Webster’s dictionary defines society as follows.
1: companionship or association with one’s fellows: friendly or intimate intercourse: company
2: a voluntary association of individuals for common ends; especially : an organized group working together or periodically meeting because of common interests, beliefs, or profession
3 a: an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another b: a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests
4: the fashionable elite
As the Editor and Founder of ManhattanSociety.com, considering the definition referenced above, I would define Society in a more inclusive rather than exclusive manner, as the people in our community who influence the social, artistic and creative under current of the metropolis, often for philanthropic reasons, usually related to preservation of local cultural and charitable institutions. Often these folks come from the gilded, privileged and well heeled classes who have a strong affinity for or longstanding roots in the community that have allowed them to develop and forge relationships with those of similar values who seek to preserve, maintain and improve the existing character of their local community with a special benevolence towards the less fortunate, the poor and the elderly. While financial means is not necessarily a pre-requisite, in rather expensive regions of the country, like Manhattan, where the cost of survival is high, society circles are often comprised principally of those who have more time free from labor to invest in networking within the community on boards and committees, but even so arguably this is even too narrow a definition. Viewed more expansively, society itself is comprised of many sub-sects of which, so called high society, is but one that is often somewhat politically defined.
Whether the distinctions between ‘affluence’, ’society’ and ‘celebrity’ are always accurate is open for debate. This is especially true considering, in recent years, the infusion of affluence and celebrity culture into what have traditionally been society charity events. The blurring of the lines of these worlds has been largely due to the efforts of publicists seeking more publicity for fundraisers and their sponsors, outside the closed circuit of society to nationalize or internationalize branding from these exclusive events for their clients, and perhaps development directors seeking more dollars for their foundations. Alec Baldwin and Robert DeNiro, who are local artists that have achieved global success and recognition and thus are ‘celebrities’, transcend labels because of their long standing relationship with and commitment to the metropolis and community organizations that recognize them as ‘Super Citizens’ by their local activism and contributions to civic society.
Today, I read a New York Observer piece entitled, Society-Mag Smackdown. This article is interesting and entertaining if only because it illustrates some of the rather ridiculous ego’s that exist in New York Society. There are some who seek for business purposes, their own business purposes mind you, to define Society rather narrowly in a highly exclusive manner as consisting of the same 5-10 Waspy Ralph Lauren’esque families of the Upper East Side and the occasional philanthropic Jew who does not ruffle the old WASP culture’s feathers. The ultimate irony in striking these Ralph Laurenesque poses, Ralph Lauren is in fact Mr. Lifshitz a Bronx born Jew who created or perhaps encapsulated what is considered by most the classic All American WASP look and lifestyle under his banner, and it seemingly this lifestyle which some of these publications emulate. One can only wonder is it art mimicking life or life mimicking art? Often in these publications, you will see the same 20 people in it month in and month out. Unfortunately, it is perhaps that mindset which makes New York less interesting and not more interesting.
As stated by Mr. Columbia:
â€œQuest and Avenue, Mr. Columbia asserts, are the authentic society magazines because they are put together by members of the world they cover. The Meighers, for example, are part of the New York and Palm Beach society,â€ said Mr. Columbia, who himself grew up middle-class in Massachusetts. â€œElizabeth and Georgina grew up in New York and went to private schools here. All their friends belong to this world.â€œWith the great bubble of prosperity, you had all these aspirants to that world,â€ Mr. Columbia continued. â€œBut since they are not part of it, theyâ€™ve actually created their own worldâ€”a satellite world which they call society, which it absolutely is not.”
It is a rather interesting phenomenon when society journalists morph into society gatekeepers through narrowing the definition of society, to suit or justify a certain publishing agenda and thereby lend a special exclusivity to their brand and authenticity to their claims. Nevertheless, ask any development director of any major charitable or cultural institution whether ALL of the glossy publications and social websites, regardless of their relative level of societal authenticity, assist in making the New York charitable world a tad more interesting, hence leading to more ticket sales to their events and fundraising and the answer is an unequivocal yes. To the old guard who promote rather effectively this illusive concept of a club that nobody is good enough to belong to (unless DPC covers it), perhaps if your coverage stretched a bit more widely than the handful of folks you (or your colleagues) went to prep school with, then the world of philanthropy would be a bit more appealing to a wider cross section of the population. Or as aptly stated by a friend who is herself an expatriate of the Manhattan Society scene, “If some of these folks would open their eyes and admit to the insanity of it all then they would not be living behind the facade of that which they brilliantly created for others to fawn over them.”
It is rather incredulous to me in these times that we are living in that a society journalist like Mr. Columbia would hide beyond the accomplishments and social standing of others who’s shoulders he is admittedly standing on and engage in this rather blind self promoting snarky elitism which amounts to little more than, “we are society, you are not.” One can only wonder if he understands the meaning of society. This is what is wroing with those who start believing in the hype of their significance. Perhaps in the eyes of folks like Mr. Columbia, the rest of us are living in a satellite world and those that I cover are “not” part of New York Society. C’est la vie.
My suggestion is that Mr. Columbia do some research, like this “Bridge & Tunnel” born New Yorker has and what you will discover is that it is the “middle class” that gives the greatest percentage of their earnings to charity. With all due respect to Mr. Columbia, you were not even born in New York City. And yes there are some folks in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island who will never hit your radar screen who are quite charitably minded. Those folks are a part of my world. That you see no interest in covering those folks speaks volumes of whom you want to hob nob with for financial purposes. That there are folks reading Social Life Magazine, ManhattanSociety.com, GuestofaGuest.com, Panache Magazine, Uptown Magazine, and/or Jason Binn founded Niche Media publications as well as Tia Walker’s The Quest for “it” blog. just reflects what consumers want to see, which is a different take on our existing reality. Personally, my bible is the New York Times, but I read the Observer, New York Post, Wall Street Journal, Cityfile, The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post and all the other angles on this metropolis. They all have their take, and they are ALL VALID. Last I checked nobody had an ownership interest on New York Society, whatever that means. Try telling that to my friends at The Society, that they are somehow not a society or part of any society. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia believes that, all these magazines purporting to be society magazines: “They’ll be wiped out. There almost all going to go.” Frankly what needs to go is the mindset of Mr. Columbia.