I have been watching HBO’s The Deuce since it premiered and I love its gritty look at New York City. And who doesn’t love a double dose of James Franco in the same sitting? It’s gritty television at its best. What I see when I watch it though is a nostalgic look back at a time when the seedy underbelly was right there for all to see.
I’ve been to New York more times than I can count. Central Park to Times Square, CBGB’s to the World Trade Center; New York was always different. Bigger, bolder, crazier…more, more, more. No matter what category, New York was always going to top the list. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the city, but in the end, I find it to be a beautiful, fascinating. mystical place.
But when watching The Deuce, one thing always occurs to me. That world is gone. People that go to Times Square won’t ever see the dirty, edgy, kind-of-scary in a can’t-look-away kind of way. Gone are the pimps and prostitution. Gone is the trash blowing down the street. Gone are the video booths and movie theaters. Gone are the peepshows. Thanks Rudy.
Now not everyone believes in porn and nudity and I will never argue against safety and clean streets, but there is something missing when we sanitize and wash away the undesirable. I don’t think any woman should have to live under a pimp, but I also don’t think she should be forced to an even darker corner of the world where much worse could be happening. Maybe it’s just because I was always fascinated with cities and the gritty side of them having grown up in the suburbs myself. Maybe I just like the darker side of things. Whatever it is, I think we spend too much time sweeping the bad off the streets knowing full well that we’re just hiding it under the rug.
The same happened in Philadelphia (remember when South Street didn’t look like the mall?) and Los Angeles (Hollywood at 2am used to feel dangerous…and exciting). I don’t know if it’s still there, but I remember there used to be an old porn movie theater (a full fledged theater, with the marquee and everything) in Philly on the way to City Hall. I never went in that place, never saw a movie there, never even had a desire to do so…but there was a certain comfort in that sign. Knowing it was there, seeing it when I had been away for awhile, walking past it on a cold October morning…is it just nostalgia for my younger years or is it a wish for a time when we didn’t sanitize the world?
For those of you that hate porn and the seedier side of the world, I get it. You have a right to not be disturbed by these things or to feel offended by what you see when you walk down the streets. I’m with you on that. But I will always miss that grit and the sleight sense of danger you felt going to a place like that. That was part of the magic of cities to me. Something different than my Amish country to suburban tract home upbringing.
I don’t need everything scrubbed clean for my eyes. I need to see it all, so I can learn what is right and wrong, good and bad. I need choices to make and sometimes I need to make bad choices. It’s how you grow and learn. My parents were always good about exposing me to more than most and I thank them for that. (They probably wouldn’t take me to The Deuce though, let’s be real.)
…maybe it’s just my attraction to Maggie Gyllenhall talking.
image courtesy of Franck Michel (catching up…)