Brooklyn Is Now Officially Over

The Ascendance of Brooklyn, the Lifestyle, Above All Else

By Kim Vesley

So much for all that. (Lauren Draper/The New York Observer).

So much for all that. (Lauren Draper/The New York Observer).

It has been a long time coming, creeping ever closer with each new luxury condo and $8 million townhouse sale, every $17 bowl of ramen, $10 latte and cup of cold-pressed beet-and-kale juice, but now the end is finally upon us: Brooklyn is over. Done. Finished. Brooklyn as brand has overtaken Brooklyn as place, turning itself over fully to the project that was always its greatest work in the first place: the cultivation of a luxury lifestyle.

Last week, The New York Times profiled a so-called artists’ commune in Ditmas Park that would seem, at first glance, to be just another group of idealistic twentysomethings willing to forgo the solitude and serenity of a studio apartment for the stimulation of living with other like-minded individuals. The 29-year-old founder of the Clubhouse, as it is called, tells the Times that he had dreamed of recreating the kind of artistically fertile space described by Gertrude Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. “Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas created this environment where artists empowered each other to be more creative.” The cooking of vegetarian meals, edgy hairstyles and friends crashing on the couch all receive prominent mention.

Only, what the artists of the Clubhouse are producing is not work that aspires to the heights of Hemingway, Picasso or Stein, but branded content for their corporate sponsors—a new media company called BKLYN1834 “dedicated to selling the borough’s image beyond its borders.” BKLYN1834 seeks to skim the cream from the residents’ “artistic” collaborations, a relationship that the residents refer to as a “mutually beneficial partnership.”

Or in the distinctly dystopian phrasing of one woman: “If you give to the Clubhouse, it gives to you.”

Of course, corporate America has long been adept at co-opting the radical, the revolutionary and the cool, using the anti-establishment chic of countless social movements to sell everything from jeans to SUVs, but BKLYN1834, so named for the date the borough was incorporated as a city and the target demographic that the company is seeking to reach, is something altogether different—not a co-optation of a lifestyle, but a collaboration, a state of affairs that has long been fermenting in the county of Kings.

Yes, Brooklyn has been a brand for some time now and a global one at that, with Bedford-Stuyvesant cafés in Amsterdam and food trucks in France (très Brooklyn!) but there has, at least, been a distance between the thing and the representation of the thing, some kind of authentic existence underpinning the aesthetic, even if the authenticity of that experience has, of late, been in question. But the point at which the experience is lived expressly to create the brand, rather than the other way around, is the point at which the jig is up.

The exact nature of the relationship between BKLYN1834, whose Loews Regency power breakfasting founders and backers hold not insignificant investments in Brooklyn real estate, is somewhat vague—a handful of the residents work directly for the company, as marketing, art and creative directors, while others just enjoy the expensive goodies the company doles out, such as a 3-D printer that one resident keeps connected to an Xbox and a rotating platform in her room, “which acts as a 360-degree body scanner.” (An apt metaphor, perhaps, for the invasive process of merging of one’s life with marketing campaigns?)

Founder Glenn Markman’s goals, however, seem to be fairly straight-forward. Though his association with the Clubhouse came after it had already been established, he hopes to fund others arts communes whose denizens will produce content, like a Converse ad that the company recently created, subsidizing and fostering a lifestyle that can sell stuff—”Brooklyn is cool now. If you go to a department store in Europe, they are selling Brooklyn T-shirts.”

Of course, the foundation on which the Brooklyn brand is built has always been a somewhat problematic one, resting as it does on an artistic legacy more rumored than real. The borough’s creative class has long focused its talents and energies on producing pickles and artisanal doughnuts, bespoke blue jeans and exquisitely renovated brownstones rather than a creating definable school of art of literature, music or social movement. And though Brooklyn can claim artists like Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls and Spike Lee, who have all, in some fashion, been used to bolster the Brooklyn brand, the borough’s famous sons grew up under conditions which are no longer much in evidence—conditions so vastly different from Brooklyn as we now know it that they inspired Mr. Lee to go on his now famous rant about gentrification, saying of the dog-filled Fort Greene Park: “It’s like the motherfuckin’ Westminster Dog Show.” This is now Brooklyn, the brand—not Spike Lee, but the motherfuckin’ Westminster Dog Show.

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