This past week the New York Observer ran a piece entitled Society-Mag Smackdown which featured a rather long winded dissertation by New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia which was critical of the so called upstarts who according to him really are not part of “Society” at least as he knows it. Mr. Columbia’s quotes in the Observer’s Society-Mag Smackdown piece are referenced below.
“Quest 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.â€
And as to the future of the other magazines, Mr. Columbia goes on:
“Theyâ€™re trying to create a hierarchy based on publicity, which is something that follows hierarchyâ€”it doesnâ€™t precede it.â€ â€œTheyâ€™ll be wiped out,â€ said Mr. Columbia. He was sinking his teeth into the buttered corn. â€œTheyâ€™re almost all going to go.â€
There is so much oddly wrong and disturbing about the above statements of David Patrick Columbia that it is almost hard to know where to begin. Ironic that the magazines that Mr. Columbia has himself been affiliated with, Avenue & Quest, are the only original/authentic society publications. Perhaps maybe he has heard of Town & Country Magazine published by the Hearst Corporation under its present title since 1925 but originally founded in 1846?
For the record: Town & Country is the Original Society Magazine. Long before anyone knew of David Patrick Columbia, Avenue which was founded in 1976 or Quest, the magazine founded by the caring and lovely Heather Cohane, most across America were well aware of Town & Country Magazine. A personal aside, the first time my images from a Riverkeeper fundraiser appeared in the pages of Town & Country in a full two page spread, I received emails and phone calls from friends I had lost touch with decade or more ago.
With all due respect to Mr. Columbia who has built a great body of work in documenting a a couple of decades of New York history, or at least the social meanderings of certain select folks among the well heeled classes of New Yorkers, unique in its own right, but not everyone share’s in his motivations and not everyone is a social climber or aspiring to what is largely a gay construct in terms of what constitutes “Society” by his definition or in his estimation. Often the most photographed are elegant ladies, designers and the social gays of New York’s fashionable elite. Powerful men of business and industry often remain, understandbly outside the purview of the cocktail circuit cameras, with a few notebable exceptions. Argubably his more exclusive definition of “Society” which amounts to “we are society, you are not” is based upon as he states “hierarchy rather than publicity.” But what is wrong with that statement is that this world has swimming about in it society publicists such as R Couri Hay of R Couri Hay Creative Public Relations, Harriet Weintraub and other image makers and image guru’s who assist and counsel their clients how to make the right steps to move up the proverbial hierachical chain as well as journalists who are themselves socialites and who write about their friends and lovers. In essence, it is the buying into that hierarchy and the notion of its existence, that gets many affluent folks to procure assistance to move up and get recognized as part of this hierarchy. It would be disengenuous for Mr. Columbia to posture that he is unaware of it, or that he has not participated in the advancement of folks up his hierarchical food chain, in a more intimate and local, but behind the scenes fame game. Buying into the hierarchy is an essence a business of its own, a quiet business but nonetheless a business.
Furthermore, on a personal aside, to those who might cheer on the demise of any Society publication, as the editor of another magazine and blog, Mr. Columbia should try to remember one noteable thing, and that is our cultural and charitable institutions benefit enormously from the alternate perspectives and press focus on the philanthropic activities of their patrons. So, in the words of Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along?” May we celebrate the success of Avenue, Quest, Niche Media, LLC, Social Life Magazine, Hearst Publications and the numerous blogs that shine their light on society, philanthropy and social and cultural life in New York City, the Hamptons and beyond? Admittedly, I read the NY Times, NY Observer, Cityfile, NY Post’s Page Six, The Daily News, Mr. Columbia’s NYSD, and often take a look see at the perspective of the younger set on GuestofaGuest.com, as well as Tia Walker’s The Quest for “it” blog and Uptown Magazine, maybe even periodically check who is gaming the fame on FameGame.com. And, while I write for Social Life Magazine and formerly also wrote the NY Society column for Prestige Magazine in Asia, I regularly read Jason Binn’s & Cristina Cuomo’s creations when I am out East. I do not consider reading Hamptons or Gotham Magazine any conflict of interest. My sense is perhaps that the drama that ensues between the publications and their editorial staff and leadership is the increasing competition for content which is “unique”. Contrast that with the agenda of publicists who feed content to ALL the publications, who are angling for as much tasteful event coverage as possible and you can begin to understand the source of competition. Or as in the case of Joan Jedell of HamptonSheet, outright disdain: â€œSocial Life doesnâ€™t interest me,â€ Ms. Jedell said, â€œbecause itâ€™s like, â€˜Who are these people?â€™ Only Gawker seemed to have a sense humor about this whole ridiculous mess. And Joan for the record, I am that guy you elbowed to the gutt at a recent charity event while I was trying to do my job.
