Monday, December 24, 2012

While I Tell of Yuletide Treasure

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This time of year is filled with seasonal traditions involving studies in contrasts by which we better know and appreciate the opposites that otherwise might not claim our attention.  The time of the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is when many of us practice lighting lights to sparkle in the deeper dark of the early evenings and extra-long nights to cheer ourselves with a celebration of human closeness just when the gloom and drear is most profound.  And the coming of the shortest day of the year is when we rejoice that from here on the days will be lengthening.*
(* The solstice this winter is extra special in that when it arrived at 6:12 A.M.on December 21st it was the earliest arrival of the winter solstice since 1896, 116 years earlier and just beyond the fringe of when almost any living human now alive was first  alive.  The solstice arrived on the portentous and numerically odd date of12/21/12, which was also the date that the Mayans ended their 5,125-year long-count calendar, causing some to predict it would be a day of world-ending apocalypse.)
This time of year is also a time when we fixate on the bunching up of wealth and treasure, combining it with a concentrated reverence for the importance of giving.  We save up all our shopping, to run out on or after “Black Friday” to make this time we give while giving less the rest of the year.  Our holiday stories are also about studies in contrast having to do with the bunching up of the “Yuletide Treasure” that we sing about in in “Deck The Halls”: Dickens’ Scrooge is a miser who for years collects wealth by the sharp moves he makes at the expense of others (later with a change of heart he is able to be freely generous with that same accumulated wealth), Theodore Geisel (Dr. Suess) envisioned the mean-spirited Grinch, a reverse-Santa Claus, who, intending to steal them, collected up in the sack on his back all the presents the entire community had intended for each other (later with a change of heart he is almost like a real Santa Clause by simply being able to return to the community what was theirs to begin with), and then there is the magical fable of “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the villain (who never has a change of heart in the story) is the mean Mr. Potter whose goal (realized in one of the film’s two competing alternate realities) is to own everything in the community so that if anyone wants a job or the comfort of an inviting home they have to come “crawling” to beg from him.

Noticing New York’s seasonal tradition has been to run annual reminders of how closely the “It’s a Wonderful Life” fable parallels the very real facts about the way that Bruce Ratner and his Forest City Ratner company have been assisted by government with atrociously deep subsidies and abuse of eminent domain to acquire a mega-monopoly in Brooklyn at everyone else’s expense. It is exactly the kind of study in contrasts on which we fixate at this time of year.

Much has been made of, and the media has been preoccupied since this Fall with, the brunched-up wealth and glitter of the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena.  I wrote about this way: 
There are certainly those who look upon the “Barclays” Center and see impressive value there;  They crow about the spectacle of its glitter. A frequently used metaphor for a glittering and startling concentration of wealth piled up in one place is that of the treasure chest.  Some people who make proclamations about  what Brooklyn has gained with the “Barclays” Center, people like Ratner, Prokhorov, Bloomberg, Markowitz, and Charlie Rose gloat over the arena's glitter.  I see what they are gloating over as representing much the same thing as a treasure chest.  Like a treasure chest, the “Barclays” Center undeniably gleams with heaps of accumulated value.  But the “Barclays” Center, like those fictional fairytale treasure chests, comes by its impressive heaped up gleam because it is an accumulation of pirate booty, illegally seized and hoarded.

 All that piled-up wealth represents the brooches and necklaces that are not out in the community being worn as adorning ornament by the ladies, it’s the candlesticks and silver that are not festooning local dinner tables, it represents the gold that is not circulating through and enriching the general commerce of the community.  It also represents the cost of the fear, violence and suffering when that wealth was wrested from its original owners at sword point or with the discharge of blunderbusses.

    * * * *
The thing to remember is that the revelry around the glint and gleam of the “Barclays” Center is, at its core, a celebration of an immense and unforgivable transfer of wealth from the local community to a force of marauders.
(See: Wednesday, October 10, 2012, Weighing The Change In Brooklyn: The True Cost Of “Barclays” Center Glitter, The Cost Of “Barclays” Center Tickets.)

And, in contrast to all that bunched-up wealth there are the vast seized acres, there are the empty and underutilized parking lots that lie at the back of the arena, there are the nearby homes where the sound of the arena's bass penetrates in.  In “It’s a Wonderful Life” Mr. Potter always had a glamorous mansion, perhaps even more so, after seizing the bulk of the town: The question was whether it was worth having to crawl to him and beg for a job from him when he was the only game in town.
More fence going up around Ratner's superblock
Partial view of the very long fence around Ratner superblock now mostly used for parking
What is the glamorous glitter worth when Barbra Streisand plays Ratner’s arena but the public is highly subsidizing her performances to the turn of perhaps $700,000?  That is just the Grinch giving back what was the community’s in the first place.  It is actually worse because when the Grinch gave back the stolen presents he gave back everything totally and freely, relinquishing all claim.  When Ratner invites people into the “Barclays” Center he is like Mr. Potter, charging $4.50 for water that would have been free with the music at Freddy’s Bar, just one of the parts of the neighborhood removed as part of Ratner’s taking spree.  In the end the glitter of how much richer Ratner has become is, like in all the other traditional tales of the season, just a measure and metaphor for the off-screen impoverishment of the community.

The "Barclays" Center advertising oculus showing Barbra Streisand, one of the singers who has not answered an open letter from the community questioning why she was performing at the Ratner/Prokhorov arena 
Here are past Noticing New York stories that probe the “It’s a Wonderful Life” parallels in greater depth.  Just one last thought. . .In the end all these tales have the same moral: It isn’t about bunched-up wealth.  That isn’t what has value.  The value of life is all about sharing and people in the community mutually supporting each other with real giving.

Happy holidays to all.
 •    Saturday, December 24, 2011, Traditional Christmas Eve Revisit of a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville, the Real Life Incarnation of the Abhorred Pottersville
•    Friday, December 24, 2010, Revisiting a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville

•    Thursday, December 24, 2009, A Christmas Eve Story of Alternative Realities: The Fight Not To Go To Pottersville (Or Ratnerville)

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