the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

New York and America, Sisters in Self-Absorption

(New Yorker cover, 3/29/76,  by Saul Steinberg)

A friend came to visit from New York.   I like talking to him because he has a lot to say about politics.   As a progressive, my friend doesn’t much like America’s role in the world. 

"America is like a spoiled wealthy brat, only caring about herself."

He thinks our culture is too corporate and the American people too self-absorbed, not caring at all about the cultures of other countries, particularly those in Africa and Asia.

Later in the evening, I asked him if he wanted to go to the Getty Museum on Saturday.  He didn’t have much interest.  As a tried-and-true New Yorker, he said the museums in New York are much better.   In fact, he didn’t have much interest in doing anything in Los Angeles, including checking out some new neighborhoods.  He had some family event to attend, and then he was heading back to New York City.  He told me he tries to leave New York as little as possible.

"We have everything there.  The best museums, the best restaurants, the best theater."

I was born in New York.  New York is my favorite city.  What makes it so great.   The people?   Maybe.    Although I try to keep to the left of the political spectrum, I know the real answer is… money. 

Money is the reason immigrants came to New York, and they still come.   It was the robber barons of the 19th Century who built the famous museums. It was the Rockefellers who helped finance the building of the skyscrapers.   It is Wall Street, the corporate center of the world, that makes Broadway, expense account restaurants, and the art world flourish.   New York City may be the bluest of the blue state at heart, but a lot of people do pretty well to be able to afford those condo prices. 

It’s not fair that America is so wealthy, with so much food in our supermarkets.  I would like it if we would do more to share our wealth with poorer countries.   I also think New York has too many famous museums.   People are starving for culture in Bakersfield.  Why not send something small, like the Frick Collection, over there.    

As much as some New Yorkers like to think they are an island onto themselves, separate from the rest of America, I think that New York is the most American of American cities. 

America:    Business first
New York:  Wall Street first

America:  The most wealthy people in the world
New York:  The most wealthy people in the country

America:  Self-absorbed; only cares about America
New York:  Self-absorbed; only cares about New York

America:  Lack of interest in Asia and Africa
New York:  Lack of interest anything in America beyond the George Washington Bridge


  1. Fun Joel

    A funny perspective, Neil. I’m a NYer and definitely consider it the greatest city in the world, but I also recognize its limitatrions, and LOVE being here in LA. I assume you feel the same way. We’re atypical NYers, somewhat. Of course, you could have told your friend that NY doesn’t have the best beaches, and taken him there!

  2. Neil

    I did mention the beaches. He says he prefers to sunbathe at the Chelsea Piers. I think he mentioned that the angle of the sun’s rays are better in the East Coast also.

  3. nytwo

    We have Jones Beach nearby. And we have better women, without boob jobs. And the Frick collection is boring. Send it to Bakersfield.

  4. ekramer

    what is great about n.y that it is the only place in america that you really dont need a car. trains and buses and walking are good. and there is always something going on in manhattan.

  5. Neil

    Thanks, Mom. Didn’t mean to insult your city.

  6. Crash Random

    Call me a chauvinist but I believe that California, not New York, is the most American of American states.

    California is the home of the computer industry, the movie industry, and the defense-aerospace industry. And computers, movies, and warplanes have been the most recognizable and successful of America’s exports throughout the world for the last half century. (I suppose you could make a case for McDonald’s hamburgers, which, yes, also originated in California.)

    America is the world’s great political experiment. And within American in the last century, political revolutions both conservative and liberal have tended to begin in California.

    Bigness is an important American quality, and California is the biggest state in population and economic size, almost the biggest in land area. The people of Europe headed west to America for freedom and prosperity, then the people of America headed west to California for more of the same.

    O California! California!

    Now really, New York City? A financial center with museums and theaters? What is it then but an inferior copy of London? New York’s true original name is “Amsterdam 2: The Sequel.” When New York was America, America was nothing but an offshoot of Europe. The earth-shaking, world-leading America of today is Californian in its heart.

  7. Neil

    Good point, Crash. I probably did stretch the point at bit. I guess I was trying to make fun of New Yorkers who don’t really feel like they are part of the rest of the United States — and show that the “ugly American” view of the world that a sophiticate may hate about the average American is not that different than the “things are better in New York” attitude of some New Yorkers when they travel. Even though California is the 800 lb. gorilla of this country, I’ve never really felt this attitude from Californians — OK, maybe in San Francisco. Perhaps it could be that those who moved West tended to be more individualistic and less connected to old immigrant groups, so Californians don’t spend that much time identifying themselves with a group or place, even the state of California. Someone from New York City might say he is a New Yorker before he says he is an American. I’m not sure that a Californian would say the same about California.

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