On Media: Getting to the Heart Of It

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By Christine Bellini

As the proverbial dust settles on summer 2015 and our East End villages seek to reclaim their celestial bearings, the New York press extends the summer’s reach by inking their “it’s not over until the fat lady sings” Hamptons headlines, even as they poke fun at their own readership and the not-so-glamorous behavior of a rapidly morphing New York elite.

Admittedly, The Hamptons are a collective cultural curiosity of mass appeal, delivering high style and high drama at practically every social strata active in the Twittersphere during summer’s 10 week reign. By all accounts this summer tested the nerves of local communities within microscopic fraying range. From Montauk’s sardine-stuffed watering holes and trash trampled bucolic sand dunes, to the snail-paced traffic snarl that coalesced each morning in the dewy fog that gathers in the pine barons along Sunrise Highway, this was a summer of oxygen depleted common sense and vanquished good manners.

In its recap of the summer, Vanity Fair ran a cheeky account (Sept. 4, 2015) of Hamptons’ police blotter incidents that bare bulb the ridiculous to the outrageous. Humorous and unapologetic (“A good amount of wealthy drunk people behaved like wealthy drunk people this summer, and the police had to intervene”), the article threads spoiled-adults-behaving-badly incidents with reports of misplaced luxury accessories (read $30K gold and diamond rings, a MacBook Air and Chanel bag), and a curious account of the Sag Harbor 7-11 employee who reportedly fielded successive phone demands for three doughnuts and $5 million.

For all the déclassé behavior that has come to blemish The Hampton’s blue chip value, succinctly drawn as a question of Manifest Destiny in Jim Rutenberg’s cautionary tale, ‘The Battle for the Soul of The Hamptons,’ (New York Times, Aug. 28, 2015), the legal and political capital of this “new Hamptons breed” muscling their “sheer financial brawn” has indeed changed the neighborhood irrevocably.

The East Hampton Star asked and answered the beguiling question, “How Many Are Here? No One Knows” (Aug. 6, 2015). They, and the rank and file of the local press, may better wonder if the horse trading continues at this frenetic clip – as Rutenberg characterizes, “There seem to be two driving factors behind this Hamptons version of manifest destiny: money and the drive to make boatloads of it, and money, the compulsion to spend boatloads of it – when does the bottom fall out and what does that look like?

“In places like Sag Harbor Village, Southampton Village and East Hampton Village, the aforementioned spirit is evidencing itself in the will to build ever-bigger and more imposing buildings,” Rutenberg charges, backing up his contention with a solid bit of local reporting and a working knowledge of American history.

“The swelling of the population is to this version of manifest destiny what gold was to so many who were inspired by the first one: an opportunity to hit it big. That has, in turn, caused more new businesses to open, many of them apparently viewing potential code violations as a cost of doing business; more local mom and pops to sell to outsiders for many millions of dollars, many of them to financial industry titans teamed with big city club promoters, and ever more visitors to pour in…”

Rutenberg concludes, manifest destiny is a powerful thing. You only have to take a walk in the neighborhood to see the looming evidence of all that on your very street. Gratefully, so too, is the written word. Connecting the dots is Journalism 101, standing back far enough to see the image they create and how they affect the bigger picture is the work of editors, historians and those of us taking notes.

 

A former news editor, essay writer Christine Bellini is an editorial consultant who spends a good deal of her time pondering the cultural curiosities of The Hamptons from her Sag Harbor tree house.

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Gavin Menu is the sports editor, advertising director and co-publisher of The Sag Harbor Express and Express Magazine. Reach him at gmenu@sagharborexpress.com.

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