Pop Culture
Jan 07, 2009, 04:40AM

The Audrey Hepburn Effect

What is it about New York that makes its residents, new or old, forget the outside world exists.

Annex   hepburn  audrey  breakfast at tiffany s  14.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Over the years I’ve seen New York City gradually rip the souls out of several of my friends. They stay for vacations or summer internships, and no matter where they grew up, they come back as New Yorkers, with trendy haircuts, flashy hipster clothes, and a newly-acquired aura of smug disdain for anything outside the island of Manhattan. I didn’t realize the extent of the city’s transforming powers until I saw my friend (let’s call him Frank), a bluegrass-loving good ol’ boy from southern Virginia, come back from a summer in the city as a yuppie.

He went on and on about the women, the bagels, the bars, the clubs, the pizza, his self-declared “American paradise.” He listens to hip indie bands now. He drinks wine and complains whenever we grab a bagel or when the bars close at two. The kid who used to slug back Jim Beam wearing a camouflage hat and shit-kicker boots is gone.

Frank is not alone in that regard. I’ve seen NYC transform the personalities of several fellow students who leave Baltimore (a city in which they previously enjoyed living) coming back with their noses held up in the air. All of a sudden, the crime, the poverty, the run-down buildings and the midnight sirens of  Salty Balty become magnified, casting the city in a hellish light. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “I can’t wait to get out of Baltimore.”

They envision themselves whisked away to the fantasy world of New York, a place where they can swarm in the thick of the business world by day and hob-nob in ritzy cosmopolitan clubs by night. Meanwhile, tiny $2000 a month apartment and $100 bar tabs slowly empties their wallets, but by that point they’re already sucked in, blinded by the flash.

Back in Baltimore I’ve sat through several writing workshops where students submit poems or stories about living in New York for group discussion and critique. Barring a few exceptions, these works have no real originality, no interest to anyone except the fellow Manhattan-philes who inevitably swoon. These writers assume that by placing their characters in New York City, their story will automatically be interesting, but most often it ends up being a mess of clichés.

This is by no means a criticism of the city of New York itself. There’s no denying that New York City stands as the hub of American civilization in all spheres. It dominates our movies, music and television. It commands our economy. However, in all its history and grandeur, the city has transcended the real world and become this symbolic place of dreams. New York has ceased to be a physical location, and has become a psychological Eden to those who live there. It’s a place that has its own way of life and it demands assimilation, throttling individuality for the latest fashions.

And its influence is growing beyond the borders of the five boroughs. The film Breakfast at Tiffany’s created what I like to call “The Audrey Hepburn Effect.” It’s the delusion that by living in New York, one gains a sense of grandeur, fueled by Holly Golightly, the Texas belle who flees to glamorous New York and is instantly transformed into a classy, charming socialite. But in reality, New York is to the dejected masses looking for change in their life what Tiffany’s was to Holly: an array of flashy, expensive things that make no promises.

I recently went to an open house at the Baltimore division of Project-A, an online advertising agency affiliated with AOL/Time Warner, and sat through their initial video presentation. The video began with several target audiences scrolling across the screen. These included “sports nut,” “techie,” and “fashion guru.” Then, in big red block letters, the words “New Yorkers” scrolled to the center and faded away. That’s when I knew it was official. New York has created its own species. That city supplies its inhabitants with everything they could possibly need and the rest of the country becomes an insignificant blur. It’s not even elitism, because that requires the acknowledgement of another group; it’s just one particular section of the United States that does its own thing and doesn’t seem to need the rest of the world.

  • so this piece got me really excited. but that's probably because i'm the person you're critiquing. sometimes i wonder how people could live in any other city - and i've lived in a lot of other american city. i am kind of in love with the idea that new york has created its own species. because it totals has. but then again so has LA, and the midwest. remember that sex and teh city episode when miranda's ex moves out to LA and like becomes an "LA" person? gross!

    Responses to this comment
  • Let's not forget that while elegant, Holly Golightly is in fact something like a high class call girl.

    Responses to this comment
  • I only have 3 friends who have moved to NYC and I haven't noticed this "Audrey Hepburn effect" really with any of them. Not yet anyway. Though I rarely talk to them now. I like NYC every time I go, always have a fun time, spend way too much money, etc. But I could never imagine living there. Too big, too hectic. Too much of everything. How would you even decide where to go out? "Alright, well, there's 100 different things going on I'd like to do tonight... Fuck it, I'll watch Seinfeld reruns."

    Responses to this comment
  • Actually, living in NYC isn't difficult, except for the cost of living. It's actually very provincial, and most people, like people in other parts of the country, stick to their general neighborhood and local friends. For example, I live downtown, and almost never go uptown, even though my time would be better spent at say the Whitney than a couple of hours re-hashing the same old stuff with friends at the local pub.

    Responses to this comment
  • Like Paris. Some people are so annoying about Paris. I think you can be a jerk anywhere and hate when people make it about the city.

    Responses to this comment
  • That cracks me up about going on and on about the bagels. I was at a roof party last year and these three guys were going on and on about what makes you a real New Yorker, if you still referred to the 1,9 rather than just the 1 train, remote stuff like that. I asked them how long they'd been living in New York and none of them had been here for more than two years. I think for most people this New Yorker obsession falls away after a while and you talk less about how great New york is and more about your attempts at escape, i.e. weekends or dreams of moving to the country--err, brooklyn. Nice piece. I enjoyed it.

    Responses to this comment
  • I can sort of understand the writer's point of view. NYC's a punching bag for a lot of people, most of it, in my opinion, unjustified. I was born and raised on the Upper West Side, moved to FL to go to school and have stayed since. Actually, Miami is a lot more cosmopolitan than NYC, and a ton cheaper. And better grub.

    Responses to this comment
  • You couldn't pay me to live in New York City. I get that it's much safer than a long time ago, although like everywhere that may change with the recession, but it just costs too darn much. I really haven't found the people to be snobby there, but it's just too much like a circus.

    Responses to this comment
  • I don't get all the fuss. Everyone knows, at least almost everyone, that Chicago is a far better place to live than New York. Less narcissism, trees and cheaper.

    Responses to this comment
  • You forgot to mention freezing cold weather and political corruption. Personally, I love Chicago but I've only visited in the summer and I still needed a light jacket.

    Responses to this comment
  • You get used to the cold. Yeah, there's corruption, just like in most big cities. Does Harlem's Charlie Rangel ring any bells? Spitzer? Nearby New Jersey? Detroit? Oh, and I believe the mayor of the city you live in, Baltimore, is under indictment.

    Responses to this comment

Register or Login to leave a comment