“I love this dirty town!”
So said gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker in the 1957 classic movie Sweet Smell of Success. Dirt in every sense of the word (earth, gossip, smut) has always been a byproduct of, and a stimulant to, everything that makes New York New York: the jostling immigrants, the rising towers, the rambling parks, the ambition, the gossip, the greed.
And yet! There are times-notably in the middle of August, when the stench of garbage and body odor drives us, unthinkably, to the sticks-when dirt seems not so much nourishing and colorful but threatening and oppressive. When it becomes, lip-curlingly, filth. The bottoms of our feet, encased in flip-flops, turning black. The case of food poisoning from the questionable seafood restaurant. The rumor running amok. Our ability to endure all of this is a badge of insiderdom (think of squeaky-clean Pete Campbell complaining about “some client yammering about how dirty the city is” on the last episode of Mad Men).
For much of the past decade, it seemed the rich were out to drive dirt from New York altogether, with their glassy condos; their $20 martinis (watch out for E. coli, though!-see our intern-al investigation on the city’s dirty bars); their Town Cars and blowouts and designer handbags. Now, though, dirt is reassuringly resurgent. The mayor takes the subway, sort of! Schools have gardens! And thanks to the World Wide Web, everyone can now be a Hunsecker.
In this issue, the Observer staff assesses this situation from its new digs in wonderfully messy Times Square. Michael Miller looks at the return of smut in the American novel; Lee Siegel explains why porn is no longer dirty. Max Abelson examines the soiled reputation of Bear Stearns ex-exec Ralph Cioffi, now living in the swamps of Jersey and (soon) Florida. Una LaMarche submits to the still-lewd gaze of the Manhattan male. Irina Aleksander considers the ascent of the Williamsburg Dirty Girl. And Chloe Malle watches, faintly aghast, as burlesque invades the hygienic Hamptons.
Truth is, the Big Apple is feeling kind of rotten-which is exactly how we like it!