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St. Laurent or Bill Blass?

Here’s a wonderfully entertaining interview with Clay Shirky. He tells a hilarious story about a stranger who asks him who is the better designer: St. Laurent or Bill Blass. When explaining how caustic critics like Dale Peck arise, he attributes it to New York envy. He writes

Take a copy of any local listings guide, and circle the good things you might like to do in the coming week. You’ll run out of ink before you run out of good.No one gets up in the morning thinking “Today, I’d like incontrovertible proof that I’m not the smartest one here, or the sexiest, or the funniest, or…” but that’s just what happens, every day. You a painter? So’s Chuck Close — take a number. Got a gig at a salsa club? Tito played there. Want to be a banker? The guy at the head of the line is Henry Kravis. Dancers can worry about Twyla or Darci or Savion as the mood strikes them. The transgendered lie awake at night because they just know that someone out there is more transgendered than they are. That’s New York — you’re rollerblading along, grooving to some Foghat on the iPod, and you get lapped by a gyrating speed-demon in a special lycra rollerblading uniform who is clearly The Greatest Rollerblader in the History of the World.

I don’t know if there’s a DSM-IV category for it, but a lot of New Yorkers are exhausted by excellence…Go to any party — architects, fashion designers, mathematicians — and you’ll hear the same thing, and usually so subtle, so sophisticated: “Well, I enjoyed the piece, but I thought it was a little derivative”, “The building is interesting on its own terms, but it isn’t very well integrated with the neighborhood.” Tiny sprinklings of corrosive doubt, offer by people gnawed by envy, and seized on by those made sick by over-exposure to quality.

So when my turn with the magic wand comes around, I’ll use it to turn the snarkiness dial down, way down. Criticize, sure — if something’s bullshit, say so, and if you have an insight about how something might be better, sing it, and sing it loud. It is New York, after all. But when you feel yourself about to criticize something because you just can’t stand how good it is (and you know you do this, we all do), at that moment, stop. Stop, because it will turn you into the kind of small-minded champion of mediocrity we all came here to escape. Every day, you’ve got a choice — am I gonna be one of the 45, or am I gonna be one of the 7 million. And being snarky about other people’s good work ain’t gonna help you with that.

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