Monday, November 9, 2009

Yesterday Was Cool. But It's Over.

A SKINNY TEEN draped in a dark hoodie smacked me in the face with a brick one night when I was walking in my neighborhood.

Gentrification? Yeah. I know how touchy the subject is.

The kid, who I'm guessing was in some sort of initiation thing since his pack of 12 friends watched from across the street, was presumably part of an old guard in Northern Liberties - working class or poor African-Americans. They used me, a fairly white-looking dude, as their statement against the new people moving into their enclave. The brick carried great symbolism: the new people in the area were moving into newly built homes. Construction was everywhere back then (2004), and future homes (i.e. bricks) were piled on every block.

Here's my beef with gentrification: the world spins constantly. You can't grab one moment in time and hold on to it forever. It just doesn't work that way. Things change. Get over it.

Nancy Raquel Mirabal
poses interesting questions in the conclusion of her essay, Geographies of Displacement: Latinas/os, Oral History, and the Politics of Gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District. Who decides how we remember and why?

I think what we're seeing is, as Cary Carson eludes to, a fragmentation of the audience, and therefore a democratization of history. Museums are in trouble because people want personal connections to history, a la Tilden, or Rosenzweig and Thelen. They can't draw the masses anymore because the common denominator is becoming smaller and smaller.

So who decides how, what and why we remember? It's on us, sadly. Where does the historian fit in? I don't know.

We've been suffering the same problem in journalism. The audience doesn't need us to tell them what is news. They pick and hunt what they want to ingest. That leads to people horribly uninformed about important things (many of my journalism students didn't realize there was a Septa strike last week until they saw the locks on the subway entrances). But it also leads to people becoming completely absorbed in the things they love. That can mean opportunity.

I would say there is still a demand for museums and history, despite the lack of interest in the National Museum of the Old West. But people don't seem to want to go to the history. They want history - their specific, targeted history - to come to them (even if only virtually). The delivery system has changed.

These are changes that have happened already. Museums, history, journalism - and everybody in between - must adapt.

You can't hit everyone in the face with bricks.


  1. I know this is kinda OT, but this time it wasn't necessarily your student's fault they didn't know the strike was on. If they had checked the news before they went to bed they would have seen "strike threat over" on every news website in Philadelphia.

  2. Taking the students' side, eh?

    ON STRIKE was the front page story of the Daily News and Inquirer. It was on all the radio and television stations that morning. They also have this new thing called the Internet. I hear it's popular with the young folk. And apparently, the strike was splashed all over the regional portals.

    Lack of awareness? Unacceptable from journalism students.

    I'll let you slide in the history department though.