By Raanan Geberer
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The New York Observer has focused its latest issue on Brooklyn. Its front page carries the New York Observer logo, but the words “New York” are crossed out and “Brooklyn” is written above it. The bottom of the page reads, “Heading for Brooklyn: 128 important, influential and interesting people to know now.”
In the spirit of the late Eagle columnist Dennis Holt, who critiqued every Manhattan-based publication when it focused on Brooklyn, I will do the same for this issue of the Observer.
“In many parts of the world,” the main article reads, “Brooklyn is shorthand for ‘cool,’ but shaggy beards aren’t the borough’s only exports. Its talent is all over TV, its tastemakers are dressing Hollywood, and its tech visionaries are redefining social media.”
The Observer is accurate in that its list of 128 influential Brooklynites represent the Brooklyn of today. You won’t find Barbra Streisand or even Jay-Z on that list. No mention of egg creams will be found.
Many of those on the list are people whom I heartily agree should be there. Among these are Steve Hindy and Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery; Karen Brooks Hopkins of the Brooklyn Academy of Music; Andrew Kimball, former president of the Brooklyn Navy Yard; Dr. K.R. Sreenivasan of NYU Polytechnic; director Spike Lee; Brooklyn Bridge Park planner Regina Myer; and former Prospect Park Administrator Tupper Thomas.
These are all people who have solid accomplishments. The paper also has a section on politicians, headed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, although that doesn’t stop the Observer from bashing him in several editorials for being too pro-tenant.
The article begins to lose me when it starts talking about restaurants, culture and real estate. Two restaurateurs, Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, are praised for updating the old “retro red-sauce joints.” Traditional Italian restaurants of the type the Observer means are hardly dead—they’re alive and well in places like Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge. However, the Observer barely acknowledges that such neighborhoods exist.
Garth Risk Hallberg, a writer who sold a book to Knopf for $2 million last year, is profiled, but what about other authors, such as Paul Auster, who have been writing books for years? Jake Dobkin, the founder of the news blog Gothamist (of which I am a fan) is profiled, but why not local bloggers? There are any number of blogs, such as Pardon Me for Asking, Brokelyn and Sheepshead Bites, that have been doing consistently good work.
The writers also seem to have little appreciation of the type of quirky charm that marks the borough’s traditional neighborhoods. At one point, the Observer writes of a zoning change that helped transform Greenpoint from a neighborhood dominated by “the Polish National Home and 99-cent stores.” I’ve been to Greenpoint, and to me, thrift stores and Polish bakeries are what make the neighborhood interesting.
Try as it might, the Observer, in its Brooklyn edition, can’t shake its bias favoring wealth, glitz, glamour and big-time success. A friend of mine says there are actually four Brooklyns: Trendy Brooklyn (stretching roughly from Williamsburg to Prospect Park), Immigrant Brooklyn (Sunset Park, much of Bensonhurst, Brighton Beach, etc.), African-American Brooklyn (Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, most of Flatbush, etc.) and Traditional Brooklyn (Midwood, Bay Ridge, Marine Park, etc.). To the Observer, only the first Brooklyn seems to be real.