Our Final Project: Literature and Film

We talk about several different novels, movies, and TV shows in our final video project, but in the video itself, we only included the key points of these works, as to not overwhelm the viewers with voiceover.  We decided, therefore, to use our digital scrapbooks as a way to elaborate on these works.

Gossip Girl: Book Series by Cecily von Ziegesar//TV Show Created by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage

“Our apartments are all within walking distance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue, and the single-sex private schools, like Constance Billard, which most of us go to. Even with a hangover, Fifth Avenue always looks so beautiful in the morning with the sunlight glimmering on the heads of the sexy St. Jude’s School boys.” (You Know You Love Me: A Gossip Girl Novel by Cecily von Ziegesar, pg. 3)

When I think of glamor or of New York City, I first think of Gossip Girl.  It depicts overly privileged teenagers attending elite private schools, and later, colleges, in the city, and leading dramatic lives filled with scandal, sex, and New York City royalty (along a short marriage of Blair to a real royal, the prince of Monaco).  Many of the characters are insanely wealthy, residing in fancy penthouses or even hotels.  Blair Waldorf’s penthouse overlooks Central Park, and her supposed place of residence was included in our video.  Despite her social status, she still has to work to prove to her mother that she can take over her design business – this was not just handed to her.  However, the Humphrey family also plays a big role in the series, which consists of Rufus, a musician turned  art curator raising his two children, Dan and Jenny, and putting them through these same private schools.  They live in Brooklyn and are far from the socio-economic standing of other characters in the series.  Dan is a hard worker and takes advantage of his opportunities in the city to attend NYU and make his way up the social ladder, becoming a part of the elite world of the other characters.  Overall, the series shows how even the most privileged people still struggle, and how even those born with so much must fight for their opportunities in some way.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Novella by Truman Capote//Film Directed by Blake Edwards

“To start, we had Manhattans at Joe Bell’s; and, when he heard of my good luck, champagne cocktails on the house. Later, we wandered toward Fifth Avenue, where there was a parade.” (Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, pg. 53)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s focuses on Holly Golightly, a girl who appears to be nothing but a party-loving, charming socialite.  However, Holly actually came from quite humble beginnings and had a rough childhood.  Like so many others, she came to New York City hoping for a better life.  Through the parties she attends and her prominence in the socialite scene in the city,  it appears that she has grasped the opportunity that the city has to offer.  However, again like so many others, she is not truly happy and still struggles with emotional turmoil.  It seems at times that she is trapped between feeling real emotions and affection toward others and a contrasting, more cold-hearted nature to do what is best for herself.  Though she seemed to have “opportunity,” she ends up leaving the city, showing that opportunity has a different definition for everyone, and that opportunity does not necessarily equate to happiness.


The Great Gatsby: Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald//Film Directed by Baz Luhrmann

So Tom Buchanan and his girl and I went up together to New York — or not quite together, for Mrs. Wilson sat discreetly in another car… We drove over to Fifth Avenue, so warm and soft, almost pastoral, on the summer Sunday afternoon…” (The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, pg. 18-19)

The Great Gatsby is another example of characters who appear to have taken advantage of the opportunity in the city but still remain unhappy.  Jay Gatsby is a millionaire and known for extravagant parties that display his wealth.  However, he is consumed by love for Daisy, who is married to another man.  Her husband, Tom, is also extremely wealthy, is having an affair with Myrtle, though is still upset by Gatsby’s relationship with his wife, perhaps because Daisy is Tom’s “possession.”  Though the novel shows many, like Gatsby, who have achieved the “American Dream” of prosperity, wealth, and opportunity, they have not found how to be truly happy or lead fulfilling lives.  New York City may be a place of “opportunity,” but an obsession over this opportunity, translated to mean wealth and financial success, can often lead to unhappiness and more bad side-effects than good outcomes.

The Catcher in the Rye: Novel by J.D. Salinger

Anyway, I kept walking and walking up Fifth Avenue, without any tie on or anything. Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I’d never get to the other side of the street.” (The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, pg. 256).

Holden Caulfield is already a privileged teen attending prep school, so he comes to New York seeking a different kind of opportunity than many others.  He is looking for an answer or remedy to his loneliness and depression, and he expects that his life and his outlook will change when his location and scenery changes.  However, he does not try to actually change anything about his life, or work on improving his mental health.  He is still unhappy, as he is not doing anything to change this fact.  He is a prime example of why people must take an active approach to opportunity, as the city does not just hand opportunities to people.  Simply being in the city is not enough to allow a person to accomplish his or her goals; people must interact with the city in order to truly take advantage of opportunity.

