“New York is a beautiful catastrophe.” – Le Corbusier
Cruel Bowery Gentrification Blues / Old Manhattan Fouled Up by Greedheads
In loving memory of CBGB.
“CBGB is a haven where the meek have finally inherited a small portion of the earth.” – Lester Bangs
The famous “I Love NY” rebus was conceived in the back of a taxicab in 1976 by graphic designer Milton Glaser, who at the time was working pro-bono for an advertising agency commissioned by the New York State Department of Commerce to attract tourists to a city that was deep in the doldrums. When the campaign launched on July 15, 1977, New York was corrupt, economically-crippled and crime-ridden. Nowhere was the desperation of the day more evident than uptown in seedy Times Square or downtown on the Bowery – Lower Manhattan’s skid row (and home to CBGB, the small storied music venue where punk was born in the same era).
The PR was a wild success. The tourists came in droves. Following not far behind, though, were unscrupulous developers, sanctimonious city officials and a greedy gentry all too glad to gild over all the bruised bits of the Big Apple. When Times Square was deseeded and redeveloped in the 1990s, many New Yorkers mourned, calling it “Disneyfication” and a death knell for the heart and soul of the city. Not too many years later, after gentrification had shut down CBGB in the 2000s (this despite a New York Civil Court Judge declaring it a “major cultural institution” that shouldn’t be forced out by rising rents), the New York Times published an obituary to the Bowery by a one-time resident who lamented the loss of home for the neighborhood’s down-and-outs.
For some, it might be said that the campaign worked rather too well.
As an ad campaign, “I Love NY” was initially only supposed to run for a few months. Becoming one of the most successful branding efforts in history, however, it has never ceased. The brand’s emblem – those three black typewritten letters around a red heart – is one of the most iconic and recognizable symbols in the world, right up there with the Coca-Cola logo and Michelangelo’s David. Glaser’s original drawing, made in the cab with a red crayon on scrap paper, is now housed in the Museum of Modern Art. The New York State Department of Economic Development, which owns the trademark, makes millions of dollars each year from licencing fees for posters, t-shirts, bags, coffee cups and the like. So lucrative is the design, that the agency is aggressively litigious in protecting it. Year in and year out, it issues hundreds of cease and desist letters seeking to halt imitations, counterfeits and tributes alike, and it collects untold sums in what it calls “enforcement efforts and settlements related to the unauthorized use of the family of ‘I Love NY’ trademarks and service marks.” Rebuses reimagined with all manner of stand-ins for the heart (the Wu-Tang Clan logo and the silhouette of a defecating dog are two quintessentially New York examples) have elicited threats of legal action. Photographers who have sought to sell street shots in which the “I Love NY” logo happens to appear (such as on a passerby’s plastic shopping bag, in one infamous case), have been pursued for trademark infringement. When Glaser (who, remember, was working for free in the first place), made a modified image of his own design in remembrance of 9/11, the state threatened to sue him – just as an associated music publisher had sued the National Broadcasting Corporation in 1978 after Saturday Night Live lampooned the original ad campaign in a television skit featuring a jingle called “I Love Sodom.” For his part, Glaser appealed and won the right to produce his tribute. (New York owns the trademark to that now too.) As for the song in the SNL skit: in the United States, a fair use exception to copyright infringement permits for a parody of a copyright work without permission. The judge presiding over the case ruled that the skit met the definition of parody and threw the suit out of court.
All things considered, this parody asks you to consider whether a little less love might be just what the city needs to get back its heart and soul.
100% of net proceeds from sales goes to the Bowery Mission, a charity that has been providing services to New York City’s homeless and hungry since the 1870s.
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