June 24, 2007

But she's not a girl... she's a fish!

Spent the first part of this past gorgeous weekend at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade.

Some friends and I planned to meet to catch the festivities, but as with all best-laid plans, we found ourselves finding one another through a subtle blend of cell-phone calls and spastic waving. While the parade marched on, we slowly worked our way to each other, observed the craziness, and enjoyed the amazing weather.

Afterward I hit the beach for the first time this year, and the first time at Coney Island in years. The water was freezing, but despite the cold and my previously published fear of fish, I figured that in honor of the mermaids I should dive in. After lazing about in the sun for a bit, we eventually split up as I headed home around 7:30. Fun day, well spent.

This year the parade had more of a purpose than in the past 24; it was a protest march, as the freaks and geeks of Coney Island are up in arms over several recent zoning decisions that severly impact their neighborhood. Having finished ruining Times Square and the Lower East Side, yet another greedy NYC developer has decided to destroy Coney Island by building overpriced condominiums despite all evidence to the general lack of interest in overpriced condominiums.

The marchers focused on saving Coney Island from the same mall-ification and fedder-izing that have done such damage to the characteristics of other, prized New York City neighborhoods. The process works the same way over and over again: a neighborhood is ignored and begins to go derelict, so hippies and artists take advantage of its cheap and illegal housing and move in bringing an arty and eclectic vibe. Before too long developers notice the vibe, buy up some property, and then tease the tragically un-hip to move in and enjoy the hipness vicariously.

Of course the first thing that the new residents do after moving in is complain about the people, noise, and grit that drew them there in the first place, leaving the original denizens priced out of their own neighborhood and hounded by the police. Meanwhile the developers are already looking for the next big thing thing to turn a quick buck.

This year's parade helped to mobilize the masses somewhat, joining hippies, artists, the Brooklyn Borough President, and the families and friends of Coney Island behind a common purpose. Though getting them their I suspect was the easy part; getting them to march down a street in an orderly and timely fashion is another story altogether. When the parade would stop for tens of minutes at a time, you couldn't help but wonder what the hold up was down the line - unless someone particularly interesting was directly in front of you, in which case you didn't care so much...

Even more challenging is to get the parade watchers to watch in a way that doesn't totally ruin the experience for everyone else. Showing complete disregard for those who got there early and found themselves a spot on the curb were hundreds of people who just walked down the street, and occasionaly stopped and stood in front of everyone else. I particularly enjoyed the people who lit up cigarettes to begin slowly killing the children whose view they had just obstructed.

Which of course got me ruminating on our culture, which seems to have moved to prefer packaged and prefabricated with production values over real, real-time, with spirit. With total disregard for spectators and parade-marchers alike, as if there was nothing more important than their videography, hundreds of photographers would literally stand in the middle of the parade route shouting like paparazzi. Intent on capturing the parade for those who weren't there, they relentlessly blocked the view of those who were. Looking to sell their work for later viewing to reproduce the experience, they made it very difficult for those who were actually having the experience.

Nothing really to do about that, just... you know, there it is.


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