By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA

One of the great problems that arises when writing in chaotic times is that what you write quickly becomes dated and irrelevant, especially if what you are writing tries to be topical and of the moment. As I write this, Hurricane Irma is moving out of Florida
Jay Fox
and beginning to bring floods to southern Appalachia; Steve Bannon's face is all over the media because of his recent interview with 60 Minutes; and new sanctions are being levied against North Korea by the United Nations for the hermit kingdom's reluctance to submit to a global paradigm wherein only the most powerful and (it is reasoned) responsible nations are allowed to have nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, in Washington, there is an odd detente between Congressional Democrats and the White House, and some news outlets are starting to think that maybe the Trump administration is going to try to get its act together to achieve a legislative victory that both is bipartisan and doesn't fail spectacularly from being overly severe or ambitious.

By the end of the week, any commentary on any of these subjects will be old news. Or boring. Something else will have happened to send the media into another frenzied cycle wherein the word “bombshell” is thrown around more than in a war zone, and the bombshells of today will be considered no more useful than spent casings. John Oliver will likely make a joke on his Sunday show about how long ago the previous Monday or Tuesday feels because, holy shit, these other fifteen things happened in the interim. (Oh yeah, and Ted Cruz had to live through every 13-year-old boy’s worst nightmare. The entire world just caught him jerking off.)

Events happen in such rapid succession that even Hurricane Harvey, which will possibly go down as the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, already feels like a distant memory even though it was still ravaging Texas two weeks ago. News of the horrific massacre at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, meanwhile, feels like it belongs in a history book.

Because I don't know when this will be published, I can't write about things that will be tied to the news of today. I have to focus on a larger trend.

This is actually a good thing. Becoming overly focused on individual events can lead one to inflate the importance of some while undermining the severity or significance of others. It can also pervert one's view of what is actually happening. For example, a crime reporter who has to write about the terrible things that happen in this city on a daily basis may begin to assume that the city is a festering cesspool of criminality, and that things are not getting any better. This type of thing seems to happen with police officers, too. If you inform them that the statistics tell a very different story, your position is dismissed as being foolishly roseate. Clearly, they reason, there is some manipulation of the data because their experience tells them that crime is rampant.

Unfortunately, this type of myopia and conspiratorial thinking is becoming increasingly common beyond the realm of law enforcement and crime reporting. There is a belief that society is breaking down because each and every day there is yet another story about something terrible happening, and those who are intently focused on all of these individual events begin to fall into a state of permanent indignation or anxiety or fear. Blame social media, blame the shortening of the news cycle, blame the president. It doesn't matter. It is all commodified outrage.

This is not to say that these emotions are necessarily either ersatz or feigned. However, it is true that stories that evoke these emotions are being turned into commodities measured by clicks and views, which are the metrics used when websites sell advertising. Because stories that cause outrage and indignation among readers generate more clicks and views than wonky or unbiased reporting, they have become the prominent means of conveying information on the web. As the web is the primary means through which many people get their information, these titillating pieces are the source materials that define the opinions of many Americans. Furthermore, it explains why most opinions that people share on Facebook or Twitter read more like Page 6 and less like the Foreign Affairs.

If one thinks of the media as a Darwinian system, one wherein information is equivalent to genetic material, this need to make everything explosive and shocking and immediate is entirely rational. The more provocative a piece of information is, the more likely it will be given attention, which will increase its chances of being passed on (shared, retweeted, etc.) to another consumer of news. There's good reason to describe such pieces of media as viral.

It goes beyond national politics and international espionage, too. In fact, one of the most viral subjects of all is gentrification. Virtually every day there is some story about it that receives national attention, whether it's Bodega, a startup that hopes to provide people with a sterile vision of the bodega in the form of a glorified vending machine, or Summerhill, a bar in a gentrifying neighborhood that thought it'd be fun to put fake bullet holes in the walls and sell bottles of 40 oz. Rose in paper bags.

While both ideas are stupid and misguided, the latter one seems particularly appropriate for this era. This is because it is trying to accomplish something that is common with a lot of bars and restaurants and other brick-and-mortar establishments that have recently sprung up, and it's this: It seeks to provide an experience. It has converted a gimmick into a component of its brand identity. Unfortunately for the owner, this brand identity is now associated with cultural appropriation, racial insensitivity, and just all-around douchebaggery.

Regardless, I’ve always found this odd when bars try to do this. Bars are not supposed to offer predetermined “experiences”; they are platforms for experiences either with your friends or strangers who you meet there. The bar is supposed to be a public space (hence the reason so many are called public houses or pubs), one that allows patrons the freedom to dictate their own experiences. In a way, this is one of the things that pisses so many people off about gentrification: It is limiting. It is exclusive. It tries to smooth over the bumps and edges that make life interesting in the name of brand management.

To me, a bar may signal that gentrification is taking place if it suddenly appears in a neighborhood where people are being displaced, but if it seeks to provide inclusive space to the community, then it’s a benefit to the community. In other words, a snooty wine bar or a cocktail lounge where drinks start at $14 and beers at $9 is prohibitively expensive and, therefore, exclusive. A bar that sells good beer, but also has cheap options, is more inclusive. If there's also a space where people from the neighborhood can come for events, including everything from playtime for kids and babies to rock shows, so much the better.

The Footlight

One such bar is Queen's The Footlight (465 Seneca Avenue, Ridgewood). On top of having a good selection of tap beers, cocktails that are moderately priced, community events, and, every once in a while, a guy who sells food from a table in the corner, Footlight is also becoming one of the city's best venues for smaller acts. The stage is large enough so that you’re not tripping over your bandmates, the people running the soundboard actually give a shit about how everyone sounds, and the booking agent for the venue gets some great bands to play. Chances are you’ve never heard of any of them, but you won’t be disappointed.

Either way, the reason that I’ve liked playing there with my band High Pony is not just because of the drinks or the sound quality. The reason I’ve always enjoyed Footlight is because the owner doesn’t rely on gimmicks or bullshit marketing or brand identity; she just opened a space and tried to do things to attract good-natured people. There are no pretentions about it. It is a bar. It has a stage.

While it may be a new bar, one that evinces that gentrification is happening in Ridgewood, it doesn’t impose itself on the neighborhood. Rather, it seems like it has tried to work its way into the fabric of the community by staging events for all kinds of people and serving drinks that pretty much anyone can afford.

The only thing that I don’t like about it is that it’s next to impossible to get there from where I live.

Jay Fox


Jay Fox is the author of The Walls and a regular contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.