I'm a comedian and I write things. Some of those things appear here. I hope you like them.
Dear Kyle Smith,
I’m writing you this letter because, respectfully, I think you’ve done something pretty wrong-headed and obtuse. I know you from your day job, as a film critic for the New York Post, and I think – again, respectfully – that you should stick to your duties as a film critic for the New York Post.
Anyway, this letter concerns a disagreement I have with you. I don’t read the physical incarnation of the Post because the shoutiness and sensationalism makes me grind my teeth (I need the teeth for eating), but, surfing the internet, I came across a column that you had written a few weeks ago entitled “New York, I love you: Even more so after living in London.”
The column was pretty short and didn’t say that much of substance, but I was able to figure out this much:
First: That someone or something had recently forced you across the Atlantic to spend some time in London.
Second: That you did not have a good time in London, and find the idea that it could ever be part of a ‘greatest city in the world’ conversation a total outrage.
Third: That you decided to use the semi-weekly space News Corporation gives you in the New York Post’s Sunday edition to air your grievances and explain why New York kicks London’s ass.
Rather than take issue with every part of your article, I’m just going to pick five things I disagree with, and tell you why you should stick to giving four-out-of-four tomatoes to ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (really?).
5. Your Complaint: “Unlike (relatively) green and verdant New York, where you are seldom more than a mile or two from the nearest park, my neighborhood in East London has no open spaces to speak of.”
My Patient Explanation: First of all, East London has tons of open spaces. Tons. There’s so much open space in East London’s Victoria Park it’s been designated as a deer reserve. Based on the locations mentioned in the column, I’m guessing that you were working in (and/or living near) the News International building. A quick Google search will reveal that you were a ten-minute walk from four public-accessible green spaces. If I’m wrong, and you weren’t near that particular News International building, then putting the right name of your borough into the London Gardens Online database will give you back HUNDREDS of results.
4. Your Complaint: “Zimbabwe-like, half the population arrives at work in Mercedeses and the other half on bikes.”
My Patient Explanation: You’re half right, here. Yes, London’s income gap is far larger than the rest of the UK’s, but that’s a problem in any major city — especially NYC, where the income gap is an astonishing twice the national average.
BTW, “half the population” of Zimbabwe is showing up to work in Mercedeses? Well, I’ll be damned. Perhaps I’m wrong, and you should quit giving four-out-of-four tomatoes to “Watchmen” (really?) and start breaking stories about Africa’s economic situation.
3. Your Complaint: The British lack the New York-y frankness. Describing an awful rush hour Tube snarl and the British response to it, you wrote:
“Were people screaming? Did the tabloids run front-pagers on the mess? No, pet, that wouldn’t be British. What visitors describe as New York rudeness is really more like frankness, or a collective acknowledgment of our shared and sacred covenant, the New York imperative with which Billy Joel used to end his concerts: “Don’t take any s - - - from anybody!” Let us be proud.”
My Patient Explanation: This is why people hate us, Kyle. I’m sick of this myth. There is no “shared and sacred covenant” among New Yorkers. We have no camaraderie. We’re not actually tough or frank. We’re weak and passive aggressive. We may be hardy people; good people, but there’s no “New York imperative.”
The frankness/rudeness thing is part of a persona now, and the tough image is bullshit we use, ironically, to get other people to come here. It’s grade-A, pro-wrestling-level posturing. A calculated projection of a tough image for image’s sake. If New York City were a person, he would be a slightly chubby, Yankee-hat wearing, Italian-looking gentleman with DeNiro intonation. Only he wouldn’t be Italian at all, he’d be a Juilliard-trained actor from Pittsburgh who specializes in Italian roles who was cast to attract tourists. Every day, this actor (New York City) would yell out to the rest of the world:
“I’m sick of all these foreigners coming into our city. Clogging up our sidewalks. Giving the city a much-needed infusion of capital by eating in our restaurants and staying in our hotels. I mean it! I’m sick of ALL THESE FOREIGNERS, visiting www.nyc.gov to FIND OUT about ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME EVENTS taking place DAILY in town! I’m sick of it!”
Also, you may be the first man in the history of the printed word to say that British tabloids complain too little.
