Celebrities vs. NYU: At This Point, What Is the Point of the Village?

NYU, those capitalists!

NYU, those capitalists and their capitalist expansion!

Of all the development skirmishes that have been fought during the Bloomberg era, the most fun to watch has, without question, been the ongoing battle between NYU and its neighbors. What could make for better viewing than a fight between college co-eds and celebrities? Even public comment sessions, the hours-long airing of grievances dreaded by reporters, became must-see TV when attended by the likes of Susan Sarandon, Matthew Broderick and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who along with the NYU professors, have taken up the Bohemian charge to save the neighborhood from president John Sexton and his grotesque plans.

But, as New York Magazine points out, the whole bohemians versus megalomaniac college administrator storyline is more than a little bit off. It has, in fact, been growing steadily more ridiculous as the fight rages on. Last week, celebrities and the NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan opened a joint online auction in which celebrities played up their fame to raise money to fight the plan. (Which they have already fought and lost—the Village expansion, which would ultimately add four new buildings totaling about 2 million square feet—was approved by the City Council in July 2012. Opponents are now trying to stop the plan via a lawsuit in State Supreme Court.)

Among the goodies being offered by the defenders of Greenwich Village’s bohemian past? According to New York:

“There is a chance to shoot hoops with John Leguizamo (starting bid: $800), spend two hours shopping with Padma Lakshmi, who will “assess your pantry and spice needs” ($1,000), and take a private acting lesson with Philip Seymour Hoffman ($1,000). Lewis Lapham, who long seems to have considered himself too refined to consort with mere causes, has offered to have lunch with anyone willing to spend $2,500 and up. “Lunch with Lewis Lapham is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’ll surely treasure,” the auctioneers promise. The Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Philip Levine donated the pen he used to write his 1999 book The Mercy.”

As legitimately questionable as some aspects of NYU’s expansion plan may be, casting it as a fight between corporations—”it’s that hideous corporate mentality”—and artists is a little disingenuous, particularly when the Hollywood stars fighting it are themselves quite adept at navigating the fine line between selling out and selling art. The star power coalescing around this battle just goes to show how far gone the Village so many people are trying to save really is.