Branding Brooklyn

Who wouldnt want a piece of this?

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  • Who wouldn’t want a piece of this?

In an attempt to meet its weekly quota of Brooklyn trend pieces, the New York Times featured an article this weekend in T, its style magazine, titled “Brooklyn: The Brand.” And in an attempt to meet my weekly quota of blog posts about NYT trend pieces on Brooklyn, I read it. I mean, I needed something to do while I waited for the season finale of Girls, didn’t I? Yes. I did. And, plus, I thought maybe I could learn something more about Brooklyn and branding and what it means when a place becomes “Brooklynized.” I’m really not trying to be disingenuous at all. I mean, maybe a little bit. But not really. I’m honestly curious and want to know why the place where I choose to reside is viewed as little more than a brand. Living in a brand sounds dangerously close to living ironically, another thing that the Times has warned me about. Does that mean that by living in Brooklyn, my life is a joke? Because for all of the reasons that my life might possibly be labeled a joke, the fact that I live in Brooklyn is, like, pretty far down the list.

But so anyway, let’s not make this all about me. Brooklyn! What does it even mean when a place is “Brooklynized?” According to writer Stephen Metcalf, to Brooklynize something is to employ “the conversion of nature into use value on the daintiest scale possible.” Basically, it means making stuff twee. It means Mason jars and it means rooftop apiaries and it means “small-batch production, urban husbandry, period facial hair, a fixed-gear bicycle, ‘Girls.’” And it doesn’t just mean that these things exist in Brooklyn proper, it means that the Brooklyn brand has been exported all over the world, where it…I don’t know exactly? Creates havoc? Or something? Metcalf’s point is actually that it doesn’t upset the existing culture in places like Paris and Berlin because those places “were teeming and weird, justly magnetic urban neighborhoods already.” So, he’s actually kind of peeved that the current movement of Brooklynizing things could just as easily be called “Berlinizing” or (*shudder*) “Portlandizing.”

So then, why Brooklyn? Metcalf makes a good point in asserting that the idea of Brooklyn is rooted in the “repudiation of Manhattan…whose nosebleed real estate prices pushed the creative class out to Brooklyn in the first place.” Manhattan represents little more than wealth now and the capitalist reality that everything is for sale. Manhattan is bland and corporatized and “global.” Brooklyn has become synonymous with “local.” Of course, no matter how DIY and Luddite the so-called Brooklyn aesthetic might pretend to be, the paradox is that there is almost no corporate brand more associated with Brooklyn than Apple, which is not exactly a Luddite company. And this is precisely what bothers Metcalf. He is irked at Brooklyn’s pretensions. He is bothered by the commodifying of the idea of “local” as personified by Brooklyn. He hates that “Brooklyn” is now a global mindset and that instead of things actually being valued for their local charm in places like Silver Lake, they are now all seen through the prism of Brooklynization. Metcalf is wearily resigned to the fact that: “Such are the wages of contemporary life. We reach out for reality, and no sooner do we brush it with our fingers than it turns into a brand.”

Which, there is something terribly ironic about the idea that a movement that pretends to be about individuals in a specific location has now been generalized to the extent that location and individuality are beside the point. But there are really two things to consider here. One is that the very nature of having something “Brooklynized” means that it will necessarily adapt to whatever place is getting the Brooklyn treatment. Paris is still not Brooklyn and never will be. And the other thing is actually really just sad when you think about it. Which is that Brooklyn, with its increasing popularity and skyrocketing cost-of-living, is fast on its way to becoming the next Manhattan. Brooklyn’s credibility might take a bit longer to suffer on the global stage, but if current trends continue, then expect to see a totally new place assume the mantle of global cool. And then we’ll never hear about Brooklyn in the Times again! A girl can dream, can’t she?

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen