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Did Brooklyn "do it again" or just get played? The endless marketing and unbearable banality of borough iconography

This week and next I'll try to compensate slightly for the failure of any metro columnists to show up and glean insights from the rich spectacle of the Barclays Center groundbreaking March 11.

They've already started milking it. "Brownstone" and "loft" suites planned for the Barclays Center arena. Regular invocations of the ineffable notion of "Brooklyn."

And copious use of Brooklyn iconography, as in the tote bag and hat pictured at left, among the parting gifts given to attendees at the event.

Get ready for even more "Brooklyn" as marketers for the arena gear up, and when Jay-Z--the minority owner who sucked up media attention in place of the Russian oligarch who'll soon own the Nets--wears some Brooklyn gear, well, it'll go flying off the shelf.

And when Jay-Z (as is likely) opens the arena with some concerts, expect much more "Brooklyn" in words, signs, and gear.

What does it mean?

But what is Brooklyn? Attitude? Street cred? A curated flea market? Family? Community? Desserts of high quality (as listed at right and pictured below, from the ceremony )? A massive police presence to tamp down peaceful protesters? A Borough President for Life?

It pretty much means what people want it to mean. Former Brooklynite Jonathan Silverman said at the Dreamland Pavilion conference last October, "New residents are using this idea of authenticity to soften their entrance into Brooklyn."

Count the Barclays Center as a very big new resident.

As seen in with the tote bag, where a homey-looking Barclays Center is flanked not by bollards, traffic, and "vaportecture" but the Brooklyn Bridge, the borough's most famous icon is a default example of "Brooklyn."

Indeed, on the cover of its special section (close to an advertorial, though not marked as such, featuring columnist Denis Hamill's Dodgers' reminiscences) the Daily News put not the Barclays Center but the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Barclays Center, rest assured, appeared in advertising. And, despite design guidelines that seem to ban rooftop signage, the arena roof serves as a giant billboard.

What they said

"Today is a great day for Brooklyn and for the soul of Brooklyn, which is very much alive," asserted Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, in a nod to the effort by protesters to mourn and bury the soul of Brooklyn.

Markowitz's longrunning tag line is "as Brooklyn as they come," a nod to his embrace of cultures and cuisines, amid endless boosterism. Still, Rebecca Mead's 4/25/05 piece in the New Yorker (Mr. Brooklyn) portrayed, in devastating detail, Markowitz's willingness to play nice with developer Bruce Ratner.

The team "is really the catalyst to the revitalization of Brooklyn, one of the world's greatest places," Governor David Paterson said, somehow ignoring all the previous catalysts.

"We are bringing national professional sports back to Brooklyn, back to one of the greatest sports boroughs ever," added Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Indeed, there's a lot of sports spirit in Brooklyn, but who is "we"?

"Barclays shares our love for Brooklyn and is committed to our community," declared Markowitz, introducing Bob Diamond, CEO of Barclays Capital, a British bank aiming to establish a consumer foothold here in the United States.

"It's truly an exciting day for Brooklyn," said Delia Hunley-Adossa, chairperson of the Community Benefits Agreement executive committee. "Once again, thank you, and congratulations, Brooklyn!" she declared in closing, lifting both fists in triumph.

The "Brooklyn" she congratulated consisted of people who made the guest list. The event was not open to Brooklynites, not even via a lottery. The people who made the deal happen got pride of place, and the people paying for it--the sponsors--got sweet treatment.

Meanwhile, in the background of the groundbreaking, Brooklyn industrial buildings on Dean and Pacific Street, once renovated into lofts by people catalyzing revitalization, face the wrecking ball. (Photo by Norman Oder)

Brooklyn's finest

Brooklyn native Jay-Z, whose banal statements generated genuflection from the media and elected officials, declared, "I stand here representing hope for Brooklyn, New York City."

(In 2007, he summed it up for Charlie Rose: "The heart of Brooklyn—Brooklyn, you notice, when we love something, when we get into something, our love for it is unmatched." Should it be pointed out that he now lives in Manhattan?)

"It gives me so much pride I'm going to get a little nervous about it, but I'm very happy, I'm very excited on this day," he said in closing. "We did it again, Brooklyn. Shout out to [Notorious] B.I.G."

From Biggie to Bruce

MTV added some context:
The tail end of Jay's speech hearkened back to the 1995 Source Awards, where Biggie shouted out Brooklyn during his multiple acceptance speeches. After Jodeci presented him with Album of the Year, Big — wearing a white towel on his head — and a horde of others came onstage to address the crowd.

"I wanna give mad love to my daughter, my moms, my manager, Gucci, my wife," he said. "We did it, Brooklyn. We did it. All them sh--. [I won] all of them [awards]. One love to all y'all mutha----as."
From Biggie to Bruce Ratner (an Upper East Side resident), it can all be seen as Brooklyn.

The connection to Biggie was a bit broken, however, given that no one spoke in quite such earthy cadences.

And, more importantly, Brooklyn didn't "do it again."

It was done by Forest City Ratner, thanks to copious assistance from government agencies and political leaders, such as a giveaway to the developer of naming rights, subsequently sold to Barclays.

Brooklyn "didn't do it again."

Brooklyn got played.


  1. Played is right. Another word is used.

    Brooklyn (the place and the brand) got used to sell a multi-billion dollar, multi-national monopoly and land grab, to benefit:
    A Cleveland developer
    A Russian oligarch
    A British megabank
    A Kansas City architecture firm
    A Manhattan architecture firm
    An Arizona construction company
    A Seattle sugar water company
    A Manhattan Mayor

    Brooklyn—done again.

  2. where can i get the barclay's branded panini maker in the picture?

  3. Funny thing is, I just saw parts of the movie "Notorious" the other day on HBO. I mean, I admit he was good at rapping but to elevate this individual to the likes of truly talented people in music and art is quite something else and speaks to the low self-esteem many people have to think of someone who fathered children out of wedlock with different women and rapped about drugs and gangs as someone to be lauded.

    It is not hard to see why some slicksters would use a Biggie Smalls or a Jay-Z to scam their way through the process. At least Jay-Z knows a thing or two about hustling. The residents of his old block are getting played for the fools that they really are.


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