Category Archives: Art

Craft-Based Statements

“I loved (the tea cozy),” said Christina Stork, founder of Article Pract, a knitting shop in Oakland. “I look forward to more craft-based statements.” The Daily Californian, Thursday, June 3, 2010

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense”. – Gertrude Stein

For Berkeleyites no longer nimble enough to climb trees, they can still get their protest on through guerilla knitting. I hate to use up “OMFG” as the title of a post so early in the history of this blog, but hearing this story, I wasn’t sure if it was time to move back to NY, or click my ergonomic Earth shoe clad heels in the air.

Back story: Gertrude Stein had been living in Paris for 30 years when a book tour brought her back to California. When she went to find her childhood home in Oakland, the house was no longer standing. In 1937, she published “Everybody’s Autobiography”, where she referred to the experience as “There is no there there”. OK, so everyone might not have access to Wikipedia, but that quote has since been taken out of context by some fellow Oaklanders , who see it as a slight to the city. I don’t exactly follow, but apparently there are those who are abreast of random literary quotes, but only enough to misinterpret them, then get all hot and bothered and go make bumper stickers about it.

Cut to 2005, the city of Berkeley commissioned a cheeky $50,000 public art work titled “Herethere”, which is installed on the Berkeley-Oakland border. On the Berkeley side, eight foot-tall letters spell out “HERE”, and on the Oakland side, another set of steel letters read “THERE”. Oakland residents grumbled about it, so it probably should have come as no surprise last month when a group of renegade knitters donned masks and worked through the night to cover the “T” in “THERE” in a *giant tea cozy*. When Berkeley city officials suggested the hooligan crafters remove the cozy, supporters set up camp to guard their handiwork of civic disobedience.

Gertrude Stein saw it as an end to childhood. Oaklanders see it as a racist slur. Berkelyites see it as $50K. Knitting activists see it as fun, biodegradable protest. The artists of the actual sculpture see the cozy as “creating a dialog”. The Parks Department sees it as defacing public art. Salt Bagel sees it as delicious fodder.

If there was any part of this story that could have been mirrored in New York, or anywhere else, this is where I think the two versions would begin to break:

Wait, you don’t have an accent…

It doesn’t take long to notice that outside of parts of New York and a handful of 70s movies, people don’t have New York accents.

As tidal waves of yuppies swell into neighborhoods previously reserved for third generation immigrants, it’s a rapidly fading NYC cultural institution. Locally-born kids sometimes try to avoid it to seem worldlier, but new residents try to adopt some flavoring words for authenticity. Tourists seek it, the same way they might look for modern Native Americans to say “How.”. It’s argued whether the different New York accents (yes, there are variations) can be attributed to each of the five boroughs or just class level. Like any regional accent, those who don’t use it often think of it as charming, but ultimately uneducated sounding. (See also Fargo, Valley Girl, Good Will Hunting and Sling Blade.)

Thank goodness for torchbearers like Cyndi Lauper, Mel Brooks, Robert De Niro and the Beastie Boys.

Northern California doesn’t seem to have accents. (Am I wrong?) Instead they have some of their own jargon (“hella”, “bounce”, “chillax”, “grass”, etc.).  The only exception I’ve noticed so far is with second and third generation Japanese American Californians (Nisei and Sansei, so I’ve learned). I can’t put it into words yet, but you can just vaguely hear an accent that is distinctly not first generation immigrant, but unique. I haven’t heard it with any other second+ generation ethnic group.

More as I understand it.