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The Following: A Bonanza of Paranoia in the 'Hood

Landlords, Eviction, Gentrification The Following: A Bonanza of Paranoia in the Hood By Guest Blogger Karen Malpede " The Following is scheduled to film in your area FOR THE LAST TIME on Mon.

Landlords, Eviction, Gentrification

The Following: A Bonanza of Paranoia in the Hood

By Guest Blogger Karen Malpede

downsized_1027141636 "The Following is scheduled to film in your area FOR THE LAST TIME on Mon., October 27 & Tue, October 28, 2014 from approximately 7:00 AM until 11:00 PM," read the signs taped to posts around Clinton Hill.

Despite neighborhood unrest, the film shoot continued last week and will conclude as Halloween approaches (always a neighborhood festival with trick or treat designated homes for the children already decorated and two free public performance spectacles, on Clinton and Waverly Aves., created by two talented groups of local artists).

Before then, five and a quarter blocks of parking will be unavailable during two full days; large trucks belching CO2, with dressing rooms, and equipment, several cranes and lots of police cars will occupy the public space. The sidewalks will be filled with gangs of techies on walkie-talkies, and there will be the required hospitality food table—for whom?downsized_1027140810-1Last time, a week or so ago, when I walked by the food table, I asked: "Is this the food pantry for the neighborhood?" and was met with guffaws from the techies buttering their bagels. So continues the saga of 280 Washington Ave., currently the primary location for The Following's third season. You do the math: six full days of shooting at $10 to $20,000 per day to the owners of the house.

But lest you think the neighborhood dissatisfaction that had once threatened to cancel all this was for naught, think again. Some accommodation has, in fact, been made: First off, if you bother to read the bold face print you will see that the neighborhood is to be thanked for our "patience and continued support" and that Bonanza Pictures, the producer, will be providing "a food or desert truck on the evening of Tuesday, October 28," when presumably we can gather to eat the leftovers—of food or desert.


We've been promised food, but on the street the second morning of the shoot, I witness the following scene among the three men: a black man holding what look like two raspberry smoothies in plastic cups is pointed out by another black man to a third black man. The middle man says, "I told him to stop! I told him he couldn't take those!" The third man responds, "He's all right. He's one of us. But, I appreciate your telling me, brother." Evidently food or desert for the neighborhood is going to be strictly monitored. No actual hungry persons allowed. (Nor, do I think the food giveaway ever actually happened, though I ate dinner at home and didn't go out to look.)

We are further informed that "the primary location owners have required" the film production company to make donations to four local charities. My own not-for-profit social justice theater company received a tax-deductible paypal donation in the amount of $1000 ($990, after fees). Three other neighborhood non-profits also received money, I have been told. A local elementary school, the older of the of two Halloween shows, a youth theater company based at Medgar Evers College, and an incorporated group of neighbors dedicated to aging in place in the homes they own.

"I donated tens of thousands of dollars this week. If you must know who they are," wrote the 280 property owner in an angry email to me, alarmed by my unsympathetic portrayal on this very blog of her use of her own property. If that number is correct, then the other not-for-profits received a great a deal more money than mine did (which is fine with me, by the way); though it is not clear from whom, the property owner or, as the film company says, the film company itself.downsized_1027140812Therefore, we need to say that protest works(!), to some, small selective extent, for no donations at all would have been forthcoming, no matter what their size, without the mini-uprising of neighbors against the usurpation of public space.

Then, again, as I make it a practice never to watch the Fox network, I had no idea what the television show The Following is actually about. Here is a synopsis of the current season, taken from the show's official website: "A series of horrific murders rocks New York, sending its residents into a state of fear and paranoia, and the entire city into lockdown."

As The Following enters its final day, on the way to teach, I complain, vociferously, not about the mess on the street, but about the violent terrible junk that is being filmed with all this fancy equipment and borrowed police cars, to the Jamaican man who is standing guard outside my gate. We get to talking and walk together to the corner. "There's a lot on television that should not be watched," he says. "I know you are just doing a job," I say. "I'm putting one son through college and I have other children at home." We part smiling. "I'm going off to teach at John Jay College, now."downsized_1028140946In the afternoon, after a long day of teaching Ibsen in my theater and social justice classes, I voice the same complaints "bad, violent television that increases paranoia; it is total junk," to a big white techie guy. "You should leave New York," he sneers.

"This is my city," I respond, even as I wonder how it can be my city anymore. I've lived here as a working artist and educator for nearly fifty years. I've been part of creating child-care collectives, food coops, alternative theater spaces, demonstrations against our many wars and climate change. I've worked with and mourned along side survivors of the crack epidemic, Aids, the 9/11 attacks, hurricanes Irene and Sandy. I'm one of the people who has made this neighborhood attractive and upped its real estate value enough so that this violent-fantasy Fox television show is being filmed across the street.downsized_1027140807There is a real violence loose on our streets, not the bogus paranoia of The Following third season: It is the violence of the wealthy, supported by the very laws of the land, against the rest of us. If they are using television to teach us what a lock-down will be like, it's not because of some pretend serial killer but because they simply wish us to know our place.