The residents of Williamsburg respond to Yuppies Can't Go Home

Positive responses

The Williamsburg Observer October 15 1998

"Multi-Kulti Willhelsmburg," by Eric Redlinger

When WBO [Williamsburg Observer] contributor Bill-Not-Bored plastered his original pseudo-philosophical discourse on the essentially homeless ontology of "yuppiedom": YUPPIES CAN'T GO HOME (see WBO issue #2) on myriad flat surfaces of Williamsburg, he cannot possibly have anticipated the overwhelming multi-cultural response his oeuvre would subsequently provoke. In fact, the development has been as amusing as it has been revealing:

First, there was the expected version in Spanish presumably posted at the same time as the English original or shortly thereafter. Since the Latin community of Williamsburg represents the largest single ethnic group to be directly effected by the current gentrifying push this was a logical extension. Hot on the heels of the Spanish edition, however, was the Polish version, posted with similar tenacity to the copious boarded-up storefronts and construction fences which pepper the Bedford northside. Some areas sported all three versions side by side, along with accompanying commentaries added by numerous sidewalk critics.

Last week, while schlepping my bike up the miles of recently added stairs on the Williamsburg Bridge, I was surprised to see two further additions to this increasingly multinational debate: translation in both French ("Yuppies ne peuvent pas renrer chez eux") and German ("Yuppies koennen nicht nach Hause gehen")! Now, let's stop to consider this for a moment: translation is a time consuming and onerous task. Yet someone felt the need to invest his/her valuable time in the clarifying service of a message that was itself a work of satire for the sole consumption of hitherto unknown cultural niches?

Moral: next time you write your Brooklyn address on a mailing list or post card consider including alternatives such as "Chateau Guillaume" or "Willhelmsburg." You never know who you might be in/excluding. . . .

Addendum: rumor whispers of a Yiddish version of YUPPIES CAN'T GO HOME which the editorial staff has as of yet been unable to track down. Anyone who had the foresight to grab one of these and is willing to mail it to us will earn our sincere thanks. -ed.

Brooklyn Bridge, January 1999

Yuppie Wars in Williamsburg

Article by Tom Roe, photos by Sam Erickson

Photographs by Sam Erickson

The Yuppie Go Home stencils.

Stupid graffitied responses to the stencils.

How to strangle a yuppie.

Bill Not Bored: Sharp Dressed Man.

Related photographs

Asshole Go Home.

Advertizements turned into conversations.

Art gallery closes because the rent is too high.

The Williamsburg Observer

15 December 1998

To the Editor:

In the Williamsburg Observer of October 15th there was a ltter to the editor by an anonymous yuppie who "fights back" against what he/she must feel as personal aggression: the "Yuppie Go Home" spray-painted on the walls of the Northside. This letter cannot go unanswered.

You want to be respected as a human being which is a legitimate and noble right. To be a human being, however, is to be conscious of the human reality you create through the values you choose to incarnate and the full responsibility you take for your actions. You should not assume that the content and form of a human being always move as one.

There is nothing wrong with money in itself. But it has been proven that finance as the ultimate aim and only means to get "the best things in life" comes with its always predictable consequences of blindness, coldness, enslavement, and destruction. If "the best things in life" are for you gourmet food and Honolulu sunburns, I guess you've forgotten what money can't buy.

You imagine that "Yuppie Go Home" is written by some jealous Losers. When thinking about what will bring your life toward its fullness, can't you conceive of choices not based on some sort of consumerism, choices not entirely dependent on the appropriation of some material goods? Can't you conceive of choices based on the freedom to refuse to give your working time to a company that invests in ways that overlook human health or dignity?

Furthermore, you dare to compare yourself to the Jews persecuted during WWII and killed in concentration camps, and to the "Negroes" that I am sure your ancestors exploited on the plantations. You dare ask that the author of "Yuppie Go Home" be punished for crimes against humanity as a handful of Nazis have been.

To compare the scope of these atrocities to the petty discomfort you feel from these three words points one more time to the emptiness of your mind and feelings. Indeed, turning ideas and values around to your advantage is a well-known strategy of your kind.

To become a Master of Confusion -- is that what it means to be a yuppie?


