May 7, 2011
“He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”
- Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer, chap. 2, “The Glorious Whitewasher.”
The City Council is considering a bill that would criminalize the purchase of knockoff handbags with an $11,000 fine and maybe a year in jail. Read the city’s news release here. The city is desperate for money, and millions of people come to town to buy fake crap, so naturally the City Council sees potential for some quick cabbages. As Bloomberg lures tourists to NYC, the city seeks to revoke the only cheap resource tourists have, besides tipping their doubledecker bus tour guide a buck for two hours of unsurpassed entertainment and knowledge.
While the bill will unlikely pass, it serves to raise the profile of Bloomberg’s crackdown on fake $30 Rolex watches. Councilwoman Margaret S. Chin, in whose district the black market thrives, sounds like a patsy for the elitist fashion industry: “What happened to the traditional value of saving up for something you really want that’s valuable?” asks Ms. Chin. “If you really like it, save money to buy the real thing.” What Ms. Chin does not realize, is that, to cash-strapped daytrippers, these $25 Louis Vuittons are the real thing.
Such justification is as reasonable as the law which mutes tour guides for creating street noise in high-traffic residential neighborhoods. Does the City truly rely on taxes off $1,800 Gucci purses? The handbag bill is akin to the recording industry going after illegal downloaders. A new paradigm is among us, and the practice is unwieldy and unstoppable, people want cheap shit that looks good, I think it was Darwin that said it. The industry of infrastructure behind fashion and music is no different than TicketMaster, which, like munching pests, charges fees for essentially that which was never there. As a reward for all the hitting-up tourists endure coming to the Big Apple, they should be free to buy sunglasses whose provenance is no less an illusion than Jersey Boys. No audience member ever stood up at the August Wilson Theater and shouted, “Hey, that ain’t the real Joe Pesci!”
“Major Labels” are anchored by the primacy of envy, where hard-earned money must migrate to self-anointed “tastemakers,” and it ends up that Yankee tickets are $500 to go to the old ball game, and TV-watchers sublimate the squawkings of Kelly Ripa as gospel. The extravagant classism ingrained in the DNA of New York best reveals itself in the terminology of the housing market. When a rent-control apartment is “de-controlled” and the rent is raised, landlords must qualify the move as “luxury de-controlled,” to indicate that, though you are going to now pay out the wazoo, at least you can be snobby about it.