[8 June 2009]
I feel a weird responsibility, as though I am required to link to this New York Times story about the hard times trust-funders in Williamsburg are now allegedly facing. As you would expect, the story is a bit anecdotal, and full of contempt bait for those who have to work, and those for whom unemployment would be truly devastating. I’m surprised anyone ould consent to be interviewed for a piece like this, but I should stop underestimating the narcissism of people in the Facebook age.
It would be easy to languor in schadenfreude at details such as these:
Luis Illades, an owner of the Urban Rustic Market and Cafe on North 12th Street, said he had seen a steady number of applicants, in their late 20s, who had never held paid jobs: They were interns at a modeling agency, for example, or worked at a college radio station. In some cases, applicants have stormed out of the market after hearing the job requirements. “They say, ‘You want me to work eight hours?’ ” Mr. Illades said. “There is a bubble bursting.”
The photo caption is pretty amusing as well: Under a photo of a casting-call hipster, it reads: “Misha Calvert, 26, relied on her parents during her first year in Williamsburg. Such financial arrangements carry a ‘giant stigma,’ she said.” A stigma, you say?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with “relying” on one’s parents, but at the Atlantic’s business site, Derek Thompson highlights the problems with the parental subsidy. Regarding the report that parents are shutting off the tap, Thompson writes:
The upside and downside of this development is pretty clear. Williamsburg real estate prices have skyrocketed in the last few years—partially on account of incomes that weren’t earned in Williamsburg—so this should help the little ‘burg move toward the rest of Brooklyn in terms of affordability. It is, it must be said, unfortunate for anybody to have their lives shaken dramatically by the recession, but much as the downturn has fostered a culture of responsibility and savings, so too should the demise of trustafarianism make the sons and daughters of the affluent more cognizant of basic human things like bottom lines and debt. The ability to pursue your life dreams in your early twenties on the back of your parents’ earnings is a kind of awesome gig, but in the long term it insulates you from an understanding of what life costs.
The time spent “pursuing life dreams” on the parents’ dime is probably wasted if during that time one is hanging around with other trust-funders who are detached from the actual economy. Success in the “glamour” fields usually involves forming the right friendships when the opportunities arise. If trust-fund ghettos also included a mix of cultural-broker types, the time spent socializing together in the neighborhood might ultimately prove worth subsidizing. But it seems to me that the artists and creative types unsullied by the taint of employment have little in common with the realists who have managed to compromise with the way the economy works. Those compromises, for better or worse, may actually constitute the real skill of a creative person in a capitalist system—the ability to get paid for what you make, to convince other people that you should be paid for doing it, that you believe in what you are doing enough to subject it to the bottom-line criticism of those who mean to regard you professionally. But professionalizing is the main thing that I imagine trust-fund types are trying to avoid. The whole point of places like Williamsburg, I assume, is that they are insulated from that sort of impersonal, professional failure; they are romper rooms removed from the competitive grind, from the grim scramble to make a living. They are enclaves where people can scorn money and call it bread (to paraphrase Joan Didion paraphrasing Time magazine, circa 1967). Instead of adapting to capitalist compromises, the pseudoaristocrats of Williamsburg, and places like it, can feel haunted by inconsequential failures of trendiness, the vicissitudes of purely private life.