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Dear New York Times,

Two different people (both in their early to mid-twenties) alerted me this morning to the following article:

New Poll Finds that Young Americans are Leaning Left

The poll cited in the article (a collaboration between the Times, CBS, and MTV–because obviously MTV is the only way to reach young people) has found that, “Young Americans are more likely than the general public to favor a government-run universal health care insurance system, an open-door policy on immigration and the legalization of gay marriage.” Basically, the writer comes to the conclusion that young people (ages 17 to 29) are more socially liberal than the population at large, though in comparison with Americans as a whole, a greater percentage support the war in Iraq. Boil it all down and you get no further analysis than, “Youthful idealism leads them to care about social justice, while at the same time drives them to believe in the righteousness of our war efforts!” What we have here is the conventional wisdom that each generation tends to be more liberal than the last, and that young people are idealistic. The article includes only one brief interview with 21-year-old Democrat, who reduces the entire situation down to which party has a better marketing strategy, saying, “The traditional Republican Party is still trying to get older votes, which doesn’t make sense because there are so many more voters my age. It would be sensible to cater to us.”

After reading this article, I have no sense of what issues actually matter most to my generation, much less any idea as to why our priorities are the way they are. Are we worried about the health care or social security crises that older generations have left hanging over our heads? Do we have unique viewpoints to contribute on gay marriage or abortion? What causes our views on immigration to be different from those of our parents?

This article comes on the heels of Sunday’s installment of what I call the Times’ “Those Crazy Kids!” series. Basically, they take a fairly long-lived and well-documented youth phenomenon (in this case hipsters’ love of crafts) and present it as a news flash. A gem from that piece, whose writer clearly has her fingers on the pulse of youth culture, “From ironic T-shirts and thrift-store dresses to ’80s jewelry and skinny ties, it can sometimes seem as if every young person who eschews investment banking and law school for creative pursuits looks eerily similar.” What a novel observation!

Earlier this year, you brought us the revelations that hipsters like fair trade coffee (especially in Ditmas Park, that mecca of cool) and that Williamsburg is expensive. Thanks for that.

Is it just me, or are your articles approaching the kinds of fake news that The Onion gives us, in such well-loved classics as “Local Hipster Over-Explaining Why He Was at the Mall”?

But I’m not writing to bash you, Times. I’m just a regular reader with a simple plan for helping you connect with the youth of America. All you have to do is… ready for this?…

HIRE SOMEONE UNDER 30!

Hell, maybe you should even hire two or three people in their twenties. I know we’re idealistic and run around wearing goofy t-shirts, but I think we all know that most of your writers have some tie dye and protest memorabilia hidden in storage somewhere, too. Instead of wringing our hands over how many young people get their news from The Daily Show, rather than your fine publication or others like it, perhaps you could expand your repertoire to include some real youth points of view.

Stay groovy,

Judy

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Mermaid Parade

This Saturday was the 25th anniversary of Coney Island’s beloved Mermaid Parade. For the uninitiated, the Mermaid Parade is one of those wonderful traditions that keeps New York vital, despite the gentrification, commercialization, and redevelopment. Every summer, groups dressed as mermaids, shellfish, pirates, and other denizens of the high seas converge for what is essentially a debaucherous freak parade (it’s also the nation’s largest art parade). According to ConeyIsland.com, this year’s was the biggest Mermaid Parade ever.

Mermaid Parade 2

Unfortunately, Coney Island is slated for redevelopment. Astroland stands to be demolished in favor of hotels and condos. Though the amusement park was granted a stay of execution, allowing it to remain open through the 2008 summer season, the longer-range future of Astroland and Coney Island are still up in the air.

ETA: David from Coney Island USA wrote in to let us know that Astroland was NOT granted a stay of execution to remain open next summer and that the New York Post (imagine that) reported the story without consulting Astroland. In short: suck, suck, suck.

Mermaid Parade 3

Here’s to enjoying the Mermaid Parade while we still can, and to not giving up the fight for the survival of this and other irreplacable New York institutions.

Photos by Sean. More photos

Does Your Soul Have a Cold?