Sylie Menta

Negative responses

Waterfront Week, Volume 8.19, October 8 - October 21, Williamsburg/Greenpoint

"The Scene"

by Jason Grote

A funny aside: I met the guy who's been plastering the "YUPPIE GO HOME" stencils everywhere. I'm not going to give his name because a) the ethics of the situation are kind of sketchy, and b) I can't remember it. You'll all be relieved to know, however, that it's the work of a single wing-nut rather than some kind of organized movement. I met the guy at Blackout Books, the anarchist bookstore on Avenue B, just south of Tompkins Square. He's a middle-aged guy and he's wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Lenin on it. He seemed proud of his handiwork. To give you an example of his thinking, he described this publication as "corporate." "Corporate?" I replied, "The whole operation's run by these two women who live on the Southside. I mean, it's more of a traditional community paper. It's geared toward people who have lived in the neighborhood for a while." "That's what I mean," he said. So if he thinks the old Slavic ladies who read Waterfront Week are yuppies, God know [sic] who he considers yuppies. Is it just me, or are guys like him: white, hyperpolitical, obsessed with a "fringe-dweller" pose, even more obnoxious than yuppies? I mean, okay, gentrification sucks, but this whole "politics of self-expression" crap failed in the L.E.S. [Lower East Side of Manhattan] and it's doomed to fail here. While guys with persecution complexes jump up and down and point fingers at any neighbor with a regular adult job, politicians and real-estate developers write off whole communities and snap up all our land. It's like treating a car-crash victim for a vitamin deficiency (say, you're hurt pretty bad, mister -- have some Wheaties!). Whew! Yes, I feel much better, thanks [...]

The column above prompted the following letter to the editor from us, which was printed in the October 22 - November 4 (Volume 8.20) issue of Waterfront Week.

To the Editor:

In past issues of Waterfront Week, texts have been printed about the New York Psychogeographical Association's interventions in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In the September 10 - September 23 issue, a letter to the editor from Annette La Matto, a local businesswoman, remarked upon the "dangerous current" that "is flowing through Williamsburg -- 'yuppie go home' graffiti, lamppost fliers, and the like." In the October 8 - October 21 issue, columnist Jason Grote proclaims that he "met the guy who's been plastering the 'YUPPIE GO HOME' stencils everywhere." It is possible that the September 24 - October 7 issue also contains something on the subject: we don't know, because we missed that issue.

Our questions are simple: back in late July 1998, why didn't Waterfront Week print -- or even acknowledge receipt of both printed and e-mailed copies of -- our address To the working class of Williamsburg? Since it is clear you believe that your readers are interested in what's happeneing in Williamsburg, are you now prepared to publish our original address -- or our subsequent one, Yuppies Can't Go Home -- in your publication?

The New York Psychogeographical Association

The following response, attributed to "Editor," was printed below our letter to the editor.

Where, oh where to begin: first of all, Annette La Matto is not a local "businesswoman" -- she is a community activist and Executive Director of a local non-profit organization.

I have carefully read both circulars and believe that their sole purpose is to pit part of the community (working class men and women) against another part of the community ("Yuppies"). While the Association has the right to publish its views, I reserve the right not to print messages that I believe are discriminatory. Instead of trying to divide the community into "us" and "them," the Association would be more effective if it attempted to find some real solutions to the myriad problems which plague this community.

The Williamsburg Observer October 15 1998

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

As an urban professional, who happens to be young, I resent the bias against me exhibited in the streets of Williamsburg (ie the "yuppies [sic] go home" graffiti) and especially in the pages of your paper. Could somebody tell me just what is wrong with being a successful young professional? Ever since the mid-1980s, when the term "yuppie" was first coined, people like myself have lived under a cloud of suspicion and hostility, as though we were lepers or infected with some kind of horrible infectious disease. It's just not fair, and it's time we spoke up for our rights.

Let's face it: what all this anti-yuppie sentiment boils down to is envy. It's as if having a well-paying job, and being able to afford the better things in life -- good clothing, expensive wines, fine food, exotic vacations -- it's as if this were a moral offense, like pedophilia or cannibalism. But let's face it, this is America and anyone who wants to earn a good living can; people should stop whining about their lots in life and do something about it. Nobody is stopping you from making $75,000-$100,000 a year but yourself. Go out and get a good job, for christ's sake; sitting home, slacking off, and moaning about it does nothing for your self-esteem.

A poisonous atmosphere has been created by certain elements in this society who want to condemn all those who are successful, and I am beginning to think that graffiti like "yuppies [sic] go home" should qualify as a hate crime, just like the Nazi insignia painted on a synagogue, or "go back to Africa" painted on a Negro [sic] home. Why can't we all live together in harmony? Why does my money make me different? I am still human and deserving of respect. Young urban professionals are people, too, dammit.