May all New Yorkers who are currently doing their thing in publishing whether for Society publications, newspapers or blogs survive another economic cycle or two. Competitors are we? I think not. Yo-Hoo does not compete with Coca Cola and Pepsi does not compete with Cakebread Cellars. We all drink from different cups with varying perspectives. May we all continue to do so. Laugh at the social drama, cause really thats all it is. I read all of you and intend to continue to do so. May you all be similarly inspired and challenged as I have and continue to work at creating a better, more interesting product to read.
Authentic vs. Aspirational
Does it really matter who has the “authentic” Society Magazine and/or who is covering affluence vs. society or who is doing so from an aspirational perspective vs. an establishment or shall I say, inbred perspective?
True power and wealth (wealth of the soul from the power within or financial wealth) does not have to aspire to anything. They have it. As for me and my motivations, Mr. Columbia could not be any more wrong. Personally, I never aspired to be part of any world other than the world I am living in. Before I started ManhattanSociety.com, in the 1990’s I served on the Benefit Committee of The Fresh Air Fund and their fundraisers were among the few I attended as patron/guest and committee member, usually with a girl friend or a girlfriend or as one of the three amigos (an inside joke and perhaps the people I am referring to will get it.) While photos were often taken of certain “key attendees”, the only person who ever took my picture and those of my guest was one of my friends. We noticed the so called “society photographers” but it just did not register that it was significant in any way to be photographed. We were clueless perhaps and simply thrilled that we sold out our tables and got all of our friends to purchase tickets in support of The Fresh Air Fund.
The evolution of ManhattanSociety.com and my interest from the perspective of a social documentarian was to document and understand how the engines of social life and philanthropy worked in my hometown, especially after 9/11 when the humanitarian acts of responsible engaged citizens caught my attention. During the course of my exploration, I was pulled into covering more and more of this world of so called “Affluence” and/or “High Society” by Society publicists and then ultimately the development and fundraising personnel of major New York charities and cultural institutions. With workman like efficiency I have always tried and continue to document the people, places and things in a tasteful fashion. To be candid, as I got more proficient at doing it, the rewards were strangely mixed. Often my reward for doing a good job which may have included obtaining better editorial quality shots then the so called competition, was the occassional put down, having my work misappropriated and miscredited, including on New York Social Diary and other places and then made to feel like I somehow did not belong, was not one of them and not a part of this world and then was oddly removed from certain lists or disinvited to certain events. The thing is I never tried to climb any social ladder, never thought I was particularly special, sadly, but the subtle and not so subtle reminders from select people were a reminder that perhaps I might have been better off had I stayed in Brooklyn and not ventured into this pursuit. Within society there are certain unspoken protocols but there is also an under current of certain folks operating with a different agenda entirely in which there are attempts to diminish the political capital and relative social standing and stature of others, if it hits up against their branding or business interests in this circuit. A generous spirit is sometimes insufficient and often leads to exploitation.
So, who am I? I am a New Yorker by birth, born and raised in Queens (at Jamaica Hospital) and Brooklyn and briefly in Manhattan to an American mom born in Chelsea of Italian, German and Austrian descent and a Colombian born father of Spanish descent. I attended public schools in New York City and attended Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. I practiced law with leading New York and Boston law firms, including Weil Gotshal & Manges, in the 1980’s and 1990’s before leaving private practice for a career in Executive Search which literally tanked shortly after 9/11. At present, I am a working class professional guy who works as a legal consultant by day while trying to save a few bucks for a rainy day. My brothers mean the world to me. Being a friend and resource to my family is the most important thing in my life. I love them with every ounce of my soul and think of them as the greatest gift that my mother and father, rest his soul, ever gave to me. I buy my own groceries, cook my own meals, do my own laundry. Right now, I am a single guy living a rather simple life, with few passions other than reading the classics, listening to NPR, reading alternative news to compare it with mainstream media, buying camera equipment and listening to Radiohead, The Cure, Sara McLachlan, Tori Amos, Andrea Bocelli and Sinatra. My one heathenly indulgence is a bi-monthly cleaning lady so that my humble abode does not deteriorate to the point of being uninhabitable, due to my Oscar Madison like tendencies, including wearing my New York Mets hat indoors, when it comes to daily apartment maintenance. I like Mike Bloomberg but also understand the merits to Bill Thompson’s candidacy. While that has nothing to do with this discussion, hopefully this gives you a flavor for my mindset.