The Street: Novel by Ann Petry

This is the kind of car you see in the movies…the kind that pulls up in front of the snooty stores on Fifth Avenue where a doorman all braid and brass buttons opens the door for you.” (The Street by Ann Petry, pg. 155)

In The Street, Lutie is trying to improve her life and her son’s by working to move them off of the street they live on.  At times, it seems like she is successfully persevering and really doing the best she can to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to her.  Unfortunately, some of these opportunities involve her rejecting her morals and sleeping with men to make money in some capacity.   She struggles, as she wants to be able to provide for herself and her son without falling to these means.  All of the negativity she feels toward her superintendent and other powerful men, the street, and the city eventually gets the best of her, and she ends up leaving the city and her son.  Again, opportunity was available to her, but she lost hope and was not able to persevere through her hardships.  She also blamed what was going wrong in her life on the place she lived, specifically the street, rather than taking responsibility for her life and her actions.

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Fifth Avenue

As Ali and I discussed what we wanted our video to focus on, we decided that it would be helpful to narrow our video with some geographic location.  We chose 5th Avenue, as it includes many iconic elements of the city, such as Rockefeller Center, the Met, and the Tiffany’s storefront from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Fifth Avenue borders Central Park and is accessible to all types of people, not only the ones who shop at Tiffany’s or Piaget.  It does not necessarily show stark contrasts in the city, but rather a gradient of different types and classes of people.  As it is such an iconic street, it is well represented in literature and movies, and we were able to find a number of works that involve 5th Avenue and also say something about opportunity in New York City.

We decided using a street as our focus was a good level at which to narrow our project.  It is more expansive than one single landmark, but more narrow than an entire neighborhood.  It also made it practical to film, as we were able to simply walk down the street, and we represented around 60 blocks in our video.

To make this focus clear, we highlighted quotes from the works we used that mentioned 5th Avenue, and overlaid these with our clips of the city in our video.

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Logan Circle to Dupont Circle

I went on the Logan Circle to Dupont Circle field trip with some of the class at the end of October.  We traced the walk that Stephanos took in The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu.  During this walk, I was able to compare how Stephanos, a struggling Ethiopian immigrant, took in the city with my own perception of it as a student at Georgetown.  I was also able to see how the city has changed over time, noting what has stayed the same and what has changed.

We took a bus from the front gates of Georgetown to Logan Circle, then walked from Logan Circle to Dupont Circle.  We noted where Stephanos’s store would have been and observed the changes that have taken place in the neighborhood.  In the novel, Stephanos points out to the couple who visits his store that “this was once one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city” (72).  When Stephanos first opens his store here, it is quite different, and rent rates are low.  In the time that he lived in Logan Circle, the race and the socio-economic class of the population of the area was changing.  Today, the neighborhood boasts fairly high home prices and rents and is becoming more and more a place of urban and economic development.  Being able to visit the setting of this novel puts the early gentrification the novel discusses into perspective, and shows how drastically a place can change in the matter of only a couple of years.

As we walked, we were able to see several landmarks and storefronts that Mengestu noticed in the novel, such as how you can just barely see the White House from the corner of 16th and P Street.  It was also interesting to note that Yum’s, a Chinese restaurant on 14th street, was actually a real establishment.  The story of Stephanos is heavily tied in with the actual geography and characteristics of DC, and Mengestu made this clear by his focus on placemaking in the city.  Having the opportunity to actually see where this novel took place was quite unique, and gave me a fuller appreciation of the city that I now live in and a broader grasp of the subject matter of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.

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Audience and Conversation


I envision the audience of this film as outsiders to New York City – those who have some knowledge of the city, but might not live there or haven’t spent much time there.  The goal would be for them to appreciate the representations of drastically different groups of people who inhabit the city.  At the same time, they would also be able to see how opportunity is present in the city for all who seek it.  Those who consider New York as a place of opportunity and even consider moving there in hope of attaining this opportunity would make a great audience for this project, as it shows that while the opportunities are there, there are also many misconceptions about how to properly take advantage of it.


I want to expand on E.B. White’s conversation about the inhabitants of New York City being fundamentally different than other people, in that they thrive off of disorder and tension in a sense.  It seems that he is saying that these people can find opportunity and possibility amidst struggle and hardship.  I wish to look into this further through other representations of the city, both essays like White’s and literary representations, like novels and films that show the polarization of the city.

A key point of this conversation is that opportunity is present in the city of New York, but this is only realized for those who actively seek it out.  People must be consciously trying to improve their lives and seriously trying to make their lives better.  Just because opportunity exists does not mean that all will attain this opportunity.  One big misconception in many conversations regarding city and opportunity is that the place in which one lives determines the state of a person’s life.  While it is true that some places may provide more opportunities or possibilities than others, it is up to the individual to fight  for all that the city can offer and make the best life for oneself.

