March 16, 2006

Defining utopia down

The New Yorker's Ben McGrath has a delightful writing style and a sharp eye for the telling detail, so on one level, his current feature about Boykin Curry's plan to build a "Creative Person's Utopia" in the Domincan Republic is a treat to read. But it's also tremendously irritating because unless I'm totally missing some subtle subtext, McGrath seems to genuinely like Curry when he is quite obviously, from McGrath's own story, the biggest fucking douchebag on the face of the earth.

I don't know if McGrath is just hoping for future invites to Playa Grande or if he contracted a case of Stockholm Syndrome, but his apparent efforts to paint Curry as a charming, free-spirited intellectual grate noisily against what we actually learn about him. For starters, there's Curry's pitch letter to potential Playa investors: "We are going to keep it Bohemian and not filled with dentists who got lucky in the stock market." Even ignoring the inherent condescension, there is the utter lack of self-awareness from a man who got lucky in the parents market, having made his fortune as a (no doubt Bohemian) money manager in the family firm. McGrath says Curry "may be the least self-important money manager in town," which does not speak well for the rest of 'em.

Keep reading. After a bit more ranting, I've got a genuine scoop about ol' Boykin.

[Attention visitors from Slate: If you're starting to read here, it's because they formatted their link improperly. Scroll up to read about Boykin Curry from the beginning.]

So who are these creative Bohemians who are keeping the dentists at bay? Sure, there's the arguably artistic Moby, Richard Meir, and Mariska Hargitay. But there's also David Brooks (I hope he brings extra copies of Bobos in Paradise for everyone to study), Thomas Freidman, Charlie Rose, Rich Lowry, and Fareed Zakaria. It's just another media clusterfuck, with better weather (sometimes). And then of course there are people like "a New Jersey billboard executive named Drew Katz," but don't worry, Curry insists that "even the financial people are special." Or is that "special"? Boykin is the kind of guy who thinks it's creative to have a designated "Keeper of the Dog" at his wedding.

"By 'artist' Curry means 'anyone who does something that's intellectually interesting that doesn't pay very well.'" He cites George Will as an example — although George Will makes plenty of fucking money, as do Moby, Richard Meir, and Mariska Hargitay for that matter. You don't expect him to invite any actual non-rich people, do you? Other than Mariska Hargitay, who is permanently in my good graces for having once charmed the socks off my 90-year-old great aunt when L&O was shooting outside her building, the people Curry has selected as the best and the brightest strike me as a group to be avoided at all costs. How is hanging out with these shmucks anybody's idea of utopia?

Playa Grande's "casting director" contrasted the assembling of Curry's crowd with her recruiting for something called SoHo House: "With SoHo House, it wasn't like, 'Oh, you're Barry Diller, of course we want you to be a member. It was, like, 'Oh, you're Jamie King. And you work at Rockstar Games. And you're at the helm of something which is an extraordinarily exciting new venture."

I had to read that three times before I figured out (I think) what she's trying to say: First, that Barry Diller is the ideal member of any club and that SoHo House wasn't getting that caliber of person. (To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldn't belong to any club that would have Barry Diller as a member). Second, that instead, she had to suck up to B-listers and pretend to be interested in their new ventures. Right, why bother with people who are trying new ventures when you can just go into your daddy's money managing business? Meanwhile, I can't see how Jamie King is less worthy than some other Playa Grande invitees, and I'd certainly rather talk to someone who works at Rockstar Games than any of them. Continues the casting director: "I think Boykin's been incredibly smart about how he has, quite frankly, just sorted out the riff from the raff." An apt malapropism if ever there was one.

Curry spends much of his time mocking the poor Dominicans who were forced by the IMF to sell off the Playa Grande property. Richard Meir at least has the decency to patronize them ("Very happy people") but Curry berates them for littering on his property, which he notes is only his because of their "incompetence."

Curry is portrayed a benevolent dictator. He's the type of guy who says stuff like, "In the regime of Boykin Curry, all the pools will be 88 degrees! I decree, as phase one of my utopian experiment." Even knowing that's a joke, wouldn't it make you want to punch the smug right off his face? So there's the dictator, the benevolence comes when he explains that members will never be kicked out: "Even if you fall from grace and your latest book is a joke, you have a place."

