“Will.i.amsburg”: or The Day the New York Times Officially Became an Internet Troll

This is the Times version of Wheres Waldo.
  • Casey Kelbough c/o nytimes.com
  • This is the Times’ version of “Where’s Waldo.”

I’m going to start off by saying that I get what the Times was trying to do with its article “Will.i.amsburg.” I get that one of the results that the Times was trying to achieve was the furious clickety-clacking of a thousand MacBook keyboards, as bloggers all over Brooklyn profess indignation and just flat-out disgust at the “humorous” exploration of Brooklyn done by Henry Alford in today’s Styles section. So, in that sense, well-played, New York Times. “Will.i.amsburg” will undoubtedly be linked on many other websites (including, obviously, this one) and blog post after blog post will marvel at the new nadir that the Times has reached in what they might claim is an attempt to be funny, but what is really just an attempt to generate buzz. And, speaking of buzz, I will honestly say that I can’t wait for the Times to discover BuzzFeed because you just know that a newspaper that makes a Black-Eyed Peas pun in a headline will have its mind blown by what’s going on over there.

But before the Times attempts to send Henry Alford back to the 90s or get his take on gifs of animals hugging babies, let’s talk a little bit about why this particular piece is proof that Alford is the Times’ answer to Andy Borowitz. Which, that’s not a positive comparison. Anyway, the following things are the cultural reference points that Alford mentions in a “middle-aged avowed Manhattanite” attempt to “educate himself” on all things “hipster Brooklyn.” And they are all indicative of why, ultimately, this article is successful only as blogger bait, not as anything even approaching humor.

1) The Wythe Hotel: “I had fallen into conversation with the affinity marketer (beard, plaid flannel shirt, vintage work boots) in the lobby of the Wythe hotel in Williamsburg…”

2) Beards: “Leave me alone during this awkward period of beard growth.”

3) Nose-piercing:”a beehive of instrument-bearing musicians, nose-pierced locals and twentysomethings who use the word “ridiculous” in nonpejorative contexts…”

3) Kale: “this middle-aged avowed Manhattanite checked into the Wythe and spent a long weekend trying to educate himself, canvassing Kings County’s artisan-loving, kale-devouring epicenter.”

4) Girls: “I wanted to see what the demographic behind nanobatched chervil and the continually cited show “Girls” could teach me about life and craft cocktails. “

5) Rooftop farming: “So I decided to embed myself among the rooftop gardeners and the sustainability consultants and the chickeneers.”

6) Portland: “Portland is the Lorna Luft to Brooklyn’s Liza. We’re thinking of you, Lorna.”

7) Mumford & Sons: “When a scruffy, ponytailed salesman in his 20s approached, I told him: ‘I’m going for a Mumford & Sons look. I want to look like I play the banjo.’”

8) Locavores: “I picked up a pair of argyle wool socks from a nearby wicker basket and asked, ‘Are your socks local?’ The salesman self-consciously said no.”

9) Mustaches: “Enjoy the ’stache. Honor the ’stache.”

10) Bicycles: “On a ‘fixie,’ you see, you can’t coast or backpedal, you’re always moving forward: the shark of the bike world…It was, as the kids say, totally ridic.”

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  1. Bahahaha
    “I can’t wait for the Times to discover BuzzFeed because you just know that a newspaper that makes a Black-Eyed Peas pun in a headline will have its mind blown by what’s going on over there.”

  2. Bravo to you Kristen. You really hit what bothers me about writers such as Henry Alford. I hope you submit this as an op-ed. To me, Brooklyn was a place where young people are forming a community.

    My take on Williamsburg…

    It’s 2004 and you have just moved to Manhattan at 22. You try to get a job at a major publication such as The New Yorker or Vogue. And you do, as unpaid intern. To subsidize your dream, you take a job at a coffee shop in Williamsburg and a clothing store in SoHo. After a year, you are promoted to Senior Intern with … no pay. You move to Bushwick or East Williamsburg to save money on rent.

    Finally you are offered a job at the magazine! But, you realize that you earn more as a Barista. You ditch the magazine and continue making latte’s. You create a blog as a creative outlet, play guitar in a band, and sell vintage at the Brooklyn Flea. Perhaps, after five years you turn your interests in a lucrative business and some schmuck like Henry Alford who spent his early years in NYC getting paid $2.00 a word and now writes for Vanity Fair and The New York Times stops by to trivialize the place you live in using a song by the Black Eyed Peas.

    Henry you are soooo two-thousand-too-late and so very jealous.

    I am so tired of the Williamsburg-hate.