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Video Examples

A Film of Memories

Though this short film is not related to the subject matter of my project, I really liked the videography.  I liked the short clips of video interlaced with the text slides.  I think that this changing of the scenery helps to keep the viewer engaged.  Along with this, the video clips really went along with the music, also keeping the viewer’s interest and adding an extra element to the film.  Everything shown was quite simplistic, which worked perfectly with the point of this video, which is to enjoy the simple things in life and not to let moments pass by.

Explore Toronto

This film is also beautifully made, and I think that making a video that is aesthetically pleasing is important for the overall message.  Personally, I receive messages better when they are presented in an organized and seamless way, and I think that this is especially important for visual mediums.  This film focused on Toronto, but given that it was a very short film (under two minutes), it wasn’t able to capture many elements of the city.  For my project, I will need to find a balance between conveying a message and making a visually pleasing film.


24 Hours in Istanbul

This film was also very well-made, but was much more busy than the previous two.  This aspect of the film accurately portrays the sense of chaos found in busy areas, but was not as visually appealing to me as a viewer.  I personally preferred the softer hues and more relaxing feel of the first two films.

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Here Is New York

Here Is New York by E.B. White

“No one should come to New York unless he is willing to be lucky” (696).

White depicts New York City as a place of chance and opportunity, but also a place of choice.  The city has so many different aspects of culture and so many different types of people.  There are also countless events going on and ways to participate in the city – there is always something to do.  Individuals can choose what they want to be involved in in the city.  They can be as immersed in the city as they wish.

White talks about three different types of people in the city – those born there, those who commune there, and those who come “in quest of something” (698).  He says that this last type is the most important, as they bring excitement and passion to the city.  This passionate, destination-driven part of New York City is what I want to focus on in my project.  When White talks about these three types of people, he also talks about them making up three different New Yorks.  In this way, he exemplifies placemaking in the city, with these groups of inhabitants truly making something different out of the same physical place.

White also mentions the varying atmospheres that he has encountered in different neighborhoods of New York City.  As these neighborhoods differ so much from one another, based on physical location and elements, crime rate, and the socio-economic distribution and other characteristics of the inhabitants, each must represent the city in a different way.  I think that it would be useful when representing a city such as New York to focus on specific area or neighborhood to narrow the viewpoint.  For my own project, I am thinking about focusing on how opportunity and possibility play into a the lives of people in one neighborhood.

Similarly to Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago,” White points out the greatness of New York City, despite all of the negative aspects, like overcrowding, traffic, and increasing tension.  He states, “By comparison with other less hectic days, the city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience – if they did they would live elsewhere” (710).  To me, this is quite a beautiful notion – that there is something about New York that is so intriguing, mystifying, and promising that its inhabitants don’t mind all of the negative aspects.  This is the factor that I want to delve into with my project, exploring the promise in the city and how it attracts so many different types of people.


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Before visiting the Chinatown neighborhood of DC, I was coming in with the notion that it would be something like the Chinatown areas of San Francisco or New York City – full of Chinese restaurants and jewelry stores and with an abundance of paper lanterns, colorful murals, and statues.  However, DC’s Chinatown is much different than this.  There was one screen and dragon statue to indicate the entrance of Chinatown, there was very little art in the neighborhood.  Overall, there were very few remnants of Chinese culture in the area.  The signs of restaurants like Chipotle and McDonald’s were translated into Chinese, yet I saw very few if any Chinese Americans out and about in the neighborhood.IMG_2029IMG_2031

Being in Chinatown reminded me of Zukin’s points about gentrification in “The City That Lost Its Soul.”  The area seemed quite up to date, with many trendy restaurants and shops, but absent of Chinese culture.  While I have only been in the city for a short time, and therefore, cannot compare my experience in Chinatown with what it was like in the past, I can say that it is likely that these aspects of culture have been overrun with people who wanted to fix up the area and make it more upscale.  Chinatown is a prime example of how modernization, something that is good in itself, can strip away culture and individuality of the city, making each neighborhood more coherent and less diverse.IMG_2044

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The case competition for my business first year seminar class is focused on formulating a strategy to fundraise for the Anacostia Business Improvement District.  My group and I decided to visit Anacostia to get a better feel for the area.  I had never been here before, and after hearing many negative viewpoints about the neighborhood, I was a little bit skeptical about the trip.  IMG_1994

We walked to the Anacostia Park, where we saw a soccer team preparing to play a game.  Their coach told us that while he doesn’t live in Anacostia, he comes to coach soccer and experiences the area in this way.  He told us that while businesses have tried to move into Anacostia and different groups have tried to improve the area, it is still a rough neighborhood, specifically due to drug problems.


