I want to be a part of it: New York, New York! America’s biggest city and the world’s most important financial hub is a metropolis unlike any other on Earth. In many ways, NYC is a microcosm of the United States, and the world at large: misanthropic, endlessly diverse, complicated.
Millionaires sip prosecco at Upper East Side hotspots while hustlers grind out a living on the mean streets of Downtown Brooklyn. Both Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez call New York City home – Trump was born in Queens, AOC in the Bronx. From Wall Street to Greenwich Village, the ‘Big Apple’ is a city of juxtapositions.
Acclaimed photographer and New York native Sam Youkilis has made a career out of exploring the absurdity of the human condition through images. His latest work, a series of videos filmed in Manhattan posted on his Instagram, expose how bizarre our current state of events are.
A particularly jarring film shows New Yorkers dining outdoors, enjoying summer and chatting away with their friends, while a huge Black Lives Matter protest march streams past down a perpendicular street.
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Precipitated by the unlawful killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, the United States and many other countries around the world including Australia have seen the global Black Lives Matter movement renewed. Protests across America and Australia decrying police brutality and the systematic oppression of people of colour have dominated the headlines – almost drowning out the other incessant concern of 2020, The Bat Kiss.
Both the protestors and the diners in Youkilis’ video seem unconcerned by the need to socially distance; they’ve got bigger fish to fry. Some people just want things to go back to normal. Others, like the protestors, don’t want a return to ‘normal’: the virus might be what’s important right now but the hundreds of years of discrimination against people of colour needs to be properly addressed, they argue.
It’s a scene; a mood; a juxtaposition that’s no doubt been replicated in countries all over the world. Take Sydney: a city whose state government doesn’t want protests to go ahead on a Sunday ‘because of COVID’ but will allow all sport to resume on a Wednesday, whilst Bondi baristas get fired because ‘locals are a bit racist’.
The metaphor in the video is obvious, but the beauty of Youkilis’ art is that he leaves things up to the audience’s interpretation. Many commenters were outraged by the seemingly “unbothered” attitude of the diners compared to the protestors, or were angry at both groups not observing social distancing or wearing PPE. Others observed how such a crazy scene could only happen in New York.
“Actually it looks like a healthy society. Everyone minds their own business and don’t [sic] disturb each other,” one commenter mused.
In any case, the video reveals how crazy things are in America. While other countries are taking more proactive steps both to address COVID-19 as well their complicated legacies of racism, race relations and the coronavirus crisis continue to deteriorate in the United States.
The climbing death toll in America – both from the virus, and the metaphorical virus of prejudice – should serve as ample warning for countries like Australia to clean up their act.
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For another example of New York insanity captured by Youkilis, check out this collection of videos showing waiters at a fancy Manhattan restaurant serving bottles of hand sanitiser to customers with all the delicacy of a fine cocktail.
Further images of New York’s ‘new normal’ can be seen in Youkilis’ latest collection on Vogue.