Now that made me laugh, because it just so happens that Boykin's only book (not counting spin-offs) is a joke, at least among my friends. The New Yorker article describes how he got into Yale with an application essay about working on his family peach farm in South Carolina (yes, working the land is so enriching when you're already, you know, rich). This gave him the idea, as a freshman, to compile a best-selling book of college essays called Essays That Worked. I recognized the title right away because my friend Dan Burrows has been dining out on this story for as long as I've known him.

"One day in, like, October of my freshman year (1986), I bumped into a guy from the Oberlin admissions office, and he told me that some guys published some book with my essay in it," explains Dan. He was flattered, but also surprised and a little pissed, because nobody had gotten his permission, compensated him, or even, it turned out, given him attribution in the book. So Dan did what any red-blooded American would: he sued. Curry, his co-author, the publisher, Oberlin, the dean of admissions, the president of the college, you name it. You think the essay worked? The lawsuit was even better. "I got a call in my dorm room one night from either Brian or Boykin (sorry, I can't recall which one). He was kinda freaked out, asked me not to sue. I told him to call my lawyer. About a year later the defendants offered a settlement: cash and my byline in future editions."

Dan adds that he understand how McGrath went native. "Boykin's got a lot of money, breeding, connections. He leads a pretty extraordinary life, so I guess it's hard not to be seduced. (Unless you're me, in which case it's hard not to be bitter and jealous.)" Is it wrong to pray for 20 years of solid rain?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I'd like to hit Barry Diller's member with a club.

George Will is . . . an artist?

"Still Life with Ignorant Pontificator"

Here's one of his silliest columns.

He is condemning the shallowness of modern liberal society as shown by the celebration of "Presidents' Day" rather than George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays, because Presidents' Day would include even mediocre Presidents.

But I have always assumed that Presidents' Day was in honor of Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, which are both in February. When advertisements for Presidents' Day sales would picture other Presidents, I thought it was, you know, a joke (a concept Will may not be familiar with).

Actually, Snopes.com has the information that the official name of the federal holiday is still "Washington's Birthday", although there have been proposals to change it to "Presidents' Day". So we were both wrong.

I suppose Will could say that no matter what the official name is, if people call it "Presidents' Day", that is a sign of rampant liberalism. That doesn't seem to make sense ideologically, though. Labor Day would be the liberal holiday. Why would liberals want to celebrate undistinguished Presidents? Most of them were fairly privileged.

I apologize for the malfunctioning links. Here are the correct ones:



Sorry. The first link was not complete.



Ha! You forgot E.O. Wilson, which really made the list of flaky pseudo-intellectuals complete (good on ants; idiotic on everything else).

But I think you may be misinterpreting the article. Consider this bit: "'We could really just jam about ideas and experiences,' Johnson said. 'I'd pick up this incredible leaf thing, and give it to Alonso and say, 'Hey, this is something you would be interested in,' because he comes at it from such a different approach. So it was like an an exchange of ideas and creativity. I just want to be creative there.' Meier himself finally flew down in August, and raved about the Dominican citizenry, among other things: 'They're very friendly and calm. They're always smiling all the time. Very happy people.'"

When you were 15, and stoned out of your mind, did you ever say anything quite that stupid? No. No, you didn't.

Now, think about it a moment. There's no fucking way you put something that godawful in an article unless you want to share your contempt for the subject(s) of the article with your readers. It can be incredibly cruel sometimes to report what someone says, if the person is a complete fuckwit. Just because McGrath doesn't say everything you (we!) think about his subject doesn't mean he isn't basically crafting a piece in which that's the only possible response.

I think it's a brilliant piece of character assassination.

In the next edition, Dan should insist that "one in the same" be changed to "one and the same".

I love Boykins.

I was going to skip that article because it seemed like a gruesome exercise in fellatio (like most of any 'style' issue) but I have to say Chris makes a pretty compelling case: It is always a pleasure seeing boobs just be boobs. [Insert Acocella joke here]. I'll just pretend his name is Steve Curry.

