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September 26, 2008


Chris Becker

"What does Time Out mean to you?"

Christopher Wheeldon: "Time Out keeps me informed. It’s the first thing I pick up when I land in New York or London. It is pretty much an entertainment bible."

Is he serious? Did he say this with a straight face?

And I'm squinting here - but is Jay Z the only black person in this select "40" of people who "define" and "influence" the city I've lived in and created music in for ten plus years?

Beaming back to my planet now...thanks for the early morning surreal...

Steve Smith

Chris, your points are welcome as always, but it's also eminently clear you're personally never going to be satisfied by a mainstream publication. Let's just put that out there.

Wheeldon's quote is far from unusual: I hear it regularly from people to whom I speak, as well as public figures I interview, who have no reason to flatter. I don't view it as an ego boost, but rather take it to mean that the listings have always been the most comprehensive arts and entertainment reference resource available prior to the explosion of the Internet.

Your comment about race is a more pertinent one, frankly, and not unexpectedly we've received a mountain of mail on precisely that subject. Derek Jeter, you should know, is of mixed racial heritage. But then the accusation becomes, "Why are the only black people on the list a rapper and an athlete?"

I'm sure part of that is due to the method by which the heroes were selected, with each section editor nominating a handful of candidates and the top brass winnowing down the master list. It also has to do with that specific 13-year window of influence; Spike Lee comes to mind most readily, but has he been the dominant figure since 1995 that he was before that?

Speaking strictly for myself, the one artistic figure who really ought to have been here and isn't is William Parker; the one politician and social mover who likely most merited inclusion was Al Sharpton -- and I'm being completely serious about that.

So Chris, here are two questions for you; I'd like you to address them either here or your own blog. Given the specific purview of the thesis -- New Yorkers who've had a broad cultural influence here specifically since 1995 -- who would you have included, and why? And if a team of several dozen smart editors from a wide spectrum of disciplines and backgrounds came up with the list you're seeing and not another one, does it condemn the compilers as myopic, or might it possibly also say something deeper about the current state of the city in which we live?

I'd love to see a real dialogue come out of this.

Chris Becker

Hey, Steve. My initial response to you was originally a little more nuanced, but I found myself getting frustrated by (you're right) a "mainstream publication" and I opted for a more curt but honest blurb. So it's humbling to read your response and your request for some online dialogue.

I'm with Zorn...I don't really think in terms of "lists" and "top tens..." My experience of New York (I've been here 10 years - I'm a composer in case anyone is wondering...) is going to be unique to me and no one else. So the whole idea of measuring individuals in terms of "influence" and presenting them in a list in a "mainstream publication" just seems silly to me. You talk about the editors making their choices as if they are not bombarded with materials, emails, and phone calls from publicists who would kill to have their respective clients on the cover of Time Out. The selection that appears is a very contrived one. I'm hip enough to realize this.

With all of that in mind, my reaction to the cover then is probably little overblown. Time Out magazine is a slick piece of disposable fun. Do I REALLY look to it to guide me through the complex cultural history of this city? Well, no.

The myopia you refer to is everywhere, not just in the offices of the editorial staff of Time Out. So I can't and don't "condemn" anyone for their own relative lack of world experiences. We're all growing - we all have the capacity to be surprised. I believe part of my job as an artist is to push myself out of my comfort zones in my creative work. I and the individuals I work with feel similarly and we also ask the same of our audiences. And that spirit is - in my opinion - something you can tap into - like a vein or a river - here in New York City. That spirit is a part of this city's history - it's there in the concrete, the subways, and in the nasty air...

I don't look to Time Out to reflect this spirit or my experiences with this city. How can it? That's not its function.

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