MHC Seminar 1, Professor Casey Henry

Author: lfremaux

Lily Fremaux’s Final Project: Gentrification Or Rebranding?

This multimedia project aims to highlight how music, film, and photography capture gentrification in New York City and how gentrification continues to change the socio-economic makeup of neighborhoods across the city. Gentrification can be exquisitely highlighted in three particular areas: the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, and Harlem.

Gentrification or Rebranding?

A Personal Perspective


As the old residents leave and sleek window panes take their place the rent-stabilized tenants remain. We remain to see what happens when nobody else rent is protected. As we pay 800 a month, the people moving in can somehow pay three thousand.


My family dinner, born in 1995, is now replaced with a gelato stand.


My childhood pizzeria, born in 1989, is now a Starbucks. As I walked down St. Marks to find my childhood gem no longer in sight, I know that no amount of java or venti lattes can replace the establishment that gave me my first bite of true New York city food before I could even walk.


I miss my home. But my home is no longer there. It has been replaced with coffee bars and overpriced scones


My parents moved to the East Village in 1980. But I know that one day I must say goodbye, for the rents in my neighborhood do not welcome me to stay but force me to leave and become a part of the gentrification of yet another neighborhood.


So is it gentrification? Or is it rebranding?


I don’t know. Maybe it’s both. All I do know, is that the East Village I call home cannot be found by taking the L train to 1st avenue, cannot be found by walking around Tompkins Square Park, but can only be found in the memories of those here long enough to remember when The Starbucks on St Mark’s use to be Nino’s Pizzeria.

Art and Commerce

The intersections between art, business, and advertising is one that has more benefits than it does downfalls. I liked the way the articles highlighted the transcendence of skills in regards to art in the world of business and advertising. Blurring the lines between art and advertising paves a way for a more artistic marketplace as well as for more employment opportunities for artists and advertisers alike. To me, the blurred line between art and advertising is a positive aspect of more modern advertisements and reminded me of the goals of my friends who are pursuing art or graphic design. It is interesting to see a real-world professional application of art that transcends freelance artists. In addition, I found it interesting to hear the personal anecdotes of Glenn O’Brien in his article Like Art as well as the anecdotes in the article On Business. However, the intersection of art, advertisement, and business can be dangerous as corporations gained a larger influence after the supreme court case of citizens united. When it comes to corporate power, the intersection of art, advertisement, and business could be used to deceive consumers and voters– making this intersection perhaps more dangerous than expected. That being said, the problem does not lie with the transcendence of art into fields such as business and advertising, rather the problem is the role of big business in the personal and financial lives of lawmakers and Washington politics.

Rodin, Michelangelo, and Mapplethorpe

Both Rodin and Michelangelo’s sculptures have characteristics that make them similar, yet extremely unique. What was unique about Rodin’s sculptures was the thematic element to his work. For example, he has one collection of sculptures titled, The Gates of Hell. These sculptures had more of a narrative theme to it, with the body language and facial cues of the sculptures capturing the Hell Rodin was trying to communicate. There was also a sculpture telling the mythological story of Eurydice and Orpheus, highlighting the narrative quality present in some of Rodin’s sculptures. In other sculptures, however, Rodin is less narrative and focuses on the human form. For instance, one of his sculptures was simply a very detailed human hand. This focus on human form is similar to Michelangelo’s sculptures, that often lacked a narrative quality and let the detail and human form or head bust speak for itself. Similarly to Michelangelo and Rodin’s sculptures, Mapplethorpe’s nude photography greatly focuses on the detail of the human form rather than narration. Mapplethorpe’s photography almost seems like a sculpture, especially in his photographs of nude men, as the lighting and camera work shows a great attention to the muscular detail of the human form seen in many traditional sculptures. The picture below is a great example of how Mapplethorpe’s work focuses on the human form as leaves out the head and only focuses on the body of the man posing for the photo, similar to many sculptures that omit the face to focus on the body.

New York as seen in “Mean Streets” and “Shakey Dog.”


Both the film Mean Streets and the Ghostface Killah’s song Shakey Dog encapsulates New York as a harsh place with an abundance of illegal activity. Both medias contain gun violence as well as references to New York. This can be seen in Mean Streets through the shooting at the bar and the many shots of old New York as well as in Shakey Dog when the lyrics reference gun violence and 125th street separately. The mix of gun violence and relatable references to New York City helps develop a sense of sentimental criminality. They convey an element of organized illegal activity but do not preach against that activity. The people conducting the illegal activity are not painted as evil, but somewhat moral and relatable. This can be seen through the religious aspect and the humor prevalent in Mean Streets as well as the situational humor in Shakey Dog. This desensitization of violence and criminal activity could potentially reflect the rampant amount of criminality in both the New York depicted in Mean Streets and Shakey Dog.

Despite their similar tones and subject matter, Mean Streets and Shakey Dog have some distinct differences. The song Shakey Dog seems more narrative that the movie so far. The movie seems to have a loser plot that focuses on capturing the life of the characters rather than telling a story. This slow-paced narration is very different than the narration heard in Shakey Dog, as the song is extremely fast-paced and action-packed. That being said, in general, a film gives a slower and more detail and perhaps nuanced view of life while a song gives you the most important, action-packed moment that captures the life.


The slower pace of Mean Streets, along with the film genre itself, allows for a more detailed depiction of characters when compared to Shakey Dog, or the music genre in general. For example, Mean Streets is able to dissect Charlie’s struggle with balancing religion and criminality in a way that Shakey Dog cannot. This struggle is one that can be developed throughout the time span of a movie, while Shakey Dog only has three minutes to convey and necessary plot and character points. Mean Streets is able to depict character development in a way that Shakey Dog cannot.

