Jules Feiffer
Cartoonist and Writer
04:14

That “Crazy, Anarchic Spirit”? New York’s Still Got It

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Whatever NYC loses to gentrification, the cartoonist argues, it maintains the same vitality it had throughout the whole 20th century.

Jules Feiffer

Jules Feiffer is an award-winning cartoonist, playwright, screenwriter and children’s book author, and illustrator. From his Village Voice editorial cartoons to his plays and screenplays (including "Little Murders" and "Carnal Knowledge"), Feiffer has been one of America's most prominent satirists for over fifty years. The first cartoonist commissioned by The New York Times to create comic strips for their Op-Ed page, Feiffer has since shifted his focus towards writing and illustrating books for children and young adults.

He won a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award for his cartoons; an Obie for his plays; an Academy Award for the animation of his cartoon satire, Munro; and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Writers Guild of America and the National Cartoonist Society. Feiffer has taught at the Yale School of Drama, Northwestern University, Dartmouth, and presently at Stony Brook Southampton College. He has been honored with major retrospectives at the New York Historical Society, the Library of Congress, and The School of Visual Arts. His memoir, "Backing into Forward," was published in March 2010,
Transcript

Question: How has New York City changed, and is it still exciting?

Jules Feiffer: Well, I’m the last guy to probably know how to answer that question because I live in the city, but I don’t really – I live in my own little ghetto on the upper west side of Manhattan, which has changed a lot over the years.  But New York is a place of neighborhoods.  And people who live uptown, as I do, seldom go downtown.  Or at a certain age you don’t go downtown.  I found it interesting when my now 40-year old daughter; I have three daughters, one in her 40’s, one in 20’s, and one in teens.  Well, my 40-year old, when she lived downtown in the East Village, and I would meet her in the local bar, it struck me how different in age everybody was in that local bar from the bars that I went to uptown.  And that she would never know or go to a bar that had anybody my age in it.  And except for this being my daughter, I wouldn’t have even know of the existence of the bar because it had her age in it, and they thought, as did I, that this was the entire universe.  This was the entire world.  That’s who they saw. That’s where they felt – we lived that way then, we live that way now, and we continue to live that way.  Everybody kind of hangs out with his or her own particular universe and you think that represents everything.

Question: Is New York becoming too gentrified and sterile?

Jules Feiffer: Oh, we have lived through periods of sterility over and over again.  Robert Moses, written about brilliantly in Robert Caro’s book, destroyed neighborhoods with his super highways, and drove immigrant cultures, whether from Eastern Europe or from the south, out of boroughs and sometimes out of the city entirely.  And so that kind of mix, which had been around since post World War I days, or even before then changed, and the city was changed, and the city was – and when I first started hanging out in the village in the 1950’s, I was told over and over again about Greenwich Village, that you should have been here, it’s ruined now, it doesn’t exist anymore.  And now the ‘50’s is considered one of those golden ages.  But now when I was starting out, that was considered part of the corruption.  You should have been here in the ‘30’s, or the ‘20’s.  So, I seemed to have missed everything.  Whenever I got there, it was always too late.  And that doesn’t change.  The city keeps reinventing itself.  And each generation thinks, as they enter it, that they’ve missed the best of it, and then they become the authors of the next “best.”  And so it goes on and on and on.  And New York keeps redefining itself and reinventing itself, and then you look at it and it’s pretty much the way it was back in the 1920’s., or in the 1930’s.  Something stylistically different in some ways, but it’s still got the same vitality. 

Whatever New York loses, if you go to other cities around the world, or around the country, New York still has a kind of energy level you find nowhere else.  Paris doesn’t have it, London doesn’t have it, San Francisco, a great city, doesn’t have it.  Chicago has many things better than New York.  I think Chicago theater is basically better than New York in terms of it’s more innovative, it’s more experimental, it’s not as bottom-line, it’s not as market-oriented.  But it doesn’t have that crazy anarchic spirit, which you only find in the city and you found it back in the ‘20s, you found it in the teens, and you find it still today.

Recorded on February 22, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen


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