    When I lived in NY, I loved Brooklyn neighborhoods. I really thought that Brooklyn was a place where you could make your NYC dreams come true. Perhaps, Manhattan was like that when Henry started his career. Sorry for the rant, but I think that it’s great that folks of our generation, are able to thrive in places like Williamsburg, and aren’t discouraged by factors that could have hindered creativity, such as 9/11 and an unstable economy.

  3. You raise some prefectly knowledgeable and important points that I too was thinking of, and more since you obviously have more experience with Brooklyn and I am still a rookie. It is great of you to oppose to this article, as people with the knowledge can and should!
    It is a very tiring aspect of history repeating itself and it happens all around the world, that perhaps just because they can or because of a feeling of threat, a brilliant and up-and-coming aspect of a place is brought down through publicity by another. I have witnessed it in Europe while living and travelling and now here, back in NY with Brooklyn. It is truly sad that instead of seeing apart from the fact that it is a place, as you said, where people live and work that so many young and innovative minds have found grounds to flourish and maintain a lifestyle that may as well be eaten up for breakfast by the unstoppable and ever faster Manhattan lifestyle. Nothing is wrong with either, and I love both Manhattan and Brooklyn, and it is a great pitty that as grown ups and well established buisness people we cannot leave aside the petty, high school antagonisms and live with what is – name it what you will. We are not talking appraisal but at least dignified cohabitation.
    Meh…it has gotten a bit rediculous and coming from the Times… perhaps there is a decline in everything after all (just as history has shown)

  4. Perhaps it’s you who should try harder, seeing as you’ve just recycled the exact same lame lead-in to your last Times-slamming piece.

    And considering that you blog for a publication that has turned all the lame, tired, joke subjects of this Times article into the flesh and blood of a full-sized (essentailly contentless, natch) magazine.

    And considering that this piece is filled with attempts at humour far feebler than any of Alford’s.

    And considering that you have yourself fallen for the very “troll bait” you mock the Times for generating.

    And considering that you’re from Westchester, living and writing about the bohemian life while somebody else pays your rent…

    I guess you know something about what’s not relatable to most people.

  5. Just moved to Brooklyn from California. All I’ve been hearing lately are Brooklyn is too hipster bla bla bla. I tried to find nice restaurants and bars on Yelp and I’ll I read are people commenting on the hipster-ness of the businesses.

    Who cares? Why do people need to comment on the hipster quotient of every neighborhood and establishment? From my personal experience the whole topic is so overblown. Most of the places that people say are “too hipster” aren’t even. It’s just a dumb topic of conversation that people find enjoyable because they must have nothing better to talk about.

  6. John’s right- the only people who need to talk about the idea of hipsters are the people who are trying to capitalize on it.

    Brooklyn Magazine has some skin in that game: they swooped in and jumped on the Brooklyn/Williamsburg bandwagon just a year ago- if there were no hipster culture to instruct us about (and tell us who’s too lame to participate, or even comment on, it) how would they be able to pose as authorities and package and sell Brooklyn to their multi-national advertisers and festival sponsors?

    I mean, is there anything lamer than the Northside Festival? SO INDY. And how much money does it make for this magazine? A lot. So yeah, let these people tell you what’s cool and what’s not. If you believe them, they’ll make money.

    I mean, WIlliamsburg’s ringed with condos built by the Toll Brothers, and there are more people getting of the subway in Brooklyn wearing suits than there are on the Upper East Side. But defend that ‘culture’- it’s really worth a lot to you- it’s what pays the bills, right?

  7. “Brooklyn is actually a place where millions of people actually live and work. And it’s not all fixed-gear bikes and artisanal mayonnaise.”

    UMMMM, this website covers nothing but the college-educated artisanal-mayo makers riding fixies. are you seriously taking the times to task for that? when they cover everything, and you cover NAIL ART? you’re so stupid you can’t even see the insane hypocrisy of your own argument…

    why don’t YOU go out and take a look at the ‘real’ Brooklyn? you know, people of color, people who can’t afford college, or food, or rent. people who don’t speak english, people who have come here from places far away and work 18-hour days and send all their money home to another place.

    cause you don’t have any interest in poor people who can’t afford $7 chocolate bars and $15 cocktails. And neither do your advertisers.

    you’re not a real journalist. because who needs to be? you’re just someone who rehashes writing from real publications to flesh out a slapdash advertising pamphlet. which fills trash cans feet away from where it’s handed out for free.

    also elegant to use “actually” twice in the same sentence like that. that pulitzer will be in any day now.

  8. What’s a ‘spare guest room’ – does it mean that you have one guest room you use for your guests and one you don’t? Or does it mean that the guest room is spare?