You know, I giggled on and off for half an hour at one of the first paragraphs in the piece: "He imagined a classical Athenian village - updated - in which four-stars restaurants and art galleries could share space with locally run fish shacks and pool halls; with great public plazas, where Op-Ed columnists like David Brooks and Thomas Friedman might gather to discuss anti-terrorism strategy with Zakaria and Rose, and then join Moby and his friend Michael Stipe for a concert on the beach . . . "

There's nothing too subtle here. Putting Thomas Friedman of all fucking people in the entire world in your fantasy paradise is about the tackiest thing you can do, and even people who don't detest Friedman as much as I do should be able to see that. It's like buying a georgeous 300 year old Venetian nobleman's estate on the outskirts of Padua and then sticking a big fat garden gnome out in front of it.

I hope Chris is right. I did consider the possibility, of course. After all, I did more or less the same thing in my NYer profile of Judith Reisman. But there are a few things that nag at me, not least the bizarre and seemingly straightforward opinion, in McGrath's own voice, that BC is not self-important. Does nobody else agree? Either way, I'll continue to hold McGrath in high esteem, but if I can be persuaded I'm wrong, I won't have to feel so disappointed in him.

Actually, that's a good point: he did say that the guy isn't self-important. Huh. I suppose it depends partly on how duplicitous you think McGrath is willing to be in poking fun at someone.

A polite inquiry about his actual intentions might make for a funny letter to the New Yorker, but I'm far too lazy to take the trouble.

Seems like everything always comes back to Oberlin.

Typo wonkery: that's Richard Mei_e_r, if it's the architect you have in mind.

Whatever McGrath's intentions, every single person in that piece made me nauseous.

I feel like the universe is a worse place for knowing that Fareed Zakaria thinks Florida is too cold.

On the other hand: 'Funiculars are for old people.'

The New Yorker article obviously recognized that Curry and the others would likely strike many as arrogant, elitest and, most probably, on to a terrible business idea (constant rain, a local mayor determined to extort patronage from the gringos, even a highway that has to be relocated!!, c'mon). That said, I'm sure Curry has some charm and real ability and, to tell the whole story, McGrath needed to present all facets, so of course there are favorable comments, like the "least self important" remark and others.

I thought Boykin was a major asshole too. he isn't doing anythign different than the lumber barons and oligarchs did in the 1880s. Too much money, too little class.

I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt --it's absolutely flat deadpan. When I read the piece I thought it execrable. So bad I did a google on it and came to this commentary. I have never done that before; I had to find out more about something so seemingly awful.

But there are too many clues which show he is having a laugh. I mean, "4th generation Palm Beach aristocrat"? There is no 4th generation wealth in America. By this time everyone is back in the trailer park.

Maybe the utopia in this is that when the place is finished, the denziens will all be there.

Wow, there are a number of attacks here, some warranted, some factually incorrect, and some that are matters of opinion.

Most annoying is that my wife thinks the entire thing is hilarious and occasionally on-target.

I disagree, but in the interest of time and space, I'll just focus on two points:

My dentist comment was an off-the-cuff note to a couple of people that seemed funny at the moment - could have said lawyer, investment banker, yuppie, whatever. If I read the same line coming from someone else I would think they were a jerk, too, so I don't expect forgiveness on this one. Just noting for the record that I welcome dentists, especially my own, and there was no snobbery - just a desire to have a community that is more varied than a typical gated resort filled only with people like myself.

Second, Radosh implies that I called Dominicans incompetent. In fact, I was referring specifically to the previous administration, whose corruption and misguided policies destroyed the DR's vibrant economy and took the nation to the verge of collapse. As anywhere, some Dominicans are evil and incompetent, and some - including several of my co-investors and the entire executive team - are great. My dentist quote earned its disdain fairly, but Radosh is distorting this one to fan the flames and for comic effect.

In any case, I hope that in five years some of you will come down, look around, and decide it isn't all so terrible after all.

- Boykin

Still a douchebag.

Hey Boykin-
Where next? I hear that Vietnamese real estate is going cheap. You can even teach the "happy" natives to drive a golf cart.But they may not have nitrous oxide or novacaine so maybe you better rethink the dentist thing...
Need a special ed teacher? Maybe I could go. Never know- your little celery sprouts will be soooooo dysfunctional they may need me in about 11 or 12 years.

