It might go without saying that a lot of things have changed in New York since 1976, but, well, we’re going to say it anyway. A lot of things have changed in New York since 1976! For example, back then, the city’s mayor was only 5’2″ whereas now, in 2014, the mayor is 6’5″. That’s called “progress,” and we’re living it. Other things that have skyrocketed that are not related to our elected officials’ heights include real estate prices, Brooklyn’s relevance, and the use of lists in journalism.
But even though the ubiquity of lists is a relatively recent phenomenon, that doesn’t mean that such august journalistic institutions as the New York Times didn’t at one time occasionally embrace this most relatable (or, at least, easily consumable) method of communicating simple (and at times simplistic) ideas. Last week, Scouting New York discovered a Times list that seems more suited to the BuzzFeed of today than the Gray Lady of today, reducing, as it does, the beauty of New York into “101 things to love.” And just like today’s lists detailing New York’s many wonders, this one (re-printed in full below) is delights in the arcane bits of trivia and obscure references that only New Yorkers would catch, as well as being not a little bit deprecating about the city itself. So, we pretty much love this list! Even if we don’t understand everything on it! (“#36 Austin Street, Queens” what?!) However, Nick Carr of Scouting New York wasn’t such a huge fan of it, finding it confusing, and other people, like Martin Schneider of Dangerous Minds found the list “cranky, creaky, weary,” and felt that too many items do little more than “signify what an awful place New York [was.]”
The thing is, though, New York in 1976 was kind of an awful place! Or, ok, it wasn’t that New York was awful, but it was going through almost unfathomably hard times. This was a year after the city was told to “Drop Dead” by then-President Gerald Ford. This was the era when the city almost went bankrupt. This was a time when just about every city worker—from those in the sanitation department to members of the teachers union—went on long strikes. This was a year before the blackout that featured fires and looting. This was right before the Summer of Sam. What better time than the summer of ’76 was there for a little of patented New York City-brand black humor? No better time. Because maybe the city has changed a lot, but our ability to laugh at ourselves even in the darkest times is something that will always remain. Maybe the New Yorkers of today can’t relate to loving “the missing apostrophe from DONT WALK,” but we can all relate to “hating Con Edison” and “thinking that iridescent pigeon necks are beautiful” but “hating pigeons.” The reasons that we love New York (or some of them anyway) might be different in 2014 than they were in 1976, but our feelings are just as strong, different as they may—or may not—be. And, c’mon, Brooklyn Day? There’s nothing better.
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