2. and 1.
I put these two complaints together because they both reflect my biggest problem with your article:
Your Complaints: “TV is a wasteland of dull documentaries and quiz shows starring Stephen Fry.”
Groups of “hopeless tourists from Lithuania or Slovenia clutching maps and pleading for directions” bother you “in every neighborhood” for directions.
My Patient Explanations: TV sucks everywhere in the world. Especially popular TV. I think it’s a rule now. But British television has lots of quality programming to go along with the crappy reality shows. There’s original comedy and drama, and the countless Americans who watch Sherlock and Dr. Who would certainly disagree with you. Robert Popper’s Friday Night Dinner is widely considered one of the world’s best sitcoms, and Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, my favorite thing on TV anywhere on the planet, is more daring and interesting than any stand-up programming I’ve ever seen in the US. Also, I happen to really enjoy the Stephen Fry show you dislike, QI. [The Stewart Lee link is Not Safe For Work, unless you work at The Awesome Store. If you work at the Awesome Store, you know the clip, because you probably sell it there.]
I understand TV taste is subjective, and far be it from me to argue with the man who gave “Batman Begins” a better review than “The Dark Knight.” (SOMEONE PAYS YOU MONEY?). But don’t like QI or Planet Earth? Fine. Shut off the damn TV then, and walk west to the National Gallery, or any one of the London’s free museums, where you can look at the greatest art on the planet for nothing. Or, there’s performance. More kinds than you can imagine. At every price range and level. Check out something at The Soho Theatre on Dean Street, where exciting shit goes down nightly. I know a country without “Real Housewives” is a harrowing experience, but I’d be totally OK with it if the fucking Tate Modern was within walking distance from my East London apartment.
Also, with regard to your complaint about Slavic sightseers “in every neighborhood:” Central London handles the bulk of the tourists. If you head out to the charming neighborhoods of Crystal Palace or Stoke Newington, you’d be hard-pressed to find a tourist anywhere. If you did, that would be a savvy tourist. But you’re not a savvy tourist, Kyle, and that is why this is my biggest problem with you and the article.
I happen to agree with you. I think, if you force the comparison between a Big Apple and a British orange, New York City probably has the edge over London. I think a well-argued piece might prove that, provided there was an acknowledgment that such a thing is not completely quantifiable. But you’re so flippant. So mocking! Imagine if someone dismissed you so easily, judged you on a random selection of your faults (“Watchmen,” ‘Benjamin Button,’ The Batman Movies) rather than the best you had to offer (two sharp and interesting books, one of which, “Love Monkey,” The New York Times found fit to characterize as an “English-style cad novel”)? That would be awful!
So how can you judge an entire city of millions of people and decide that New York is just better without a thoughtful inquiry? If you want to publish an informed opinion, you owe it to yourself, your readers, and your subject to seek it out.
Remember when that old lady in North Dakota did a review of an Olive Garden franchise? We all had a good laugh and found her ingénue refreshing. But I recall someone pointing out that, in actuality, she did an average job reviewing the restaurant because she showed little curiosity. She ate what the waitress suggested, decided to have water instead of a restaurant-prepared beverage, and declined to have dessert. Her intention was honest, but if she wanted to do a really good job, she would have expanded herself and had some raspberry lemonade and chocolate cake instead of being so non-participative.
I think New York is so great because it’s the only city I’ve ever been to that can come to you instead of vice versa. What I mean by that is, in New York, so many of the city’s wonderful features are on display even if you don’t especially seek them out. Iconic stuff is everywhere you look. London’s got good things that contend with our good things, but it’s a little more low-key about it. Its strongest points are not in the same categories as NYC’s strongest points, so you have to seek out the gems.
It sounds like you, as a passive observer, missed what would have made London wonderful, and, sure, that may mean London’s candle can’t be held to New York’s, but it also means you’ve done a bad job. London may be an Olive Garden to you, but at least try the lemonade by searching for “good parks London” on Google. If you reviewed a movie this sulkily and lazily, you’d be fired.
Sorry this letter is so long.
After all, it doesn’t really make a difference. Neither city can compete with the greatest metropolis on the planet, my hometown of Boston,