Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chapin: Behind the Iron Curtain

Fellow rocket scientist Kei brings a welcome Chicagoan (well, Keipopnational) perspective to both New York Magazine in general and the Vera Wang piece in particular.

Kei notes the incessant name-dropping so typical of New York, but also of every other publication at all associated with NYC. My favorite part of her post:

"Chapin" could be one of those obscure European cities that was once under Soviet rule for all I know, but I figured from context that it is a crusty rich private school in NYC somewhere. Google confirms: it is a "private K-12 school for girls on the upper east side of Manhattan."

God I wish I could have seen this when I was terrorized (ok, terrified) by Chapin girls at interschool dances. They were all a foot taller and a whole lot blonder than the Spence folk, and going to Spence but having friends at Chapin meant you were the real deal, that you met people summering somewhere important, as opposed to just in class (how plebian! even though "in class" meant "at Gwyneth's illustrious alma mater").

The thing to know about New York is, no one really gets what's going on with these articles. I get the references, but something definitely seems off. I think people not from NYC are, in a way, the ideal audience. If you have experienced these scenes and their ridiculousness,if you have met people who think $200 for a sweater is ridiculously cheap, then there's no mystique. Yet as Kei's post reveals, the whole thing makes no sense to those from outside this very small, closed (dare I say provincial?) environment. It surely makes no sense to even many people in NYC, including very wealthy people who just happen to live in Tribeca or, gasp, Brooklyn Heights, and thus have their own set of schools and concerns, and probably also couldn't place Chapin without some solid context-reading and Google-searching. New York posed a question not long ago of whether it's "OK" to send your child to public school. Answer: it depends. A point is being made, but what's the point? New York the city (as opposed to merely the magazine) is about having tons of cash and showing it off? It's a point, but it's not a very interesting one. I'm not advocating socialist glossies (well, that could be fun) but just articles about things more original than bridal-gown designers who like Abercrombie. If this is the aristocracy, why would anyone with any sort of brains want in?

As Kei's analysis also concludes, the strangest thing about the Vera Wang article in particular is the supporting evidence for what a down-to-earth person Wang allegedly is. Everything she does, from shopping around the world to spending ten times what's necessary for a sweater, is offered as evidence that she's "one of us." I suppose the best explanation is that this is meant to flatter readers, to imply that they as a demographic aren't quite where, say, Paris Hilton is, but are still doing OK for themselves, or at least well enough to mystify the rest of the country. Defining "normal" as upper-middle-class-with-certain-pretentions...I mean, a contingent of well-off New Yorkers does think this way, does think going to Chapin or wherever is "normal" and anything else somewhat unfortunate, but there aren't enough such people to sell this magazine. I suspect that many copies of New York reside on the bathroom floors of shared Brooklyn apartments, or similar. Just a guess.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The joke is you'd be flat out sending a kid (let alone two) to chapin or spence on the salary you'd earn working for New York magazine.