Another Silverdocs selection, Mike Mills’ Does Your Soul Have a Cold? tracks the lives of five Japanese twenty- and thirtysomethings on mood-stabilizing drugs. Depression has become a theme for Mills, who directed 2005’s disappointing narrative film Thumbsucker. Thankfully, the documentary form prevents Mills from indulging in the sort of preciousness that afflicted his first film, and he manages to sketch out engaging and complicated character studies. While I had hoped that Does Your Soul Have a Cold? would spend more time talking about how GlaxoSmithKline and other drug companies basically introduced the concept of depression to mainstream Japan (the title is taken from the first Japanese ad campaign for antidepressants), Mills chose to go in a more personal direction. These in-depth profiles, taken together, illustrate the effects of mood stabilizing drugs on a nation that up until recently seemed to have no use for them. Though the film moves slowly, its nuanced and sensitive character studies kept my attention throughout. Does Your Soul Have a Cold? raises important questions about the social construction of depression versus individual, lived realities, as well as the power of pharmaceutical companies and other multinational corporations to shape global culture.

Here’s an interview on the film with Mike Mills from SXSW 2007:

Last week, I went to DC for Silverdocs. For the most part, I was there to review new music documentaries for Tiny Mix Tapes, but I had time to check out a few other films, too. One of the best of these was Super Amigos, a film that follows five rather unusual “lucha libre”-style Mexican wrestlers in Mexico City. Each masked man is a crusader for a different cause: Super Barrio fights for tenants’ rights and prevents eviction, Fray Tormenta runs two shelters for homeless children, and Super Gay combats homophobia. Ecologista Universal is the conservationist wrestler, while Super Animal directs his rage towards bullfighting.

The film’s comic book style, integrating animated sequences and panels of narration, underscores the wrestlers’ status as quirky, local superheroes. Super Amigos is both politically serious and lots of fun, incorporating light and heavy moments into an inspiring and entertaining film about five men and their unique approach to social activism.

Animal Collective

New York’s beloved annual River to River festival kicked off last Friday with my dream line-up, Animal Collective and Danielson. Now, I have long been ambivalent about free shows. While they’re great in theory, in practice they’re hot and packed and attract pretty much the strangest, most obnoxious crowds of all time. This audience was no different, packed with ironically-clad hipsters (apparently fanny packs are the new black) and obnoxious, underaged kids from Long Island and New Jersey. As I staked out my spot, I heard one such group of teenagers discuss how “sweet” it’s going to be when Die Hard 4 comes out this summer, loudly strategize about the best way to buy beer with “fakes,” and just generally overuse the word “fuck.”

Thankfully, it was well worth the wait. Danielson, whose album Ships (Secretly Canadian) was one of my favorites of 2006, did a great set, full of characteristic Smith family good-natured dorkiness. Their performance drew from every era of their career, from folksy, upbeat “Rubber-Necker” and “Idiot Box” off of Tri-Danielson!!! (Tooth & Nail, 1998), part of the “Danielson Famile” era, to the Ships’ transcendent “Did I Step on Your Trumpet?” Even the aforementioned nightmare audience couldn’t ruin the positive energy that pervaded the set, despite trying their damnedest to do so. When Daniel Smith announced that the next song was called “Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up,” adding, adorably, “because that’s how we feel about you,” a kid next to me shouted, “I give you two-and-a-half stars on a good day!” Hardy har har. I guess just about every music critic in the country was wrong to sing the praises of Ships, then, huh? I was reminded of something Anton Newcombe screamed at a heckler during a disastrous Brian Jonestown Massacre show a few years back: “Why don’t you go smoke some crack and do something with your life?”

Animal Collective shut the crowd up (well, for the most part) with over 90 minutes of experimental, psychedelic goodness. Though space was tight, and my feet started to hurt from standing on the dock for so long, I was compelled to stay for the entire show. Each song merged with the next, with improvisation playing a large part. At some moments airy and diffuse, and at others intense and revelatory, the set felt complete and satisfying. The performance coincided with sunset over the water, and while New York’s aren’t great, as sunsets go, it was a fitting backdrop. It was exciting to see Panda Bear, Avey Tare, and Geologist (Deakin wasn’t in attendance) be so creative and energetic. It’s hard to understand how truly unique and experimental Animal Collective is until you see them live. I can’t wait for Panda Bear’s concert at Bowery Ballroom later this month!