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Of Decency and the Williamsburg Scumbag

Don't take it personally, it's just Business.

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Walking up Bedford Ave. on Halloween, I notice a crowd of skinny jeans, tattoos and poor posture at the corner. One of the carbon copies is drinking freely from a bottle of Ketel One Vodka. I politely remind him that doing so is illegal.

Hostility and resentment flash across his face. He replies with a simple sarcastic, “Right…”

I continue along arguing with myself about whether or not I’m too uptight. Still, something doesn’t feel right about the general atmosphere. This isn’t reality. Their unwashed t-shirts hang from their glamorously emaciated torsos. Dutifully rugged facial hair hides unsure expressions of emotion. The flare of illuminated cigarettes light up the dark of the evening like Jawa eyes in the dunes of Tattooine. None of these observations are illegal, of course. However, they lend themselves to a common idea of refuting what it is to be a decent citizen of New York City.

I enter a bar and stand around studying them. Squatting beside me are three girls with fashion mullets shooting dice. Just like the stereotype you see in Law & Order when the detectives go to question black drug dealers in Harlem, except horribly warped. I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I ask aloud, “Are you shooting dice?” Each player looked up at me with a coy grin as if to say, “Yeah. Aren’t we badass?” Emulating the vice that the legitimately destitute turn to for solace, makes for a fun evening in Williamsburg, I suppose.

Now, my discontent does not lay with these individuals disregard for the law and propriety. It is with why they feel comfortable displaying these lascivious act with impunity. In the calm poverty of downtown Poughkeepsie, I’ve seen the homeless (more well dressed than my Williamsburg subjects, I must add) exercise more discretion.

Where does this emboldened sense of repudiating common decent behavior come from? J. Orin Oliphant of the Pacific Northwest Quarterly remarked, “If a community starts under the auspices of the saloon, the gambling table, the brothel, the tendency is downward, and these influences are hard to eradicate.” This problem isn’t specifically a Williamsburg issue. It is one that is endemic to all neighborhoods in any city that lack suitable establishments for off-setting idleness and vice.

The problem is two fold:

First, the cultural supports of these communities are based on amusements that should be enjoyed, at best, in moderation. According to, within a 1 mile radius of North 8th street in Brooklyn, there are roughly 240 bars or similar establishments. A search for “art” in the same area yields 40 results, input “gallery” and 13 results come up. What other option does the Williamsburg Scumbag have?

Secondly, the dwindling local ownership of media adversely affects our disposition towards decency. As a result, there are fewer and fewer public arbiters of sophistication, decency, grace. Most broadcast media (television and radio) and the music industry (record labels, distributors, promotion, and retail) are under control of one of 10 major media conglomerates. Epictetus, as interpreted by Sharon Labell remarked, “Most of what passes for legitimate entertainment is inferior or foolish and only caters to or exploits people’s weaknesses.” With limited access to cultural enrichment and homogenized mass media bombarding them, many minds fall victim to the seduction of morally bankrupt false idols.

Knowing no sense of self-restraint in an age of immediate gratification, our generation slowly bends towards personal corruption. Huddled around bongs and cheep beer in apartments throughout the boroughs, we derive importance and meaning by becoming slaves to our passions which writer and priest, Baltasar Gracian describes as being, “humors of the spirit, and their every excess makes the mind sick.” Our failing is that we, the youth, don’t have an understanding of what is to be gained by living more decently.

It is this author’s mission to illustrate that understanding.

- The Commodore