I have a higher opinion of a dentist "who got lucky in the stock market" than of a man who got hired by his mommy and daddy to manage money and who's married to a socialite who got hired by her mommy to pick wallpaper and carpets (not to mention that she's named after a vegetable). These people are not even creative enough to choose their own jobs. Why on Earth would a creative person want to spend time with these condescending and shallow snobs is beyond me.

"The forecast called for rain, however, and Curry postponed the launch. ("A whole day of rain is unusual in the D.R.," he wrote, in an apologetic e-mail to the cast.)

This paragraph made me laugh. Santo Domingo has an average of 110 rainy days a year, and the north coast, where "utopia" will be located, is about twice as wet. So whoever put down a million dollars expecting sunny beaches and blue skies, should try to get their money back.

well, I'm from DR and I can bet you this....there will be no solid rain for 20 years like you want, I can bet even this...it will rain maybe 20 times during the whole summer (and summer here is 9 months) and another thing, I met Boikyn...soooo not everything you wrote here. don't mix the stuff that happened with your book with the DR Project...that is going to benefit two comunities of people that don't have jobs, families starving, young people doing nothing because there are no oportunities...to write something you have to analyze everything involved, guess you just missed this part.

The Nature Sounds Society would be happy to mount an expedition to inventory the natural soundscapes of La Playa Grande before they're degraded by development. We're not only talented and productive, we're peculiar enough to be amusing, too.

Despite a very privileged upbringing, Boykin is a pretty down-to-earth guy, funny, and very, very smart. It's only after he started dating the fourth-generation Palm Beach aristocrat, who only wears designer clothes because she wants "to feel special," goes by "Celerie" because it's so WASP and precious (her real name is Cecilia) and would have never as much as looked at Boykin if he were a brilliant middle-class professional, that he started sounding like a pompous ass. Too much hanging out with socialites and fashionistas will do that to anyone, but I sure miss the times when he ate his vegetables instead of dating them.

In any case, Celerie's followed every single one of her mother's footsteps and I'm sure divorce won't be an exception. I give them five years. A man who wants to change the world shouldn't have a spouse whose main (if not only) goal is to decorate it.

Just stumbled upon this page and thought I'd add my two cents, as a non-wealthy, non-aristocratic, non-famous artist-type who happens to know Boykin Curry. I met him about 5 years ago, when he quietly became a patron of my struggling (and unknown) Off-Off Broadway theater company. His help was vital. When our 29 yr-old composer was diagnosed with cancer, he offered his home and hosted a small concert of the songs from her first opera (writing it was her life-long dream). It was the only time she heard the music, as she died just a week before opening night. I know many others who have similar stories of Boykin’s broad and unaffected kindness, his legendary hospitality, and deep generosity.

Boykin's utopia world seems inspiring to me. I am an European Artists from Spain in my late thirties. I worked in the Advertising Agency world - in the Executive side - for many years. Now I am a full time artist although I always painted. I try to see the positive in Boykin's proposal and I believe there is. You need a balance between utopia and how to maintain a business. After all, Starbucks don't give free coffee because it will go under very soon. My point is that this Utopia world should open the doors to artists like me where I made my artist money by painting commissions and my exhibits. Playa Grande could be a great place to network with the other established artists-business owners also, and the other type of professionals, like dentists, financial, banking, lawyers, etc....where the mix of ideas can help the other artists make it to the next step. This way I really feel that the blending from the called snobs by others and the struggling artists could benefit both sides. As an artist, I am also and entrepreneur and I need to make money to pay my living expenses. Artists are as much entrepreneurs as a banker.


Santiago Zarzosa

Boykin's utopia world seems inspiring to me. I am an European Artists from Spain in my late thirties. I worked in the Advertising Agency world - in the Executive side - for many years. Now I am a full time artist although I always painted. I try to see the positive in Boykin's proposal and I believe there is. You need a balance between utopia and how to maintain a business. After all, Starbucks don't give free coffee because it will go under very soon. My point is that this Utopia world should open the doors to artists like me where I made my artist money by painting commissions and my exhibits. Playa Grande could be a great place to network with the other established artists-business owners also, and the other type of professionals, like dentists, financial, banking, lawyers, etc....where the mix of ideas can help the other artists make it to the next step. This way I really feel that the blending from the called snobs by others and the struggling artists could benefit both sides. As an artist, I am also and entrepreneur and I need to make money to pay my living expenses. Artists are as much entrepreneurs as a banker.


