Skip to main content

Within Packer's new bestseller The Unwinding, a critical portrait of Jay-Z

Jay-Z generally gets treated fawningly by the media (see Zadie Smith's "Civic-Minded Hip-Hop Mogul," from the New York Times's T Magazine last September), so its notable to see a strong contrary view in The Unwinding, New Yorker writer (and Brooklynite) George Packer's new non-fiction narrative, subtitled "An Inner History of the New America."

In This Is How a Nation Unwinds, TIME columnist Joe Klein notes the series of secondary characters, those who've become successful in this stratified society: "Where do we find moral authority in a society that, as Packer writes, celebrates an unapologetic former crack dealer like Jay Z?"

Indeed, Packer's portrait, drawn all from secondhand sources, is harsh. Some excerpts:
The hustle was a paranoid fever, one eye always open, "excited with crime and the lavish luxuries that just excited my mind"
...He was always about the money. Second best wasn't worth the ultimate price on the street, so he learned to compete and win as if his life depended on it.
...He gave Marcy a voice, and the nightmare that America had locked in the basement was suddenly playing in kids' bedrooms. They wanted to live the American dream with a vengeance, like Scarface, like Jay-Z, they wanted to break the laws and win because only fools still thought you could do it in an orange uniform or cheap suit when that game was fixed, and there could be a shortcut with a big payoff.
...When critics called him a sellout or materialist, he had the answer: selfishness was a rational response to the reality he faced.
...When Jay-Z bought a slice of the Nets and fronted the team's move to Brooklyn, he became the boss and the star...
Here's some more of my coverage of Jay-Z. This week's news: the Rocawear chain Jay-Z founded, sold, but still promotes (with a store at Barclays Center) is having its troubles.

More on the book

NPR review:
Packer carves out his thesis by letting his characters tell their own stories. The argument, in short, might read something like this: Over the past 30 years, American democratic values have been undermined by the powerful lure of unregulated capitalism.
The Chicago Tribune review:
All of this makes for a richly complex narrative brew. And it is seasoned further by portraits of American success stories such as restaurateur Alice Waters, short-story writer Raymond Carver, Oprah Winfrey, Newt Gingrich, Colin Powell and Jay-Z. Packer is particularly sardonic toward Winfrey and Gingrich, but overall these portraits underline that, even in our broken America, an insatiable drive and periodic self-invention can lead to fame and riches.
An interview with Packer:
Like almost everything else, inclusiveness divides the country into winners and losers. For those with the education, talent, and luck to take advantage, it’s been a boon. For those marooned in urban cores like Youngstown, rural backwaters like Rockingham County, North Carolina, and the new suburban slums such as those around Tampa, the lowering of barriers remains fairly theoretical. Social tolerance gives an idea of equality, which makes the reality of inequality all the more bitter. Jay-Z’s story tells you that anyone can go from the projects to the very top. Most people don’t.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

Click on graphic to enlarge. This is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change, and the project is already well behind that tentative timetable.


Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…