In the coming weeks, we will see a remarkable show on Broadway end its original run. RENT, the revolutionary rock opera will have its final performance on September 7. I have previously expressed my disdain for what the production has become, filled with stunt casting and fangirls, and even though it still saddens me, I can only think it is for the best. RENT lost its novelty long ago. Even before the dour Columbus-directed movie. However much the themes permeate modern society, the show itself hearkens back to a time where one couldn't walk down Avenue D without getting jumped, raped, or killed. It is a period piece that takes place in a New York that no longer exists.
Last year, in my ever growing love and interest for Manhattan, I traveled to Alphabet City one day to see the setting of RENT in real life. Even though I had heard tales of gentrification in my research, I always thought, somehow, with hope that the area would remain unchanged from the Eighties and still retain some sort of Bohemian charm. But I was wrong. Children played in Tompkins Square Park, faceless corporations set up shop. The raw and unidealized area from once upon a time had been cleaned, scrubbed and rebuilt from the ground up to accommodate the prim over-indulgence of contemporary society. And it's not just on the Lower East Side; slowly but surely, all of New York is losing its charm. It has become trendy, expensive, and, worst of all, fake. Just for instance, while it was always exclusive to live there, now a 500 square foot apartment costs $100,000/month, and you know the only people living there are yuppies and poseurs with sinecures.
In 1985 and the years surrounding, there was, I am told, an electricity in the air of New York. With the outspread of AIDS, the apprehension of the new millennium, the drugs, the homeless problems, the rebellion, New York was a different place. Was it better? Well, it's certainly safer now. But does that make it better? To me, as some kind of bush league artist, or, more appropriately, a dilettante, I know that I personally find a great deal of inspiration from that time period; I think, as an artist, suffering is integral to achieve a powerful, moving expression. The artists of that decade, like Keith Haring and David Wojnarowicz, used their suffering to produce impressive, moving works. Is it a bad thing that suffering is being dissipated? Officially, no. Of course not. I would never want to have AIDS or an addiction or to be homeless, and would not wish that on anyone. But, as much today as yesterday, whatever help is given to these plights, there is also a level of concealment and, sanitization about them. AIDS is still a very big problem today. Perhaps it's more controlled than before, but, as recent ads have stated:
People apparently think it's not serious. In the 80's, it was almost demonized. There was an hysteria about AIDS and while ignorance was rampant, so was panic--panic that contributed to people to do whatever they could to save themselves and, whatever they could do to make themselves known. Nowadays, AIDS has fizzled out as has the hope and desire of those afflicted with it. Suffering is still naturally present today, as it always will be, but it just seems more and more people deny it, mask it, and clean it up just like they did with the city. With the loss of suffering comes the loss of expression. The loss of culture.
I'm not ending my love affair with Manhattan; it's still a nucleus of art, fashion and culture in America. But, I fear, as we continue to lose the grit of the city, will its charm and intrigue soon leave as well? I say yes. If a teacup falls from a table and shatters into a hundred pieces, those pieces will never reassemble themselves, no matter how long one waits. They will only break down into more and more pieces until they are dust. Progression, in its most primal form, is a synonym for destruction. Entropy. Holes in the Ozone layer, ice caps melting, everything ending. Everything dies. That's what progression is. Nothing gets better. I worry that soon, the entire world will be plastic. Clean, white plastic. This sanitization and removal of suffering that it seems so many people wish for will be our downfall; to deplete the natural order of things, to remove the dynamic of conflict between man and his surroundings is a travesty. A travesty to art, to drama, to literature, to fashion, to communication, to ideas, to thoughts, and to life. Soon, there will be no grit. Soon, there will be no suffering. Soon, there will be no culture.