This hateful and divisive anti-yuppie rhetoric must stop, or we shall soon find ourselves, as a society, engaged in the kind of class-warfare that Karl Marx predicted, where the working-class sees no common interest with the middle and upper classes. Yes, as an undergrad I thought that Marx was kind of cool; but when you look at Russia now you can see that capitalism rules. Everybody in the world wants to be a capitalist, and who can blame them? It's the only game there is.

Grow up, Williamsburg Observer, and take a bite of reality



The Williamsburg Observer October 15 1998

"Yuppie Go Home?" by Kevin Kosar (cover story)

It was all of six weeks or so ago when the spray-painted words, "Yuppie Go Home" began appearing all over the Northside. I recall asking myself, "What the hell is that all about?" Over the next week I made it a point to ask folks in the bars and shops I frequent whether they knew what this was all about. The answer I got was uniform: Williamsburg, and especially the Northside, is changing. It used to be a real dump and now there are a lot of people who can't afford to live in the Village coming over here looking for places to live. Sounds right to me.

Well, shortly after the graffiti appeared, manifestoes written by the New York Psychogepgraphical Association were slapped up everywhere on the Northside -- on business windows, on mailboxes, phone polls -- EVERYWHERE. Upon reading these one gets the feeling that Armageddon cometh, that it's time to board up the windows, arm yourself to the teeth, and get ready to do battle with the fiends who are infiltrating our idyllic town. The invaders' aim is nothing short of evil: to eradicate the low-income residents, to drive out les miserables, to create an all-white and wealthy Aryan kingdom.

Who then, are these devils? Why they're yuppies! The young urban professionals! And why are they aiming to do this? Well, quite simply, says the New York Psychogeographical Association, because they are mean, elitist, racist people. I won't bother to take up the very debatable assertion that yuppies are by definition racists and elitists. Instead, I'll let that one lie and ask a more fundamental question: is Williamsburg being overrun by yuppies?

To answer this, why not take a moment to get a grip on what we mean by the term "yuppie." As I understand it, a yuppie is a nouveau riche or soon to be wealthy young, white person who possesses a college education which has enabled him or her to obtain a high-paying, white collar position, often in the financial services. The direct descendants of George Babbit (Babbitt: a type of conventional American businessman, ambitious in his business, but otherwise provincial, mediocre, and smug, named after the title character in Sinclair Lewis' 1922 novel, Babbit), they are nervious around non-whites, they have crude tastes, and they enjoy spending money on trendy consumer goods. The picture that comes to mind is of a guy named Skip and a gal named Peaches, wearing matching college sweatshirts, wearing Gucci shoes, gabbing loudly on cell phones to friends named Chet and Allie, and driving about in their $30,000 sports utility vehicle.

The taxonomy delineated, now let us ask ourselves a basic question: do we see these people in Williamsburg? If so, are there lots of them? In my experience, and from the experience of those who I've chatted with, nobody knows anyone of this description who lives in Williamsburg. Moreover, only on the rarest occasion has anyone spotted a yuppie. Indeed, I myself have even gone looking for yuppies in the place you would think they would most likely frequent: the streets and subways during weekday rush hours. My findings: NO YUPPIES. There are lots of people of different ages and races who appear to be schlepping off to Manhattan for low-paying jobs, nose-ring sporting artists, and immigrants of all stripes -- but NOBODY wearing suits, or even ties, and certainly nobody carrying briefcases or screaming into cell phones, "sell, sell, sell!"

In short, what we have here is non-existent yuppies being called the moral equivalents of Hitler and being told to go home or just go away from Williamsburg (NIMBY?) Most strange. As for the talk of the evils the yuppies are wreaking, well, it's hard to see how their dastardly plots can be hatched if they aren't here.

Now, in light of this empirical fact, one wonders, "Why are non-existent yuppies being blamed for problems they haven't caused, or perhaps, problems that don't exist?" Perhaps it's a case of what Nietzsche called ressentiment, the habit of those who feel helpless about their situation to cook up phantasms to explain them and to strike moral poses against them (See Beyond Good & Evil and The Antichrist). Who knows.

I can hear the voices already clamoring, "But it is a fact that rents are rising!" Yes, yes indeed, it is a brute fact that rents are going up dramatically. However, this is not BECAUSE of yuppies. It is quite simply a matter of increased demand for apartments being recognized by Williamsburg's landlords. More clearly, there are lots of folks like me (young, making over $15,000 a year -- barely) who want to live in Williamsburg. Neither I nor they are yuppies, far from it. However, by virtue of our demand and landlord recognizing that we are willing and able to pay $700 or $900 for places they used to rent for $300, rents rise. Indeed, if there is anyone to demonize, it is the landlords who have decided that because they CAN charge higher rents, they SHALL.

