“East Village” Ideology

The “East Village” has always more of an idea than a location, since the days when this northern part of the Lower East Side was first renamed, and that idea is petite bourgeois to the core. I knew this was true, but until I started receiving replies to Saving the Lower East Side?, I didn’t realize how deeply entrenched it was. This is a post that examines, from the workers’ perspective, a small business in the neighborhood that was offered as a model for future use of retail space. At first the piece sat silently, but then the owner of that business wrote and claimed ownership of the information in the piece, and requested I remove it.

I’m not going to recount the arguments here (you can read it in the Comments section of the above-mentioned piece), I just want to say that once he claimed ownership of the information obtained through an interview with one of the workers in the company, opinion shifted to his side. This is what surprised me. If it were simply that the owner of the company requested I remove the piece, I wouldn’t be writing this, and I wouldn’t have altered the piece the way I did. It was that friends of mine were siding with him against the workers at the company, whom I felt could only benefit by the information.

I have to say that even I felt as if I was doing something wrong by not removing the piece. But instead of just cravenly acquiescing the way SLES did:
I had to examine why I felt this way.

    The ultimate condition of production is the reproduction of the conditions of production. The tenacious obviousness … of the point of view of production alone, or even of that of mere productive practice … are so integrated into our everyday ‘consciousness’ that it is extremely hard, not to say almost impossible, to raise oneself to the point of view of reproduction. 1

How does this ideology reproduces itself? It’s everywhere. It’s the focus of news blog articles and editorials, it’s the focus of portraits of local residents, it’s represented in the goals of “community” organizations, it’s in the mythology of the “East Village” artist. There’s almost nowhere that it isn’t! Here are a few ways, off the top of my head.

Of course, the most obvious sources of reproduction are newspapers. This week’s edition of The Villager has this story:


It’s not so surprising that a small business should feature a story about mayoral candidates defending small businesses, but none of these are surprising.


A regular feature on the blog of photographer James Maher, and reproduced on EV Grieve, is called “Stories From the East Village”. It features profiles of PB locals. This is the list of occupations held by each, since the series began:

Singer / Songwriter English as Second Language Teacher, Retired
Construction Worker Piano Tuner
Coney Island Circus Performer Stratospheric Coloratura and Performance Artist
Owner, Surma — The Ukrainian Shop Social Worker, Retired
Owner, Continuum Cycles and Bike Shop, Continuum Coffee Electrical Contractor, Marine
Factory Worker Cartoon Artist
Speech Pathologist, Dancer/Dance Teacher Musician
Street Artist Actor
Stay-at-home Mother, Medical Assistant Landlord (Miami)
Designer, Argentine Tango Dance Organizer Photographer
Student, Employee at Zaragoza Environmental Engineering Marketing and Communications
Dominatrix Actress/Model
Owner, Cafecito Clothing Designer
Senior Minister,
Middle Collegiate Church
Nurse, Waiter, Retired
Public Relations, Curator, Bartender Doorman, Retired
Tattoo Artist, Owner Fineline Tattoo Caretaker, Student
Musician (Flute and Bass), The Flute Mistress of Epic Doom Metal Artist, Fashion Consultant
Musician, Artist, Producer Painter
Musician and Dog Walker Deliveryman
Musician, Barista



There is an online petition that originated in the “East Village,” that is meant to be presented to the New York City Planning Commission and City Council. Apart from making a number of specious claims, it calls for:

    … the City Planning Commission and the City Council to amend the city’s zoning text to require that no corporate formula store or bank open a new location without approval from the local community board. Such a zoning amendment will not only allow communities to restrict the number and location of chain stores, but also allow community boards to negotiate legally binding stipulations on all elements of chain store character from signage and closing hours to wage scale.
    [Emphasis mine. -Quilas]


And of course everything ever written by No 7-Eleven NYC! When I first started writing about them, I used the term “small business group” to describe them. It was not entirely accurate, but I was couching my terms then. Just swap in “petite bourgeois” for “small business group” and everything will make sense. It’s what I was trying to say anyway, without alienating my more sensitive readers.


That’s a very cursory look at some of the ways the dominant ideology is reproduced locally. I intend to write more on this topic in the coming weeks. Hopefully, they won’t all take as long as this one did to complete!


1 Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. joe
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 12:26:29

    “friends of mine were siding with [the owner] against the workers at the company”

    I cannot speak for all of your friends but in my case this statement would be more accurate if it was preceded by “While we disagreed about the issues at stake, it seemed to me that…”

    “I have to say that even I felt as if I was doing something wrong by not removing the piece.”

    It was a really difficult call. At first you made a very persuasive case for leaving the info up. I think you found a good middle ground by choosing anonymizing the info over outright deletion.

    “There’s almost nowhere that [ideology] isn’t!”

    Ideology is also in the imagined communities invoked by No 7-Eleven and Quilas. No 7-Eleven invokes the disappearing East Village of small business, counterculture and previous struggles around gentrification. Both Quilas and No 7-Eleven would agree that this EV is fast disappearing if not already gone. In an early post you aptly described the defense of this earlier community as preserving “gentrification — in a crystallized form” (Feb 3rd). You countered this nostalgic vision by placing workers at the center of your analysis. In doing so you sought to avoid the messy question of community. But it isn’t at all clear that staking out a pro-worker position makes things that much less messy. After all, one can be pro-worker in the context of bodegas and 7-Eleven. The former raises the question of the rights of immigrant labor (with particular attention to undocumented workers), the latter raises the question of possibilities for organized labor. The biggest difficulty has been that by avoiding the question of community you have often come across as making a case for what Neil Smith called the ‘generalization of gentrification” (“suburbanization of the city” in Quilas exchanges). Thus while you may state the occasional disclaimer such as “this discussion has never been about why 7‑Eleven is good, just about why it’s less bad” (May 10th), the blog often reads more like “small business bad, corporate behemoth better.” At the end of the day both versions of community — “gentrification in a crystallized form” and the “suburbanization of the EV” — are lacking. Ironically despite all the vitriol both you and the folks at No 7-Eleven would probably agree on this. For this reason I have long felt that this discussion has missed the forest by spending too much time looking at the trees.

    Has the Left Forum posted the video of Dialectical Materialism vs the New Physics yet? Your description of that workshop left me laughing long after we parted on Sunday.


    • shmnyc
      Jun 13, 2013 @ 21:00:17


      I realize I have not written on “community” yet, but it is something I intend to do. The pieces in the series I envision are the existing one, “community,” and “localism.” This is another reason why “East Village Ideology” took so long to write: I kept expanding it, then contracting it, trying to work these other topics into it; it was either too long for an overview, or too short for an investigation.

      I got an email this evening from the Left Forum people regarding the videos. They want me to do the editing, instead of passing on the raw footage, which makes sense, I guess, but it’ll be a lot of work. I’m working on an abbreviated version of The New Physics that I hope to have up by Friday evening. I’m writing a piece about the panels I went to, and I wanted to put video clips with each description, but it would take too long, so I’m going to post the piece, and put the video up next week some time.


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