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Times Square distinguishes itself from every other business area of New York and has become the “outdoor” version for new ways to communicate and advertise in a vast metropolis. Times Square brash and seductive signs reel in people from all over the world. The pedestrian environment has become a show in itself with the hectic created public atmosphere. Times Square has always served as the commercial center of the city, where people gathered to share both good news and bad. It is the international center for culture ablaze in neon and filled with the excitement of opening negates.
As a first visitor at age ten I was taken in by the excitement and eye candy. Spending my summer interning at MTV, whose office house at Viacom is in the center of it, I quickly learned that visiting and working there on a daily basis was a completely different experience.
Initially I was completely invested in the district and decided to choose it as my ethnographic research area. I figured I would have the opportunity to explore the area every single day from commuting to work so I would be able to grasp a physical and mental sense of it. Hot, crowded, shoved, pushed, stopped to ask for directions and to take photos all became old quick. The mass media has a way of portraying unrealistic images and Times Square is no stranger to this. I remember watching Good
Morning America and TRL growing up and thinking how I couldn’t wait to live in New York City so I could visit Times Square.
After observing a sense of the area for two months I now know that it is an amazing place for tourists to come visit and sightsee, but not a place I would recommend being a local of. For some reason the quote, “You’ll never understand a person until you walk a mile in their shoes,” came to mind when thinking about Times Square. Before working in the area I had a skewed perception that it was all about
flashing lights, celebrities and endless opportunities now I realize that you need to know the right people and market yourself in order to be successful or else you will get sucked into the tourist crowd.
After all the in-depth research and personal experience of working in the area I would highly recommend a person to travel to Times Square just to see all the attractions but I wouldn’t recommend staying there for a long period of time or working there. It has its perks such as you see some pretty ridiculous things, for example one day while I was walking to work I saw a man trying to promote an album on top of a light pole. I’ll tell you right now, I wouldn’t find anything that bizarre sitting on my couch at home in Rhode Island.
When I was first explained the ethnographic research project I was very excited because this meant I would be able to explore the city and become aware of things I would have never recognized. Once I started my research and tried to get some valid information I realized it was going to be much harder than I thought. After work one day I decided to go around to different stores and see if I would interview some people. About seven of the ten people I asked basically told me they didn’t want to be bothered. I’m happy they denied me though, because it just made me realize the type of attitude people in Times Square have. Everyone is looking out for himself or herself. One day I went out to lunch with an older woman that worked in the Viacom building with me, as soon as we stepped out the door a man asked her to take a picture of him with his family. She gladly accepted than later told me that that was the nicest thing she has ever done for anyone in Times Square. She has been working on 1515 Broadway for fifteen years now and I couldn’t believe that she considered that the nicest thing she had done for anyone in the area since she started working there.
That was two months ago when that happened and reflecting back I realize now it makes sense. Everyone is stingy and in a hurry in Times Square. I’ve discovered that half the people are either tourists or work in the area and are trying to get by the masses of people in their way. I really thought people would have a better attitude than I experience but over time I just realized that it was the culture of Times Square.
This made me re-think every assumption I ever had of Times Square. I thought back to all the times I would run back from school to watch TRL and see Carson Daley overlooking the glamorous background or the ball dropping every New Years and seeing rosy cheeked people smiling on camera. I realized how my views were completely subjective back than because I had only been exposed to what the mass media was showing me. When I was ten years old my mom took me to Toys R Us, Hard Rock Café and the Naked Cowboy and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. After passing each of these landmarks on a daily basis I realized it’s all in what you make it.
Marketers and reporters portray Times Square completely different than what it appears. On TV they may only display the bright advertisements but they won’t zoom in on the thousands of people trampling over each other. This ethnographic research made me realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, which I think is an important lesson in life. For the past ten years I’ve been praying for the opportunity to work in the “Crossroads of the World,” but now that I have I realize there is so much more out there for me to take advantage of. It also gave me the confidence that proves to me I can do anything if I set my mind to it. After working in such a busy crowded environment where everyone speaks a different language I am able to communicate more easily with people and I have more patience.
I have realized that ethnographic research is both objective and subjective because you can perceive something as one way but then see it a completely different way based on the type of person you are. If someone were to have only observed Times Square for two weeks I can guarantee that their
thoughts and views would be completely different than mine solely based on the fact that I have had more time to experience the area from all outlets. I have been completely dedicated to my role as an ethnographic researcher and I have been breathing in morning and night the experiences I have encountered. I could easily tell someone that the busiest time for someone to be in the area is around 6:00 because that is when everyone is getting out of work so it begins to get really hectic. Everyday I see different faces and routines I’ve realized that you have to expect the unexpected but that’s the beauty of Times Square.
In conclusion, I realized that Times Square wasn’t as glamorous at MTV and other popular television stations portrayed it at but that it was much more that that, it has the ability to connect people from all around the world to a common ground. The diversity that I experienced just standing on the street during lunch break was breathtaking. There is something about the amazing advertisements that sucks in people from all different countries. That in itself is pretty spectacular.
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