out to gentrify Brooklyn. Like I said, it’s great that you can do that here and I do think Brooklyn has cultivated that ability to make it as a scrappy small business and that’s awesome and what has lured many of us here, whether we’re making the things or not. The feeling that things were possible. What I wonder is, are they still possible? Again, maybe not for us who have kids and mortgages (or just astronomical rent to live in a great school district) but for the 25 year olds eating ramen for dinner like I used to do at that age. The packages of ramen you buy for 99 cents. Not $17 ramen. Oy.

      And when I say “over” it means is that kind of dream of possibility over. And it’s true – all of those neighborhoods were declared “over” at one point or another too. But I will tell you that when we were in our 20’s the East Village felt very different from the West Village which felt different from SoHo which all seemed like they were on a different planet from the Upper East Side (at least to us New Yorkers). None of this is particularly true anymore except for the original architecture. So is the same thing going to happen here in 20 years? Probably. Does that mean Brooklyn is over? Of course not. But it’s sad never the less.

      • Jenna says:
        March 7th, 2014 at 1:51 pm

        No, you’re right. The East Village isn’t the same, of course, as when I lived there during the tomkins square park riot era. Nor is Soho. And neither is Park Slope from when I lived here back in 1991, or even in 2000 when I moved back. But is it over? Or just changing? Because how could anything stay the same? It can’t. Whether it’s changed for the better or worse is always debatable for some people. I like to wax nostalgic about 80s NYC as much as any New Yorker, but would I want to live in that era again as a 40 something year old with 2 kids? I don’t know. Probably not. As far as the possibility still existing, I think it still does exist. The new small businesses that I see cropping up tells me that it is. But nobody is fooled into thinking that it’s easy. It never was, not then not now. The problem that I have with these types of articles is that they’re reducing the borough to a Brand and using what’s considered on trend by the cultural elite to represent a whole borough. It’s so dismissive to the generation of families who’ve lived here and don’t give a crap about hipsters.

        • Deirdre says:
          March 10th, 2014 at 11:26 am

          One more thing (or maybe more)! My issue with the Brooklyn “brand” thing is not with the fact that the NY Times or whatever other publication is trying to turn it into something it’s not – that’s been going on for a while. It’s with the company that is actually turning it into a brand! And making the people of that “clubhouse” the representatives of the entire borough. That’s what feels super icky to me. So yeah like the Observer piece said, Brooklyn is less and less about what really made it feel Brooklyn (which they associate with gentrification too). And while it’s true that for those of us just raising our kids here it doesn’t seem super different day to day, but the changes sort of creep in over time.