Santiago Zarzosa

You're sweetly naive, Santiago. Did you read the article? "Utopia" (actually, to me it sounds more like hell with snobs, but still) is open to struggling artists who can pay the very reduced amount of... fifty thousand dollars.
Just wondering: Do you know any struggling artists who can afford to pay fifty grand to spend some time in the Dominican Republic?


Could someone please provide me with the contact information for Boykin Curry? It's very important matter. Thank you in advance for your help.

Sure, I could be naive but I would rather use the word positive.

You are right about the sum. It is not for every artist to pay such an amount of money. The other thing (could be naive or high risk) is that use the opportunity to go there to invest in the people you will meet to gain that money back with more opportunities from the connections you will make.

But in real life I will not pay that money because I don't have.



We are two Germans and since 10 years we manage a golf business in the Dominican Republic. We know the country very good and the place that Mr. Curry bought is sure the most beautiful place of land which exists inside the country. It is correct that it can rain during the day for 10-15 minutes and in the rain season also for a couple of days but it rains also in Punta Cana. Sorry Tropical Clima!!! You have to stay in July or August in Punta Cana - it is flat, believe me as a foreigner you are looking for cooler weather Playa Grande with the mountains you got always a fresh breeze. Playa Grande is the onliest place where you got great beach, great mountain view and great golf in one place. Also when I decide to buy something or live in the Caribbean at least I like to see the ocean - otherwise where is the point. Playa Grande offer this from mostly any place. Mr. Curry seems to be a smart business man and he is correct that previous administrations didnt developed this area properly but the competition, especially with the big projects on the east coast, are sometimes more important for the local politicans. Especially if owners of this projects are making the decisions in the country. Also I dont see that Mr. Curry take advantage of the Dominican People. To be honest, all the main hotel chains are owned by foreign companies. I heard that Mr. Trump is investing in Cap Cana. This kind of developments should bring the Dominican Republic away from the 80 US$ All-Inclusiv spending tourists. I hope that Mr. Curry is lucky and looks forward to develop the area keeping the beautiful nature and dont see it only as a fast business oportunity as in this case I have maybe to change my opinion.

"But in real life I will not pay that money because I don't have."

Exactly. And 99.9% of creative people in the world are in the same situation. So Playa Grande will be filled with the same people who live in the Upper East Side of Manhattan: people who were born rich and think this makes them beautiful and creative. You might call it utopia but to me it sounds very much like hell, location notwithstanding.

Barf. People like Boykin are the reason foreigners hate us.

I know Boykin Curry too and I can tell you he's as charming, nice, and humble person as you're likely to meet in your life. You're obviously jealous and that's the only reason you make fun of him and his vegetable-named wife.
Boykin Cu--sorry, I mean anonymous.

R. Boykin Curry lives in my building. He's quite known for the huge parties he throws on his equally huge terrace. Eight or nine years ago, we almost kicked him out. If I recall correctly, he wasn't paying his maintenance, and we sued him. He was "this" close to foreclosure. I think that's when he started working for Mommy and Daddy and, voila, financial problems solved (if only everyone had rich parents).

That said, I don't dislike the guy, even if I wish he weren't so "social"--at least not at home. The one who's absolutely horrible is his wife, Celery. She does what my husband calls "the money-scan": she can determine in about five seconds whether you have enough money--by the standards of a Palm Beach aristocrat. If you pass her test, she'll flash those pearly whites and (try to) be totally charming--she probably thinks you might hire her in the future to decorate your apartment. If you don't (and not everyone in the building is filthy rich), she won't give you the time of day. She also works for her mother (of course) and she always carries a ridiculous dog with her. I'm pretty sure she likes her dog better than her kid. If you're going to make fun of Boykin, you really should focus on the Mrs.

As a Dominican i have to recognize and support business ideas like Mr. Curry it's going forward. Because at the main point, it will create jobs opportunities for the locals, and other comunities near to this project. I really don't know the background of Mr. Curry, but, as a young Dominican, i hope this project became succesfull, and gives to Playa Grande, Abreu, Cabrera, the opportunity to develope the way this comunities diserves, and most important, our country.

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