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Blogfest meets Shillfest, as Spike Lee declares "This is to celebrate Absolut, so we're not going to get into gentrification"

Update June 13: Here's my analysis (Absolut and authenticity) of what Absolut was aiming at, why Blogfest organizers should've provided some leadership, and why bloggers should recognize that, even if they don't think of themselves as journalists, they may have some ethical responsibilities. Here's my analysis of the coverage in the New York Times's Week in Review.

So, it's taken only five years for the Brooklyn Blogfest to go from a seat-of-the-pants indie event, organized by Louise Crawford of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn with the help of fellow bloggers, to a sponsored event in which the sponsor got some low-key mentions, to a sponsored event in which the sponsor was Absolut-ly dominant.

Consider that the guest of honor last night at the Brooklyn Lyceum was beloved Brooklyn-reared film director and advertising entrepreneur Spike Lee, who, in collaboration with Absolut, chose the Blogfest as the place to kick off the new Absolut Brooklyn brand.

When Lee spoke--some not-unentertaining musings about Brooklyn--a giant bottle of Absolut served as the backdrop, as shown in the photos by Adrian Kinloch. And after Lee offered a few choice words about housing cost, his parents' $40,000 brownstone (40 years ago), and the time "Fort Greene was Fort Greene," he ran into some internal conflict.

"I'm not going to get into gentrification, but goddamn," he said, musing about "white linen tables" on Lafayette and DeKalb avenues. Then he corrected himself: "This is to celebrate Absolut, so we're not going to get into gentrification tonight. Sorry, Absolut."

It is?

It was.

(Here's Brownstoner's critical take. Here's the Twitter stream for posts with the word blogfest; a good number of people were happy with the event. Here's Crawford's recap and evasive defense. Here's some debate on the Times's CityRoom blog, plus Crawford's answers here and here. Here's the Brooklyn Heights Blog and Found in Brooklyn.)

Stoop life?

Lee segued into talking about stoops. Absolut's product, featuring a stoop, and its Brooklyn Stoop Life campaign--in which various bloggers have been engaged, some for swag (are they disclosing it?) in a "viral, underground effort"--was the not-so-subtle undercurrent to the event.

Lee told everyone to go to and suggested every neighborhood should make up its own drink incorporating Absolut Brooklyn.

In Crawford's introduction, she suggested that the explosion of Brooklyn blogging is because "Brooklyn is a place with a true community life" and "maybe it really does start at the stoop."

Maybe that's part of it, but another reason is surely the general neglect of Brooklyn by the print media, especially the city's daily newspapers, leaving lots of room for those using blogs to fill a niche. Add to that the enormous controversies over development projects (AY is why Clinton Hill and Brooklyn are the "bloggiest") as well as an obsession with real estate (see Brownstoner).

Much of that has faded, at least among last night's Blogfest audience, who managed but a few boos when Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (above) was invited by Lee to sit next to him when Lee's beloved New York Knicks play the BP's Brooklyn Nets (or whatever their name is) at the new Brooklyn arena.

A good number of people in the audience--more than 300--were there for Lee, and a couple of the questions asked of him concerned how to further film careers. It had nothing to do with blogging. (Lee acknowledged he knew little about the medium, but said, not unwisely, "It's just a tool and it depends who's writing it.")

But Lee's time at the podium, as well as the "Ode to Brooklyn"--more of an ode to "Absolut Brooklyn" (as in the ad excerpted at left)--by performance poet Lemon Andersen, cut into the time available for the actual Blogfest, notably the not-so-cohesive "Create, Inspire, Blog" panel.


And, instead of the "Shout-Out," in which new bloggers got to announce their blogs, there was instead a dramatic announcement--by an actor who'd participated in an earlier dramatic reading of blog post excerpts--of several blogs.

Many were established blogs, not new ones. How were they chosen? Unclear, but I'd bet they were those Absolut partners who were promised a "Special call-out as a key collaborator during the Fifth Annual Brooklyn Blogfest on June 8." Update June 10: Crawford says that's not so.

Note: AYR was included in the announcement, perhaps as filler. Needless to say, I wasn't asked to join the Absolut bandwagon.