Representations of Harlem

          Each piece– We Real Cool, The Weary Blues, and Across 110th Street– depicts a different side of Harlem that all shares the same setting, the streets. Across 110th Street almost seems like a summary of all the pieces, as it discusses the various interactions in Harlem and their meaning. Many interactions are somewhat criminal, as he discusses pimps and drug pushers. It also depicts Harlem as a tough area filled with many challenges. For example when he says “you don’t know what you’ll do until you’re put under pressure.  Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester” he shows that Harlem is a place that many face pressures and have to act accordingly. These lyrics are paired with an upbeat and spirited tune, perhaps depicting that Harlem may be tough but it is a magical place that is a home to many people. This song captures the physical space of Harlem through its lyrical meaning and musical undertones.

          The poem We Real Cool also captures the street in Harlem, but in a more specific way than in Across 110th Street. We Real Cool discusses the life of young men on the streets. After dropping out of school these seven young men are now pool players who operate on the streets, “We Lurk late. We Strike straight.” It also discusses how the life of the streets is short-lived as the author states “We Jazz June. We Die soon.” Brooks in this poem, similar to Womack in his song, depicts the physical streets of Harlem and the people who occupy it, representing the streets of Harlem. 

          Lastly, Hughes’ The Weary Blues depicts the music of the streets, another way to capture the physical space of Harlem that is different, yet similar, to the depiction in Womack’s song and Brooks’ poem. According to Hughes, the music of Harlem is one that is spiritual, sad and desolate, as well as neverending. This can be seen through Hughes’ word choices of “Coming from a black man’s soul. O Blues!”, “He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool”, and “The singer stopped playing and went to bed While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.” Perhaps this is symbolic of the streets of Harlem which can be spiritual, sad and raggy, as well as neverending. All three artists capture the physical space of Harlem and perhaps the black experience in Manhattan.

City Life Viewed By O’Hara and Ballard Has Modern-Day Implications

          I agree with O’Hara when he talks fondly of New York in his poem Personal Poem, as well as his other poems. His poems are seeped with imagery that paints New York as a wonderful place and it seems like the speaker of the poem has special connotations with places in the city that to others would seem ordinary. Even the gritty parts of New York are painted with positivity as O’Hara says:


“It’s my lunch hour, so I go 

for a walk among the hum-colored   

cabs. First, down the sidewalk   

where laborers feed their dirty   

glistening torsos sandwiches

and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets   

They protect them from falling

bricks, I guess.”


          These lines remind me of my own New York City memories. One aspect of my college essay was discussing the memorable moments I have in my own neighborhood. The lines below from my college essay remind me of the nostalgia O’Hara has when he discusses New York.  


          The streets that I wandered and learned to love make up the vast city of New York, which I call home. I memorized every inch, from the cracks in the sidewalk to the homeless people’s signature corners. The brick wall on the south side of Houston between C and D that I came to memorize every morning from kindergarten to my senior year while walking to school– excited eyes turning into tired eyes. These streets capture everything. They capture the metamorphosis of the carefree child, who sang songs while walking down them, to the teenager still singing– but now too soft to be heard. They captured moments on corners: The corner of first kisses, 9th and A, to the corner of first coming out, 7th and B.

          I learned and cataloged those streets like that knowledge was more important than anything.


          Even though I love New York, the dystopian view of city life painted by Ballard in Billennium also resonated with me. The cramped living situation depicted made the reader feel suffocated at times. The idea of an overpopulated city reminded me of New York, specifically of the gentrification that has been spreading across the city. Many people are forced to move due to increase rent. Gentrification causes neighborhoods to lose their soul as well as lose their original residents. Billennium and it’s dystopian feel made me think of the byproducts of gentrification, and the migration of people from suburbia into the city In my neighborhood, local pizza places that have been around for decades, such as Nino’s Pizza, has been replaced with Starbucks and other local chains. This is a different type of nightmare than the one painted in Billennium but is one nightmare faced by people of this city


          One symbol that is damaging to women is snakes as a symbol of female sexuality because of snakes association with sin. This symbol is one that permeates throughout society and has its roots in the bible. The symbol has its origin in the story of Adam and Eve is where the devil in the form of a snake tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. In the modern-day context, however, this association can perpetuate the cycle of subconsciously slut shaming because female sexuality is associated with snakes, and therefore sin, while male sexuality is not. Never do you see a man’s sexuality degradingly depicted with a snake.

          Associating snakes with female sexuality is seen throughout works of art. Some artists, such as Kara Walker, use this symbol in their art as a critique and to embrace female sexuality. Walker portrays a woman intertwined with a snake while she participates in self-penetration. This particular artist turns the symbol that many may find degrading into a powerful image of female sexuality. Walker is critiquing this symbol and the negative connotation of expressive self-sufficient female sexuality by embracing the degeneration. She embraces this stereotype and makes it the forefront of her painting, which many may find graphic. By making a detailed and expressive image she is desolating the stereotype and embracing female sexuality.

          The association of female sexuality with snakes can perpetuate the stigma that a woman’s sexuality, whether it be promiscuous or monogamous, is sinful. Woman’s sexuality, both women who are cis and trans, should be celebrated instead of viewed as somewhat sinful or scandalous. Perhaps the decreased use of symbols such as snakes would help end the cycle that views sexual activities of woman as sinful or slutty while men doing those same acts are simply men and those actions go unquestioned.