That said, one can only hope that all the "yuppie go home" hubbub and the desecration [sic] of private and public property by the self-appointed defenders of the neighborhood will end. Their hearts are in the right place, but they've misconstrued the shift in the market for apartments as a hostile invasion. And from what I hear from chats with my neighbors, it's not much appreciated by Williamsburg denizens, old and new.

Waterfront Week, Volume 8.21, November 5, Williamsburg/Greenpoint

"The Scene"

by Jason Grote

It's been a mad, busy couple of weeks for your intrepid reporter, what with 'Get Out of Hell Day' on S6th Street, another 'Poetry-A-Go-Go' at the Charleston, the WAH Center Symposium, 'The Utopians' at Galapagos and the hilarious sequel to the Reclaim the Streets party, the 'Lower East Side Tea Party'. Whew! I'm starting to think my fingerprints are on, like, everything. If I didn't have a hand in it, you can bet I know someone who did.

Speaking of which, I noticed that I was mentioned in a letter to the editor from the New York Psychogeographical Association last issue. I'd actually like to issue a mea culpa for coming down so hard on Bill Not Bored (I've decided it's okay to release his nom du whatever) for his 'YUPPIE GO HOME' graffiti. My opinion of his work hasn't changed, but I've run into him a few more times and he's actually a pretty good guy. Besides, it's just some stupid graffiti. There's no point in jumping up and down about it. Look at it this way: when I see racist or homophobic scrawlings in men's rooms I don't see it as a sign of an impending Nazi takeover -- I see it as the work of a drunken moron. Oh, and if I may offer the NYPA my humble opinion as to why the editor of this magazine won't print your manifesto: you're nuts!

This column prompted the following letter to the editor from us.

To the Editor:

In a published letter to the editor, we protested that this magazine continues to print texts about us, and yet -- in an attempt to be politically correct -- refuses to print texts by us. Because this pattern has been again repeated in the November 5 issue, we must protest again, but this time about a serious and glaring factual error.

In Jason Grote's self-serving comments about one of our members (Grote has in fact written about the New York Psychogeographical Association twice, both times with a cavalier disregard for basic facts), he writes: "I'd actually like to issue a mea culpa for coming down so hard on Bill Not Bored (I've decided it's okay to release his nom du whatever) for his 'YUPPIE GO HOME' graffiti. My opinion of his work hasn't changed, but I've run into him a few more times and he's actually a pretty good guy."

For the record: to Bill's knowledge, he has only met Grote once. That experience was so completely disagreeable -- for on that occasion Grote pretended to be sympathetic to the graffiti, and deceitfully used this pretense to gain information that would not otherwise have been forthcoming -- that Bill promised never to speak to Grote again. If he has "run into Bill a few more times," Grote has done so without Bill's knowledge. Has Grote again used deceitful means to garner information for publication in this magazine?

If so, this warning must be given. If this columnist -- who arrogantly thinks that he knows exactly who is writing the graffiti, but in fact does not -- is allowed to speculate in print about Bill Not Bored's real name, a defamation of character lawsuit wouldn't be out of the question.

The New York Psychogeographical Association

The Brooklyn Bridge

March 1999

To the Editor:

The journal [the Brooklyn Bridge] erred in portraying the situation in Williamsburg as a matter of yuppie wars ("There Goes the Neighborhood," January 1999). There are no wealthy white folks over-running the area in Pathfinders. I dare anyone to spend time in the bars, streets and subway stations of the area and find a yuppie. Rents are rising because landlords have recognized the increased demand for housing. Had your reporters chatted with more newcomers, they would have found that people here aren't "young professionals from Wall Street and the computer industry," but folks who simply cannot afford Manhattan because they make $25,000 a year. Instead you chose to frame the situation in terms that there are these evil yuppies invading this helpless neighborhood, maliciously displacing the obviously superior artists and ethnics. Please! Go back to Economics 101 and you'll see that if the demand for a product increases, product suppliers usually raise the price. The debate over what to do about this problem transcends puerile acts like painting stencils on property and moves toward consideration of rational, sensible solutions, like limiting landlords' rights to raise rents.


Kevin R. Kosar, via e-mail



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