Sunday, December 19, 2010

Brooklyn the Brand: from indie culture to the Marcy projects (and the Barclays Center)

Let's put it this way. The kerfluffle over Absolut and the Brooklyn Blogfest was just one episode in the ongoing marketing of Brooklyn "authenticity."

This week the New York Times Dining session told us about Brooklyn: The Brand:
Lately, it seems, there are more and more Brooklyneers in Manhattan and beyond, and a growing number of businesses to serve them. Small restaurants and large companies, like Williams-Sonoma, are lining up to hitch their wagons to Brooklyn’s D.I.Y. chic, as though the borough offers something missing in mainstream food culture, maybe in culture in general.

It’s not that Brooklyn artisans are going corporate, but that corporations are Brooklynizing. Or at least appearing to. Take, for example, another unlikely pocket of Brooklynism that materialized in Manhattan last month: a pop-up gift store organized by the Web site Cool Hunting in collaboration with the Gap.

...Judging by the shelves, New York at this moment is eating a lot of food produced in Brooklyn. The store, which will stay open until Jan. 2, stocks pickles by Brooklyn Brine, salsa by Brooklyn Salsa and beer-making kits by the Brooklyn Brew Shop. There is a $9 chocolate bar produced exclusively for Cool Hunting by the Mast Brothers of Williamsburg, whose preindustrial production techniques and picturesque beards have been celebrated by numerous enthusiasts.
Brooklyn Based broadens

The article continues:
A two-page spread in a recent issue of The New Yorker introduced Chrysanthe Tenentes, managing editor and partner of the e-mail newsletter Brooklyn Based.

“Some of the country’s top movements start in Brooklyn, N.Y.,” the copy declared, noting that Ms. Tenentes is there to forecast “trends soon to be sweeping the nation.” Among those trends: “gourmet canning” and “the art of urban farming.”

The package was an advertisement for the Ford Edge, a crossover S.U.V.

...Even among those with a more generous view, there is a slight edge of unease about the borough’s culinary fame. The Village Voice food blog headlined a post about the recent wave of corporate partnerships “‘Brooklyn’ Now Co-opted by Ford and the Gap.” The idea that Brooklyn is now a brand doesn’t sit very well.

A recent episode of “30 Rock” satirized such feelings, depicting a fictional trendy clothing store called Brooklyn Without Limits. Though the shop is ostensibly run by “Brooklyn Zach, who throws pool parties in Dumpsters,” a little online research reveals it to be owned by Halliburton, and all the clothes made with slave labor.
The Voice captured the tension:
On the one hand, great! Who doesn't want independent businesses to gain exposure and introduce their high-quality products to a wider audience? On the other: An entire borough (to say nothing of a "movement") is now so neatly and reductively defined that it can be packaged in a car ad and used, albeit indirectly, to sell hoodies made in China. Which is, well, sad.
I'll note that Brooklyn Based and Ford were careful to disclose their alliance. (Here's the Ford Edge Culture blog.)

The AY angle


As I commented on the Times article:
Let's not forget that the branding of Brooklyn extends well beyond food to such things as the under-construction Barclays Center arena. (The state gave away naming rights to developer Forest City Ratner.)

While occupying land formerly home to row houses and loft apartments, the arena will offer to high-rollers "Brownstone" and "Loft" suites.

More here.
Many Brooklyns

Fact is, there are many versions of Brooklyn, perhaps even "Four Brooklyns," as in the song in The Civilians' IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards.

Remember how, at that 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a man named Umar Jordan asserted, "If you never been in the Marcy projects, you’re not from Brooklyn."

Well, it's highly unlikely that Atlantic Yards condo buyers paying $1,217 per square foot in 2015 will be taking a detour to Marcy, which as many know, birthed rapper, entrepreneur, Nets part-owner, and former drug dealer Jay-Z.

In the song Where I'm From, Hova reminds us (lyrics):
where the grams is slung...
Cough up a lung, where I'm from, Marcy son
Suffice it to say that Jay-Z's Brooklyn also has powerful marketing potential. And films like Brooklyn's Finest (poster above) speak to that potential, with the tagline "This is War. This is Brooklyn."

As that famous Brooklynite Walt Whitman once wrote, in Song of Myself:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

1 comment:

  1. Brooklyn Based and Ford may have been careful to disclose their alliance, but I, for one, now find Brooklyn Based significantly devalued. Did the proprietor of some dress shop or restaurant they love toss some freebies their way? Now I wonder.

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