NY Times: We Take It Back: Washington, D.C. Actually Lame

Illustration for article titled emNY Times/em: We Take It Back: Washington, D.C. Actually Lame

Wait, what happened to "Washington, D.C. is suddenly hip again?" Because as of today, it's apparently somewhere between Windsor Castle, Imperial Japan, and one of those cotillions that requires both civilian and military escorts. For more sweeping generalizations, read on!

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Highlights:

Washington is a small ‘c' conservative kind of society, in which people are aware of the traditions and boundaries of appropriate behavior," said Wayne Berman, a Republican lobbyist. "It's a city about rules, about conventions and if there's no keg at the party, it doesn't get crashed.

"At most parties in New York or Los Angeles, a bouncer will make a snap decision about whether to let you in depending on your looks or some shtick that that sets you apart," says Juleanna Glover, a Washington hostess and a founder of the Ashcroft Group, a legal and consulting firm. "In Washington, there are no snap decisions. It's a lifetime of wise decisions that make it so that you receive a state dinner invitation."

When the Salahis put their collection of digital snaps of the state dinner on Facebook, they flouted all the unwritten rules of power-wall etiquette. (Including a new one that nobody had thought to mention: Don't put your power wall on Facebook.) As an enhancer of prestige, these photographic menageries always target a certain audience - constituents in the case of politicians, potential clients in the case of lobbyists. It tells those audiences, "I know how to get things done."

"Washington has its own version of a celebrity-driven culture, but these people are unattractive and lack charisma so what makes them celebrities is their substance," says Eli Attie, a former White House speech writer in the Clinton administration and now a writer and producer for "House," the Fox television show.

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You get the idea. (Indeed, apparently the self-promoting Salahis are such an anomaly in the greater Washington area that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine declared, "If somebody had said to me, 'Hey, some Virginians tried to crash a party and there are 7 1/2 million Virginians, who do you think it might be?' I think I might have been able to guess it within five seconds, because he's [Tareq Salahi] such a promoter.") And if you flout these "rules" and wear fashion-forward clothes, well, you're suspect. But, did it occur to no one that maybe the Salahis (and the other crashers now crawling out of the woodwork) were just swept up in the blitz of pieces declaring the capital young, hip and happening? They were told things had changed! That the town was swarming with idealistic young go-getters who didn't wear pantyhose! That high fashion had returned to the capital! (Of course, some would argue that, being a large city, it is, and was, rather more multi-faceted than this, and that the Magnetic Fields could have told you that. Also that a few weeks ago a guy in a bar told me that D.C. was "a very sexy town" with "sexier women than New York." So.) And, et tu, Washington Post? In the context of tattoos, one young woman is quoted today saying, "D.C. is culturally one of the most conservative cities I've ever lived in." In the spirit of sweeping statements we say: blame the fickle media. Including us! (Look, we're very busy dealing with bouncers, okay?)

Dinner Crashers Walked All Over Social Code [NY Times]
36 Hours In Washington, D.C. [NY Times]

Disney Actress Snuck Into Inauguration [CBS]
NYC: "OK, DC, You're Hip Now." [DC Met Blogs]
Dinner 'Crashers' Stood Out Years Ago [CNN]
In D.C. Area, Tattoos Are Largely Taboo From 9 To 5 [Washington Post]

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DISCUSSION

I love how half the stories about D.C. "nightlife" will profile embassy events or Capital Hill bars and assume that represents D.C.'s social scene. I go out 5 or 6 times a week in D.C. I've never been to an embassy party, my friends don't own brownstones in Georgetown, and I hit a bar on Capital Hill maybe 2 or 3 times a year.

The problem is, when the NYT wants to profile our fair city, they talk to D.C. "stars", who tend to be politicians and government fixtures. D.C. is unlike NY or LA in this way. The vast majority of real, permanent residents in no way aspire to live like or mingle with Ben Bernanke or the Clintons. You might mention if you have a "celebrity" siting, but the percentage of the population that either lives in that world or actively seeks to live in that world is pretty small. And dull.

It's just incredibly foreign to the NYT to think that I could work 10 blocks from the White House every day and not be angling for invites to Rahm's place or trying to become friends with a Hill staffer who could get me in good with Nancy Pelosi. One of the things I love about D.C. is how people aspire to something more interesting than fame, power, or riches. Most people I know aspire to have adventures, meet interesting people, do something meaningful, and learn new things. I'm not saying such people don't exist in NY. I'm saying that such people don't work for the NYT.