Home News Harry Siegel: ‘Mad Max’ meets ‘Modern Times’ in NYC 2024 show

Harry Siegel: ‘Mad Max’ meets ‘Modern Times’ in NYC 2024 show

People making movies in and about New York City know all about the visual shorthands that conjure specific eras.

Beeper stores for the late 1980s, adults on Razor scooters for the late 1990s.

Nickel-and-dime-bag bodegas and juice shops right up until the internet and cell phones abruptly made those as passé as streetwalkers.

Cafes with Edison lamps and reclaimed wood in the late aughts — a weirdly ubiquitous early warning, obvious in hindsight, about the “Brooklynization” of everything as apps, algorithms and venture capital began eroding local cultures, like water carving stone.

Months after the city hollowed out to the sound of sirens in early 2020, the pictures in Midtown were of tents for COVID tests and previously fancy hotels now housing formerly homeless residents who’d smoke and hang out on nearby sidewalks.

Ghostly office buildings and lunch spots that had catered to their workers on half-deserted streets pocked with newly shuttered storefronts.

CBD shops, some with vaguely yuppie vibes, and vape shops with the garish colors once associated with sugary breakfast cereals.

Smoky rush-hour trains with a parade of panhandlers and anti-social ranters walking through half-filled cars with homeless people sleeping on them.

A few months of fentanyl users looking like corpses on sidewalks with passersby occasionally checking to see if they were breathing but mostly walking past or sometimes over them, before something happened and that scene disappeared.

The howls of mad and maladjusted people left behind resonating not because they’d become louder or more numerous but because the volume had gone down on everything else.

The NYPD enforcing weird new mask and curfew rules before cracking down hard on George Floyd protesters, without doing much to discriminate between elected officials and Molotov-cocktail throwers. Then all but standing down for a day while mostly teenage looters tore through Midtown.

By 2021, pot tents appeared, with people illegally selling the newly legalized stuff well before the first legit store opened, on the same avenues as the remaining COVID tents.

Jump cut to 2024 and the tents are gone and tourists are back though some hotels have crossed over into housing migrants, with deliveristas and migrant men — and there’s a lot of overlap between the two groups — hanging out between being summoned by their apps outside of venture capital backed Blank Street coffee shops living up to their dystopian name.

There are literally thousands of unlicensed pot shops, some with their own security guys outside.

Signs outside some of those stores, and others, instructing patrons to kindly take off their ski masks before entering.

Migrant children with their moms or by themselves selling candy in trains and stations mostly full of riders again.

Cars with paper plates or none at all to avoid tickets and the police panopticon that now includes license plate readers, with drivers blaring their engines and paying no mind to red lights, speed limits, bike or parking rules. Headlines about the latest horrific e-bike fire deaths.

Raucous Gaza marches, with lots of flares now in some weird visual echo of the tiki torch Nazis, and public space takeovers — bridges, Grand Central Terminal, and of course college campuses.

The remnants of hostage posters, including for people still being held captive more than 200 days later.

The NYPD shutting the college occupations down, mostly out of public view when they can while posting their own hype videos hoisting flags and kicking ass.

Keffiyehs in place of (or sometimes in addition to) COVID masks.

Where old films used to show spinning newspaper headlines, there are now increasingly unhinged tweets from Eric Adams’ top cops also posting action clips of themselves to YouTube when they’re not essentially mocking the City Council and the Department of Investigation’s attempts to oversee their overtly political new approach to communicating with the public or using facial recognition to triumphantly arrest a 9th grader who graffitied a war memorial.

The scene right now is awfully cinematic, in that weird way like when a movie washes over you as it happens — “Fury Road” did this to me, as did Occupy Wall Street in some sense — but just fades away when the credits roll and the lights go up.

Right now, the cuts are coming faster and faster.

Keeping up with the news feels like watching two movies on different screens, while also thumbing through a social-media scroll.

One of those movies is “Mad Max” and the other is “Modern Times,” with Charlie Chapin moving at full speed while the machine keeps getting faster and faster.

Siegel (harrysiegel@gmail.com) is an editor at The City, a host of the FAQ NYC podcast and a columnist for the Daily News.


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