New York’s Theater of the Absurd: Have We All Gone Nutso?

If we’re being honest, we’d have to say that this week has been, well, a little absurd. An Egyptian cobra

If we’re being honest, we’d have to say that this week has been, well, a little absurd. An Egyptian cobra that escaped from the Bronx Zoo has become New York’s most high-profile Twitter celebrity. (Sample tweet: “Holding very still in the snake exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. This is gonna be hilarious!”)  State employees won a $319 million state lottery.  The Knicks won … something.

Then again, we’re used to inherent absurdities in New York. We don’t even notice them anymore. Until this year, the richest guy in town and the mayor were the same person, and this didn’t seem odd. It doesn’t seem odd now that at press conferences with Mayor Bloomberg, reporters raise their hands and wait to be called on before speaking and are told what topics to ask about, and when they see Hizzoner outside of a press conference, they obediently adhere to his request that they not ask him questions.

This is not completely surprising, considering that our media industry is patently absurd. Our broadcast figures, for example, somehow maintain their gravitas while being nakedly commercial. Barbara Walters has spent more than a decade on The View, and Anderson Cooper’s every appearance with Kathy Griffin somehow renders him lovable instead of laughable. But maybe it’s institutional. After all, we also think it’s perfectly acceptable to merge two embattled media properties with the expectation that it will make one healthy media property. (Newsbeast? The Daily Week? AOLPo?) Our publishing houses are willing to make Glenn Beck a best-selling children’s book author. And people are willing to let Glenn Beck near their children.

Not that there aren’t any Tea Party types in New York. The new richest guy in town, David Koch, is one. (We’re sure there’s at least one other one, somewhere. In Bushwick, perhaps.)

We live with these absurdities because they’re part of our everyday environment. We can section off a 4×4 plot of grass in the middle of the street and refer to it as a “park.” We think about space in terms of cost-per-square foot rather than, well, square feet.  Not one but two recent articles have been devoted to the debate over whether Central Park is on the East or West Side. And we have opinions about that!

And inasmuch as everyday New York isn’t interesting enough, we make entertaining fetishes out of banalities–Cupcakes! Bacon! Bicycles! Mustaches!–assigning elevated importance to everyday things. (Request for clarification: Is it better to like cupcakes ironically, or to simply be aware that everyone likes cupcakes and talk about the phenomenon? Or is it better to have a pre-existing interest in cupcakes that pre-dates their sudden fame? Unclear.)

Of course some of our current absurdities are a bit more modern. Things that would have been absurd 10 years ago seem less so now. Luxury high-rises in Manhattan remain empty while the Gowanus Canal attracts developers and buyers. The Limelight is luxury shopping center. Donald Trump is a potential presidential candidate. (O.K., some things are still absurd.)

That any of us voluntarily live here at all given real estate prices is also fundamentally absurd–or at the very least irrational. But it’s also wonderful.



New York’s Theater of the Absurd: Have We All Gone Nutso?