William Hung and Canadians

I just got back from Dallas this weekend on business trip. Planet Tan just opened their newest store and on hand was that American Idol contestant, William Hung. It’s mind boggling how many people showed up for this celeb. He does have moxy, that kid. His singing hasn’t improved much. I also noted with some self-referential amusement, that William’s chaperone for the event was his mom. With a name like that, he’d have a great career in adult movie industry.


Concerning this week’s cartoon. Here is the a transcript of the Time’s article:

City Humor of an Ad Irks Some in Catskills
November 29, 2004

[Correction Appended]

KERHONKSON, N.Y. – It was a tiny advertisement, 3 inches by
3 inches, buried on the bottom of the back page of The Blue
Stone Press, a twice-monthly newspaper that serves this
economically depressed Catskills town.

But the ad, announcing the availability of some
long-boarded-up old storefronts on withered-up Main Street,
was not the kind that usually shows up in the local paper,
soberly promoting vinyl siding and auto-body repair. In
tiny type, this one sounded like a little manifesto,
written by a postmodern comic. It defiantly described
Kerhonkson as a “real town – not like some of the other
quaint towns around these parts.” Anyone wanting to open a
restaurant in one of the storefronts should leave the tofu
behind, it warned. “And if you want to open a coffee shop,”
it continued, “don’t make us learn new words for small,
medium and large is all we’re saying.”

“Jews, Blacks, Italians (and all others) Welcome,” it
ended, and then, as if it had not been provocative enough,
added, “No Artists or Canadians.”

After the ad ran in late October , the angry calls
immediately began coming into the offices of The Blue Stone
Press. The company that placed the ad called itself
Kerhonkson General, but it was really placed by Harris
Silver, the president of a young New York City advertising
agency called Think Tank 3, which has created sleek
campaigns for products like Georgi Vodka and several
environmentally friendly causes.

Mr. Silver, 39, who has owned a weekend house in Kerhonkson
for years, got together with some friends recently and
bought the three empty stores and some vacant apartments,
with dreams of helping to revive the faded town, which has
a population of about 1,700 and is probably best known as
the onetime home of Clayton Bates, a k a Peg Leg Bates, the
one-legged tap dancer.

The problem for the rejuvenators was getting attention for
their cause. The answer, they concluded, was with the
sharp-edged tools of marketing today: sarcasm and biting
humor, with a hint of a point, but only enough to keep
people guessing at the advertiser’s real motives.

In an interview, Mr. Silver said he was partly serious
about not wanting to see the town, in Ulster County about
two hours from New York, become gentrified in a way that he
feels many other upstate towns like New Paltz, Kingston and
Beacon (not to mention many New York City neighborhoods)
have been, in which artists, musicians and other creative
types seem to be followed inexorably by antiques stores,
overpriced shops, soaring real estate prices and then, of
course, a Starbucks. In fact, the ad was largely a swipe at
New Paltz, 19 miles away, with its tofu-loving restaurants,
hordes of artists, and, now, a Starbucks on Main Street.

“We thought we don’t really need somebody here who’s just
going to be putting up paintings on the wall,” Mr. Silver
said. “We need real businesses. We need people who are
going to come here and sell socks and underwear.” He added
that his intention was to “set this place apart and try to
let people know it has its own identity.”

But he added that mostly, the ad – which also took oblique
swipes at wine bars and expensive clothiers – was designed
simply to get a rise out of people and to draw attention to
itself. And if an art gallery wanted to rent a storefront,
he would still probably sign a lease in a New York second.

“Obviously, we’re not anti-artist or anti-Canadian,” he
said emphatically, adding, “We just threw in the Canadian
thing because we thought it was funny.” (Mr. Silver has
repeated his “No Artists or Canadians” joke in big posters
he has taped to the windows of his storefronts.)

But many longtime residents of Kerhonkson didn’t find
anything funny about the ad, which touched many of the raw
nerves of economic-revival efforts upstate, seeming to pit
art against commerce, weekenders against locals and urban
sensibilities against rural ones. The ad provoked such
anger (one caller declared it anti-Semitic, despite the
fact that it specifically welcomes Jews) that the newspaper
has declined to run it again, at least without some wording

David O’Halloran, a longtime resident and owner of the Pine
Grove Dude Ranch – a family vacation resort that is one of
the area’s biggest employers – said “the last thing we need
to do is pour gasoline” on the kinds of tensions that
constantly arise about how to revive the upstate towns and
who gets to decide.

Mr. Silver is “the wrong person speaking for the people
who’ve lived here for a long time,” he said, and added
that, as far as he was concerned, artists and artisans were
“the growth industry in our community.”

“Look at Kingston,” he said. “Kingston is alive again
because of the artistic growth there.”

Mr. O’Halloran was not the only one angry. Mr. Silver –
who, probably just to be more provocative, says he likes to
think of himself the unelected mayor of Kerhonkson – was
bombarded with angry e-mail messages, including one from a
man who identified himself only as a manual laborer and
20-year Kerhonkson resident.

“Do your brothers-in-flannel up here who read these ads
realize that your thinly veiled ‘Think Tank’ is really a
N.Y.C.-based ad agency with a slick and pseudo-intellectual
Web site peddling freshman philosophy about, among other
things, art?” the e-mailer wrote. “Get real, you
self-important fakes. I’d be willing to bet you drink fancy
coffee drinks every day. In short, you have no authority to
speak as one of us, and no business pretending to be from
the other side of the tracks.”

But Mr. Silver has found some local defenders, like Irene
Rocha, a former Brooklynite who owns property near Mr.
Silver’s and thinks someone has to fight the resistance to
change in the community. “I think a lot of people are just
afraid of the New York City mindset creeping in here,” she
said. John Whiteman, a New York State crop adviser who has
lived in the area since 1986, sees Mr. Silver as an
entrepreneur willing to take risks that locals are not
taking for the sake of the town.

“If people take offense to it,” he said of the ad, “well, I
think they need to find something in their lives to take up
some more of their time.”

He added, cheerfully: “I was up in Canada this weekend, and
I didn’t see any major protests going on up there about

In the end, the moral of the story seems to be that
provocative, ironic, New York-style advertising is quite
effective, even on the back page of a small, rural paper:
Mr. Silver said that two of the storefronts have been
rented and there is interest in the third, keeping alive
his hope of a brave new Kerhonkson.

“This might be the hardest working small-space ad in all of
advertising,” he said. “In my wildest dreams I never
expected anything like this.”

One of the people interested in renting a storefront is the
editor of the local newspaper, Chris Hewitt, who also runs
a letterpress business and needs a home for it. But in an
e-mail message he sent to Mr. Silver, even he was not quite
sure whether he was eligible to participate in the
potential rejuvenation of his hometown.

“I have to tell you, as a Kerhonkson resident, beer lover,
coffee drinker, artist, Canadian, Italian, tofu eater and
hard worker,” he wrote, “I’m a little confused about
whether I qualify or not.”

Correction: December 1, 2004, Wednesday:

A picture
caption in the Arts on Monday with an article about wry
language in a real estate advertisement that has irked some
readers in the Catskills town of Kerhonkson misstated the
availability of the properties offered. As the article
said, they are for rent, not for sale.


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