The best thing about Interview was always in the title. Before I moved to New York, I learned about the city through Interview magazine (& SNL.) Warhol is gone, but one of it’s earliest writers, the always seriously funny Fran Leibowitz is still around. She started out writing B-movie reviews in 1972 and is in the current issue talking to old friend, artist Francesco Clemente. She still loves New York and Francesco asked her a few questions about how to save the city that has changed SO much in the last 30 years…
CLEMENTE: I know you follow politics, and I always thought you would make an excellent mayor of New York.
LEBOWITZ: I have thought that, too.
CLEMENTE: If you were going to run for office in New York, what would be your program, and what kind of qualifications would you declare you have?
LEBOWITZ: The first thing I would do is say, “I don’t care if New York avoided bankruptcy by substituting tourism for the garment business,” which is what happened. These four guys figured out how to lift New York out of this dire financial condition with the campaign,
“I Love NY.”
I hated this thing. They used the big Big Apple sign to lure these people who hate New York—because everyone hated New York then—to New York. And in order to do that, you have to change it so they like it. Obviously, I was opposed to this, and I still am. The other day I read that last year 58 million tourists came to New York … where a puny eight million people are trying to live. Unless they own a hotel chain, I don’t think a single one of these eight million people are happy about this. Without these tourists, New York would be fantastic. I don’t want them to come. Stay home! I have a double policy, which would also solve immigration: I would stand at the border of New York City and I would say,
“You can come here to live, but you can’t come here to visit.”
If you’re coming here, you better be immigrating. Immigrants are good, tourists are bad. I would stand at the border and say,
“You’re coming here to live, really? With one suitcase? No, you’re not. Go back.”
I think that would solve both problems. And just think how fantastic New York would be. The housing problem would be solved completely. Bloomberg was always bragging how many hotels were being built—I remember seeing him on the news, saying,
“And this is the nine millionth hotel in Queens.”
Queens! Because it’s everyone’s dream: “Someday I’m going to go to New York and go to Queens.”
Every place there’s a hotel, there’s one less apartment building. So just think, if there were, say, only 10 percent of the hotels that exist now, there would be all these apartments for people who live in New York, as opposed to people visiting New York. And then all this junk in the theater, we would no longer need the kind of stuff that tourists like. People say,
“Well, what would you do with Times Square?”
And I always think, “Gee, I don’t know. There could be butchers and bookstores.”
Like a city. Things that New Yorkers need. There’s no reason why it has to be the way it is. People say,
“Oh, did you like New York better when it was filthy and dangerous?”
No. But why do these things have to be either/or? Couldn’t it be clean, or cleaner. I mean, New York’s not exactly antiseptic. It could be clean and less dangerous, and not horrible, not under a tidal wave of tourists.
CLEMENTE: You failed to describe your qualifications to be mayor of the city.
LEBOWITZ: Here are my qualifications: I am a New Yorker. I like New York. And I like cities. And it’s not my desire to make New York more suburban. I would personally just like to vet each person. The way the admissions director of Harvard decides who goes to Harvard, I’d like to decide who comes here. I’d like to be the admissions director of New York. And you know what we have enough of? Bankers. I’m sorry, we’re full up. No, no, no. You have an idea for an app? Go to California.
CLEMENTE: There was a brilliant article by Régis Debray—he was a guerrilla guy with Che Guevara—saying that, since the election of the American president has an effect on the life of every citizen of the planet, all citizens of the planet should vote.
LEBOWITZ: Well, you know, so few Americans vote that we may not even notice it. It’s very important who the president of the United States is. America is a great idea, so that’s why it’s a great country. China is not a great idea: capitalism and a dictator. It’s like the two worst possible things you could imagine together. It’s a very bad idea. And it’s also not a modern idea; dictators are an old-fashioned idea. Capitalism, pretty old-fashioned, too. But it’s important who the president is. And even when America is not working that well, it still works better than other places. For instance, I, unfortunately, take the subway a lot. It’s not my preference, but it is my lot in life. You sit or stand in the subway, and you look around—I do, because I don’t have a phone so I’m not playing a game—and you see people. You see a young girl wearing a headscarf, and standing next to her is a Hasid. And if you asked them,
“Do you like that Jew?”
She would say, “No, I hate him.”
“Do you like that girl in the head scarf?”
“No, I hate her.”
But here’s the great thing about New York: They leave each other alone. So in New York we have zillions of different kinds of people, many of them hate each other, but violence based on that hatred is really uncommon here. This idea that people have to love and understand each other is absurd. It’s not human nature. But this idea that people cannot kill each other? It actually works here. More than it works in any other place. We have something here that you don’t hear about anymore; we have tolerance. Tolerance is really a better thing than understanding. Because it doesn’t agitate against human nature. Like love does. Or acceptance or understanding. Not only don’t they not understand people different from them, they hardly understand themselves. It’s placing too great a burden on the average intelligence. So forcing people into a situation where they’re supposed to adore each other is probably bad. But letting people get on and off the 6 train without stabbing each other, that’s good.
There’s a LOT more of great interview you can read here. If you live in New York City, you can see her live in conversation with the New York Times‘ Frank Rich at BAM this Friday the 18th. Ticket info here. (via Interview)