It’s the post-Koch New York that formed the basis for the best version of the Voice in the last three decades. All that history with the beatniks, the folkies, the hippies, the downtown New School smart set, were part of the formation of the paper’s personality, but it was under the ownership of Carter Burden and afterwards that the Voice becomes the hometown paper of the downtown club scenes, the practitioners of experimental theater, the Soho galleries, the Christopher Street gay scene (only after protests, though!). Those strands joined Andrew Sarris’ highbrow film criticism, Nat Hentoff’s eccentric beautiful harangues, Jules Feiffer’s soft lacerations of New York speech acts and national policy both; together, they became something exciting, rebellious and different.
If the alternative newsweekly had its heyday in the 1960s and early ’70s, they had another in the late ’70s and early ’80s, one that was just different. Because the pisse-copie of New York’s downtown life, its ethnic subcultures, its academic and intellectual avant garde, was being written differently by then, too.
The Times, and New York Magazine, and even Esquire were writing about these neo-Bohemians, these foreign films, these avant-garde artists and performers. When the National Endowment for the Arts got into its big skirmishes in the 1980’s with artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Karen Finley, the mainstream media ate the story up, but told it all in a McCarthyish vein that was hard to take for anyone living here in New York.
That the newspaper that had brought Norman Mailer into uptown living rooms now brought the city’s David Wojnarowiczes there only makes sense.
Menand, again (emphasis mine):
[The] reader implied by a magazine’s interests and attitudes is rarely the magazine’s actual reader. If the actual Voice reader played the bongos or wore a leotard, the paper would not have lived for a year, because very few advertisers will pay to reach coffeehouse musicians and modern dancers. As McAuliffe explains, by the time the Voice began making money, in the mid-nineteen-sixties, the typical reader was thirty years old and had a median family income of $18,771 (about a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars today). Almost ninety per cent of Voice readers had gone to college; forty per cent had done postgraduate work. Most had charge accounts at major department stores, such as Bloomingdale’s. Most owned stock. Twenty per cent were New Yorker readers. The Voice was the medium through which a mainstream middle-class readership stayed in touch with its inner bohemian.It was the ponytail on the man in the gray flannel suit.
The newspaper as counternarrative, as the voice of cranky, artsy-fartsy, nonconformist New York, the nagging New York conscience of even the city’s power elite, has no place in the Village Voice Media formula. The Phoenix formula is earnest, and meant to serve. Its chief proponents value journalism, and see the same need in every big market: To serve as an alternative to the mainstream media. Not so much to fight the creeping automatism, but to dodge it.
That means that right now we have a Voice that should be producing long, provocative, unreported-but-beautifully written columns about Ray Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policies; that provides an intelligent counternarrative to the war between the corrupt teachers’ unions and their opponents who are actually enemies of the public-school system in do-gooder’s clothing. It is a Voice that has nothing much to say to Washington, or Madison Avenue, or the fashion industry, or the music industry, or Hollywood, or Europe. It is, in vast topical areas, a Voice without a voice.