The performance

Below is video, shot by Jonathan Barkey, of (most of) Andersen's "Ode to Brooklyn," as well as Lee's speech, without the subsequent Q&A. The Ode also serves as an Absolut advertisement.

Andersen's good. I paid money to see County of Kings at the Public Theater. And I can't begrudge him renting his skillz to Absolut; it's hard to make a living in the city. But his deft shout-out is empty at the core, a name-check of neighborhoods that, above all, leaves the impression of Absolut and its Stoop Life campaign. (His close: "Absolut Brooklyn--the greatest country in the world. If you're not in it, you're just in the way.")

Lee's good too. And he's right to say that Absolut has been a pioneer in innovative advertising. And he's worth watching even when he's tired or whatever he was yesterday.

But, above all, they were both on message last night. Should they have been hijacking the Blogfest?

(At left, bloggers gather in the "Blogs of a Feather" networking opportunity at the end of the event. At right is Jake Dobkin of Gothamist.)

Some others were also dismayed.

Chris Pepper commented:

Aside from the annoying cheerleading about how Brooklyn is the 'bloggiest', it was pretty good.... Oddest: The whole thing think was sponsored by Absolut, pushing their new Absolut Brooklyn, co-designed by Spike Lee.
From Sunset Park Chronicled:
brooklyn blogfest--the creative unite...or become captive audience for spike lee's absolute vodka fest. Weird.
(They weren't all captive. Many were part of the deal.)

From BK Foodie Mom:
loved the BK bloggers, hated the extended absolut commercial. hope spike had a good ride back to the UES
Markowitz and Lee

Below is video, shot by Barkey, of Markowitz's question for Lee. "When will you do the Absolut right thing and move back to Brooklyn, USA?" the BP asked, echoing both the theme of the event and Lee's most famous film.

But he didn't realize that another person in the audience had asked the same question before his arrival. Answer: Lee found it too hard to maintain privacy in Brooklyn--people ringing his doorbell--and his wife wanted to move. His production house, 40 Acres and a Mule, is still in Fort Greene.

"You're going to move back to Brooklyn, I know you will. I know you will," Markowitz said. "It's just a matter of time. Sooner or later, most every creative person finds their way back to Brooklyn, I have to tell you."

"Woody Allen, where's he?" riposted Lee.

"Well, Woody Allen--" Markowitz responded.

"Where's Barbra Streisand?" continued Lee.

"No, Barbra Streisand. She may, I can't say anything--" Markowitz responded.

"She's not moving back," Lee responded with incredulousness. "Barbara Streisand's not moving back."

"Jay-Z, maybe," Markowitz declared.

The tribute to photobloggers

The video below, produced by Kinloch, was shown last night. Note the credit to Barkey, who contributes photos (and also video) to AYR, but is not responsible for the blog, as well as to Kinloch, who also shot photos at the Blogfest and contributes to AYR, and to Tracy Collins, who also contributes to AYR.


  1. Spike Lee never said word one about Atlantic Yards. Then, when Bruce Ratner had his big, tone-deaf, over the top groundbreaking on March 11th, who was there? Spike, of course. And now he wants to complain about gentrification? What is it, does the think, that AY will do if built, other than super-speed and super-size gentrification. Where's the moral compass?

    Spike was on the wrong side of the Atlantic Yards fight, and that has nothing to do with him getting no privacy when he walks the Borough's streets.

  2. So gross, this usurpation of the blogfest to tout vodka and Marty Markowitz. Lee has joined the "big guys" -he's not cool/ And what happened at the blogfest is what is happening to Brooklyn - commercialization, big business. Sad.

  3. Big deal, we got some cocktails. Marty showed up. Spike showed up, and they both sounded out of touch, elitist and foolish talking up the horrific arena. The Blogfest was very similar in scope and feel this time as it was in 2008 when I last attended.

    I am one of the blogger collaborators. I mentioned in my video (I am a food and wine video blogger) that I'm one of the blogs chosen to work with Absolut. To my mind "Work" implied compensation. I have annotated the text of my youtube channel and blog with the specifics.

    I'm not a huge blogger, but my quality is very high. I really hate all this cybersnark. Mostly heat, with very little light.

    In case you want to see how the other half lives (and eats and drinks)take a peek:


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