  9. I echo these other commenters in relishing Ms. Iversen’s [and the L Magazine’s] hypocrisy. Ms. Iversen’s indignation is ostensible. In fact, she is irked that not all mass media is immediately and explicitly sycophant towards “hipster buzzwords made flesh.” Let’s make no mistake–Mr. Alford’s article is hardly critical though quite comedic of hipsters, Williamsburg or gentrification. Such is the state of things that the tone of such an article constitutes “trolling” by the NY Times. It reminds me of that article by Goldson for the WG News, “We’re All Hipsters,” that claims, ludicrously, that mass media is somehow arrayed in full against “hipsters.” Meanwhile, he is writing from a media organ created, owned and operated by “hipsters,” like Ms. Iversen here–and yet there is no lack of projection.

    Ms. Iversen needs do her homework: the NY Times did not recently discover or jump on the bandwagon or is late on gentrification in Williamsburg. WRONG. The NY Times was quite possibly the FIRST MASS MEDIA organ to solicit, forget ‘discovering,’ gentrification in Williamsburg, writing about “artists” and housing in Williamsburg as far back as 1983. It did not recently “begin” reporting on Williamsburg. In the past thirty years of gentrification in Williamsburg, the NY Times’ Real Estate section has written MULTIPLE articles on Williamsburg in EACH decade, and respondents have each time attempted to mock the NY Times’ reporting. All the while the mocking is inferior than the quality of the writing it mocks. So that other commenter talking about “envy” and being “so 2000” is more comedic than anything Alford can caricature. That commenter, like Iversen, is SO 1983.

  10. And thank you, Samyu. You have said it best of all the commentary I have ever read in all the media venues covering “new Brooklyn”:

    “why don’t YOU go out and take a look at the ‘real’ Brooklyn? you know, people of color, people who can’t afford college, or food, or rent. people who don’t speak english, people who have come here from places far away and work 18-hour days and send all their money home to another place.

    cause you don’t have any interest in poor people who can’t afford $7 chocolate bars and $15 cocktails. And neither do your advertisers.”

    Yes. And sigh. Oh, SIGH.

  11. “Unclear to me which is the worst headline.” You know this is incorrect, right?

    Also, a Catskills-style humor piece is an oxymoron, and wrong- “Catskills humor,” does not exist: it’s known as Borscht belt humor, or comedy, sometimes just jewish humor, and is spoken, not written.

    I suggest that if you want to tackle criticism you learn something first. Like what it is you’re trying to say? And how to say it?

    And I agree with Dennis, and Samyu. You are the one who has no business writing about the trendifying/ gentrification machine you and your shoddy publication feed off of. Are you defending it, or just jealous of the real writers at the Times, who actually do know what they’re talking about, even if they sound (on purpose) like stodgy Manhattanites?

    I would argue that you have even less of a sense of what Brooklyn is than Henry Alford does: looking at it as you do through the incredibly tiny window of your limited intellect and even more circumscribed sense of the borough. At least the Times covers parts of Brooklyn that aren’t filled with kale, beards, and spoiled children of privilege pretending to be writers.

  12. I actually thought the Times piece was kind-hearted and generous- he was genuinely exploring facets of a cliche, with full awareness of his uncoolness. There was nothing in the article to merit the kind of takedown you were so desperate to write: you actually completely misrepresented Alford’s attitude. It’s neither satirical nor is it mean-spirited (ahem). It was quite well written too. Even the comments on the article were (those I read) reasonable and interested, not in the slightest bit trollish. Do you have a chip on your shoulder about something?

  13. Kristen Iversen wrote “That’s the thing with these Times Styles pieces. They all come from such a rarefied tier of privilege that all they manage to mock is the idea that anyone could be living in a way other than the one that the Times mandates as being normal.”

    This claim blew my ironometer. Seriously? While Henry Alford’s curious omission of the *cost* of being a Williamsburg hipster might give the impression that they aren’t at least as privileged as most Manhattanites, the reality is quite different. The aforementioned detachment from reality is typical of naval-gazing 20-somethings, but to claim that the occupants of this absurdly expensive little enclave aren’t themselves privileged is lough-out-loud ridic.

    What is more “privileged” than a Williamsburg hipster on his $1,000 Bianchi fixie, blogging on his $2,500 MacBook Pro, wearing $225 shirts from Carter & Sons, getting $40 straight-razor shaves from Barber & Supply, eating $16 cheeseburgers from Roberta’s, and paying $2,000 a month for a studio? Do you really expect anyone to believe that the girl working at Molasses Books is earning enough from her job to support that lifestyle? It is _only_ the trust-funders and the techie paper millionaires who can afford that lifestyle.

    I’m all for creating an alternative community, but it ain’t gonna happen except in the most superficial way in a neighborhood where studios go for $2,000 a month and everything else costs many times what it would cost in say, Iowa. Or even in far-off New Jersey.