We also saw an art exhibit called How We Lost DC by Delusions of Grandeur in the Honfleur Gallery.  It depicted the changing cultures and dynamics in the city, specifically in reference to the citizens of Anacostia and Ward 8.  I noticed how this exhibit demonstrated the effect of the city on its inhabitants and also the effect of the inhabitants on the city.  This group of people was left feeling powerless, as they felt the city was no longer theirs.  This also goes back to the concept of choosing who to represent when we represent cities.  For example, the inhabitants of Anacostia are typically not represented when the city of DC is represented.  However, they make up the city just like any politician or business person who lives here. This exhibit was a way to represent the city through a different lens, to show how representations change when you focus on a different group of people.IMG_2005IMG_2006

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Representations of NYC – Videos

14 Years Later

This video focuses on one specific event, but instead of showing that event, it portrays the effects of 9/11 today.  It shows one way that large groups of people can be united.   In a city with so many vastly different people, it is tragedy, unfortunately, that tends to bring people together.

I particularly liked the videography and the many forms of media that were incorporated.

50 Things I Love About NYC

This video shows a more idealistic view of the trendy aspects of the city.  It does a good job of showing many aspects of the city in a short video and appears professionally made, but it only shows the viewpoint of a higher socio-economic class.

There are a wide range of comments on this video, as it has over 800,000 views on YouTube, and it got both positive and negative reception.  Most of the negative comments focus on the fact that it is only one person’s representation of the city, and is different from how a “native” view of the city would be represented.  However, the purpose of this video is to show how one person views the city, and even further, it shows the parts of the city that stand out to someone who is not from New York.


This video does not focus on one specific aspect of the city, but rather the city as  a whole.  It highlights motion in the city through special effects.  This also allows the viewer to focus on stability and what is remaining constant in the scenes.

This video made me think of the idea that the city shapes people while people in turn shape the city.  While the buildings and other physical elements of the city remained the same as people passed through the streets, this stability highlighted the activity of the bustling city – people walking around, playing music, and taking a ride on a merry-go-round.  The city clearly affects what the people are doing and how they are interacting with each other.  At the same time, the city would not be the same without these people living, working, and connecting in it.

Brooklyn Girls – Catey Shaw

This song and music video is a portrayal of Brooklyn as a hub of hipsters.  It puts a positive, possibly unrealistic light on a place that is typically seen as crime-filled and ruthless.

Catey Shaw, the artist, is not originally from Brooklyn, but has lived there for the last few years.  As a young artist and a newcomer to the city, she has a different perspective from many other groups of people and from many people who have lived in Brooklyn their whole lives.  However, assuming that she is accurately portraying her own experience in the city, is her idea of what the city is necessarily “wrong,” just because it is different from the majority?  Is there really any “right” way to look at a city, as it can mean many different things to many different people?  I would tend to say that her experience is just as valid as other portrayals of Brooklyn, even though it is vastly different.  In addition, the city is constantly changing and evolving, so representations of one place will change as time goes on.

Empire State of Mind – Jay Z feat. Alicia Keys

This video incorporates both old and new views of the city.  It comes from the perspective of someone who grew up there.  It shows the struggles in the city while also painting it as a place of possibility.

We decided to use this song in our video because of this message.  It shows that New York City can be a tough place to live but offers many opportunities to those who can work past this.  Overall, it puts a positive spin on the idea of opportunity in the city, which is what we also wanted to convey.

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About My Project – Focus and Form

On the Focus

For this project, Ali and I are planning to create some type of video that represents New York City.  We want to focus on the different views of the city – the glorification of New York City as a glamorous center of opportunity and the more gloomy and unfavorable view of the city as tough, gritty, and with a wide divide between the haves and have-nots.  However, despite a person’s specific social class, New York City can still be a place of possibility, and this is what we want to pinpoint and capture in our video.

Why did you choose to write about this city?

New York City appeals to me because it is the ultimate iconic city and captures all of the aspects that make cities so interesting to me, from culture and history to food and shopping.  From an outsider’s perspective, I want to analyze different views of the city and show that there is not one “right” way to define the city.

On the Form

We plan to include pictures, music, voiceover, and video clips in our video.  We are hoping to travel to New York to film shots of the city to incorporate, but if this does not work out, we are looking for a way to still properly represent the city.  The form of a video or short film allows for a lot of creativity and the incorporation of many forms of media.  However, it can also be challenging to make sure that a collection of music, pictures, and video clips makes the desired point.  This form can also bring technical challenges.

As we worked on the video and further defined what we wanted to say, we decided that video clips from the city would be most effective.  We were able to take a day trip to New York and we filmed along 5th Avenue.  We included clips of high-end storefronts, landmarks like the Plaza Hotel and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, areas where many people of all walks of life come together like Rockefeller Center, construction and more run-down shops and buildings, and various clips of people walking throughout the city.  Along with this, we included clips from several movies and TV shows and music that focuses on New York.  Our voiceover highlights the main ideas of our project and summaries of how the literature and film we incorporated discusses opportunity.  We also included quotes from these works that show their connection to 5th Avenue.

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