- Times Square Red, Times Square Blue
In his most recent work Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, Samuel R. Delany uses his experiences of living in Manhattan to bring to the fore the social implications of the recent Times Square Development Project. Combining two essays of “different focal length, along different trajectories and at different intensities” (xi), Delany explores the nuances of urban life and its reliance on intra-class and cultural contacts as a basis for analyzing the causes and possible effects of this redevelopment. Resorting to theoretical discourses of desire and community, Delany constructs a humanized perspective of the old 42nd Street area, which by outsiders has been viewed as dangerous and immoral due to its range of hustlers, porn theaters, and its acceptance of both commercial and non-commercial sex. Thus, he shapes a valid argument for an interconnected tolerance as a basis of a healthy community. The essays provide a seamless tour of commercial transformations of 42nd Street as well as of Delany’s sexual and developmental experiences over the past thirty years. But the “polemical passion here is forward looking, not nostalgic” (xv). Delany’s goal is not to “reinstate the porn theaters” but to analyze and dismantle the discourses surrounding them.
His first essay, “Times Square Blue,” written in October 1996, is an ethnography of sorts, depicting Delany’s experiences in and around 42nd Street porn theaters. By stringing together explicit anecdotes of several of his “over thousands of visits” (35), he is able to explore the social dynamics of his surroundings, looking specifically at gay sexual relations, their connections with drugs, violence, AIDS, women, “madness,” pleasure, and sense of “family.” The [End Page 223] essay begins and is framed with Ben who has shined shoes on the corner of 42nd Street for nearly thirty years, and whose main marketing tool is a mix of “harassment and protestations of admiration” (5) of women who pass by his stand. What intrigues Delany here, besides the dynamics of resulting interactions, is the boundaries of sexual discourse which Ben effortlessly crosses and returns. The remainder of the essay presents an insider’s description of these boundaries, within which Delany found sexual and communal pleasure. While “this essay’s purpose is to present a vernacular periplum of what might be found in the Times Square gay cruising venues and the culture that grew up around it” (58), the next essay, “. . . Three, Two, One, Contact: Times Square Red,” is more theoretically based, focusing on the differences and similarities of “networking” and “contact” as two elements that shape communities.
In this essay, Delany continues his account of the Times Square Development Project and effectively argues its inconsistencies. The plan to renovate the 42nd Street area began in the 1960s, which immediately meant that investors actively sought real estate to buy in the area, but anticipating that the area would “soon” be torn down created a freeze on structural improvements. Met with public outcry over the inevitable loss of community identity, which would essentially dissolve this “highly diversified neighborhood with working-class residences and small human services . . . into . . . a ring of upper-middle class luxury apartments around of ring of tourist hotels clustering about a series of theaters and restaurants” (148–9), the plans to renovate were put on hold until, as Delany claims, the public would forget its reasons for resistance. In an attempt to expose the developers’ intentions, Delany deconstructs several aspects of their claims. The developers want to restore and maintain the historic theater district in that area, but Delany points out that they have closed all but two. They want to curtail violence and drug use in the area, but by replacing locals with tourists, the community policing “eye” will be greatly reduced, making these “strangers” more vulnerable than they realize. He also explains rather dramatically that “left unsupervised, big businesses stamp out small businesses, break them into pieces, devour the remains, and dance frenziedly on their graves” (172). With this image, Delany emphasizes the lack of connectedness and responsibility to the local...