July 13, 2008

An anti-Clinton rant

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at July 13, 2008 2:13 PM

hell's kitchen mural

In today's New York Times there's a piece about the decreasing relevance of the bohemian lifestyle depicted in the musical Rent to actual New York City culture. I don't have anything to say on that issue, but I wanted to flag this paragraph:

THERE are those who still hold onto the dream of danger, but their numbers are shrinking. Skinny young ex-suburbanites who would swoon at the sight of a pea shooter walk around Williamsburg wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a silhouette of a Kalashnikov and the words "Defend Brooklyn" (from everyone who came after, one assumes). Residents of Hell's Kitchen adamantly refuse to adopt the name Clinton, an old label for the area that real estate brokers tried to bring back at a time when the Hell's Kitchen description actually applied.

As a Hell's Kitchen resident myself, I object to characterizing this as purely motivated by wanting to maintain an aura of danger in the neighborhood. (That might be a part of it, but push it too hard and your friends from the suburbs will be even more reluctant to visit.)

In reality, we prefer "Hell's Kitchen" because it's a much better name than "Clinton". It's colorful and evocative. And it's perfectly legitimate to reference the neighborhood's history even if its character has changed. Meanwhile, "Clinton" is bland and generic, with a tenuous connection to the area (via the not-that-impressive DeWitt Clinton Park). And contrary to the writer's suggestion, "Hell's Kitchen" is actually a much older name for the area.

So, don't brand us a bunch of posers just because we want our neighborhood to keep its awesome name.

Tags: New York City

Yeah, I'd much rather live in a place called "Hell's Kitchen" than "Clinton", but that could be for very different reasons...

I read a little of the story you linked to, as well as another NYT piece talking about how financial services people were having a very hard time counting their bonuses as part of their income due to the financial crisis. Good stuff.

Posted by: Chris L-S | July 13, 2008 4:32 PM

Could it be that your preference reflects your preference in politians as much as anything?

I assume googling anti-Clinton rant will produce writing on a different topic.

Posted by: Katie | July 13, 2008 5:28 PM

Katie: Although the play on "Clinton" in the post title was intentional, I actually have a high opinion of Bill Clinton's presidency, and even though I supported Obama, Hillary has her moments (like the recent vote on the FISA bill). So I don't think that's to blame in my case...

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | July 13, 2008 7:36 PM

It is for me! *8P

Posted by: Chris L-S | July 14, 2008 7:24 AM

This time of year all of Texas is Hell's Kitchen.

This is perhaps slightly off topic, but what I find odd is the tendency of cities- Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta come to mind- to try to brand areas as "midtown" or "uptown" when they have no such discernible relationship to each other or to "downtown," i.e., the central business district. Midtown and uptown I can find in New York. But how is the Galleria district in any sense of the word the "uptown" of Houston?

Posted by: JSpur | July 14, 2008 8:52 AM

Katie beat me to the comment. so i will go with the lame joke instead...
Would you prefer "The area formly known as hells kithcen?"

Posted by: shellock | July 14, 2008 10:29 AM

Do your homework. The area was known as Clinton long before being known as Hell's Kitchen. You may not like DeWitt Clinton Park, but much of the area was owned by the Clinton family and Clinton's elder was VP of the US.

Clinton is not a recent name as suggested by many news articles too lazy to do the research. Sure, HK evokes all sorts of things, and it's great for a nickname, but don't discount the truth about Clinton.

Posted by: Anon | July 14, 2008 2:20 PM


Yes, Dewitt Clinton lived in the time before Hell's Kitchen allegedly acquired its nickname, but DeWitt Clinton Park didn't open until 1905. The origins of both nicknames are generally agreed to be in the following times:

Hell's Kitchen - the last quarter of the 19th century

Clinton - the late 1950s!

Yes, you're right that it's not named after present day Clintons, but just because it's named after DeWitt doesn't mean it was named that while he was alive. If that was the universal rule, we'd have a lot less things named after MLK today.

/hates it when people open their arguments with "do your homework". It's the easiest way to tell that they're about to say something wrong, and they start off as pompously as possible.

Posted by: Josh | July 14, 2008 4:00 PM

JSpur: I can understand "uptown" if it refers to a wealthy residential or high-end commercial district, either by association with "upper-class"/"upscale" or through the Billy Joel hit "Uptown Girl". Otherwise, yeah, some geographical logic is needed.

Anon: Perhaps I should formally state this blog's Policy on Fact-Checking and Corrections:

1. A typical post here is not meant to be at the standard of a research paper or even a news article. The maximum fact-checking I typically do consists of a Wikipedia search (as was the case for this post).

2. Corrections are welcome, and if an error is brought to my attention I will post the correction in an update.

3. However, unsourced claims from anonymous blog commenters are not considered more authoritative than Wikipedia.

4. Finally, if you're not a regular commenter here and are dropping in just to make a correction, keep in mind that you are joining an ongoing community discussion. Therefore, be polite.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | July 14, 2008 4:21 PM

Stick to your guns. It's Hell's Kitchen. It has "hell" in it, so it's a much better name. We used to cross Hell's Gate on the Triborough Bridge to get to my grandparents in the South Bronx when I was a kid. I loved it. I got to say "hell" without catching hell. (Despite its renaissance, the name South Bronx is still more terrifying than than Hell's Anything. I really hope they don't change it).

Posted by: Kaleberg | July 14, 2008 8:50 PM

I remember an interesting argument with one of my elementary school teachers of why 'Hell' was not a swear word at all because I was just stating a mythological location. (Unsurprisingly, this didn't work. Though I did get amused that she tried to have the argument without ever actually using the word 'Hell'. The awkward work-arounds she tried to use in her half of the discussion made the whole thing worth it.)

Posted by: Mason | July 15, 2008 2:37 AM


Posted by: Josh | July 15, 2008 12:45 PM
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