The Case of Devorah Rose
So why do I still do this, in terms of ManhattanSociety.com? Part of the reason I continue to do this is that often I get to have a great conversation with a leading philanthropist, a CEO, one of America’s greatest lawyers in David Boies, photographing history, meeting a Kennedy, a Cuomo, Bloomberg or Rudy Giuliani. Interesting, successful people fascinate me regardless of their politics. Covering the world of philanthropy and meaningful social and cultural life has afforded me these opportunities to see up close the people who create and weave the fabric of our society. To be candid, pop cultural celebrities are far less an interest of mine, so you will rarely if ever see me at a movie premiere red carpet. Perhaps I do it because of the frequent reminders, thank you’s from members of benefit committee’s, board members and kindness from development directors and public relations personnel at major NY charities that they appreciate my efforts and work at ManhattanSociety.com to highlight and draw new patrons to their causes. Many appreciate further my column in Social Life Magazine which helps extend the reach of their charities to those who might become future patrons. My inspiration this year ironically came from a variety of sources, including my own often contentious relations with those who edit and publish my column. Truth is often that those that challenge you make you better. That Justin Mitchell and Devorah Rose have given me this platform and also pulled in some talented creative people like Alexis Dahan and visionary fashion stylist Naila Chbib to package what it is I do in the overall context of what they do, has been an honor, one that I have not always respected or appreciated until I saw Cityfile’s: Life’s a Bitch for Devorah Rose piece.
Devorah Rose has brought the spotlight to herself, by throwing herself into the mix of the culture of Reality TV via her appearances on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City and NYC Prep. And while I have had many contentious battles with Devorah and often resented her fame dance and wondered how it could benefit anyone other than herself, the truth is that maybe none of you would ever be reading my column in Social Life Magazine or be aware of it or who I am. This year the magazine is elegant, tasteful with a degree of thoughtful introspection about the times we are living in, with of course a healthy degree of silly self indulgence in the ridiculous aspects of our social culture, which is truly tongue in cheek. Let’s be honest, people are most often reading all of these magazines while they are laying at the beach or by a pool. If you have not checked it out, you really should get a subscription.
And while I fully understand and appreciate that when you pursue the famegame and put yourself squarely in the public eye, you will certainly take some hits, it is worth reminding some folks that Ms. Rose has extended the reach of the publication without the likes of any Little Big Man, a publishing conglomerate, a sugar daddy or even having Big Papa in her corner writing checks to support this indulgence. This Barnard College grad and current MFA candidate at Columbia University in the context of parlaying her own fame, has assisted in extending the brand of the other creatives involved in Social Life Magazine, including enabling my own passion which was to have a platform in a magazine in my hometown. While she has been labeled a professional partygoer, my observations of Ms. Rose, while often similarly critical, of note is that she is rarely if ever seen inebriated or partying like a drunkard or running around double fisted with alcoholic beverage as some social journalists do at cocktail parties. Devorah Rose is always rather “working it”, admittedly in a style much different than my own, but I will gladly eat some humble pie for my private and public dismissal of her as irrelevant. She is not. To denigrate her as a professional partygoer without doing so to the rest of the folks in the social publishing realm is frankly hypocritical, and after all, let’s get real, it’s just Social Life, a necessary diversion from the grind of real life and work.
Notably, Tinsley Mortimer, the designer and socialite who DPC has waxed on prophetically a number of times and who has appeared in nearly every Society publication from New York to Palm Beach to Asia and through some social engineering that I was actually involved with at one point, Tinsley served as a cover model for a publication I was formerly affiliated with, Prestige Magazine (before I was gratuitously cut out of the process and dismissed prior to their launch in the U.S. by current NY Editor in Chief, Rhonda Palmer which taught me a huge lesson about assisting opportunistic people in their business ventures in publishing, although maybe its more than ironic that Prestige Magazine lost its publisher in NY after the launch) and then also did a rather elaborate photo shoot for and was a Social Life Magazine Cover Model. Arguably, this really served as a stepping stone to her wider launch into pop cultural relevance outside of the more intimate corridors of New York Society. Now outside the big island of Manhattan Society circles the few socialites who register with the general public at large are Tinsley Mortimer and Olivia Palermo.
To quote activist Jane Jacobs, “I do not know who this celebrity called Jane Jacobs is. It’s not me. You either do your work or you’re a celebrity; I’d rather do my work.” That is the approach that I prefer to take. But I respect in this modern era, some others play by a different set of rules, many of which I do not always appreciate initially or understand. My hero’s are folks like Jacobs, Mario Cuomo, RFK with his son, RFK, Jr., making some serious legacy building headway to follow in that regard, Senator Paul Wellstone, Conservative Barry Goldwater (who my friends at Parcbench.com like to refer to as the original hipster) and Tom Seaver for his determination, grit, professionalism as well as his ability to engage in thoughtful introspection. While I have numerous journalistic hero’s and those who I aspired to be like, rest assured none were social or society editors, but folks like Jimmy Breslin and Mike Lupica would be at the top of those lists. Speaking truth to power is to me the greatest and most admirable quality in a journalist, which truthfully is getting increasingly difficult to do without ramifications, in these odd times. The voices of Mae Brussell, Michael Ruppert and Aaron Russo resonate with me. So oddly, focusing on the odd business of who and who is not “society” seems itself strangely irrelevant. Let those believe what they want to believe about the cocoon that they operate in. This is a rather strange world indeed. All I am left to wonder is whether President Obama will call for a conference and gather all the players from the recent Society-Mag Smackdown for a beer at the White House.