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There Goes the Neighborhood
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Source: The Industry Standard
July 3, 2000
There Goes the Neighborhood
The dot-com invasion of the Mission district in San Francisco has inspired a
guerrilla response from area artists and, surprisingly, some dot-commers
By Lessley Anderson
When Alex Stroessner's employer, Internet
Devices, was bought by Alcatel (ALA) , he
found himself with a stock-option windfall
of $80,000. Last year he splurged on a
new VW Passat to drive to his new job at
Spinner.com in San Francisco's Mission
One night Stroessner left work and found a
fresh scrape along the side of his light blue
car. His Passat had been "keyed."
He wasn't surprised. In previous weeks,
several of his coworkers at Spinner had
gotten their cars keyed in the Mission, a
predominantly Latin American working-class
neighborhood, where the affordable rents
have long been favored by artsy types and
where dot-com startups are becoming as
plentiful as the neighborhood's taquerias.
For months, a poster attributed to the
Mission Yuppie Eradication Project had
been pasted on the sides of garbage cans, mailboxes, bus stops and
buildings. It read: "VANDALIZE YUPPIE CARS: BMWs – Porsches –
Jaguars – SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES
Break the Glass
Scratch the Paint
Slash Their Tires and Upholstery
Trash Them All
"If yuppie scum know their precious cars aren't safe on the streets of
this neighborhood," it continued, "they'll go away and they won't
come back – and the trendoid restaurants, bars and shops that cater
to them will go out of business."
Since 1998, when a thirtysomething temp worker going by the
pseudonym Nestor Makhno created the first Mission Yuppie
Eradication Project posters, anti-dot-com sentiment has swelled.
Many blame the Internet gold rush for San Francisco's soaring rents,
the "yuppifying" of its neighborhoods and the tacky advertising that
litters the city. The response has been a vigilante attack – from
artists, activists, and, surprisingly, some dot-commers who are joining
Besides the traditional community responses like rallies and
neighborhood meetings, dot-com resentment has taken the form of
vandalism, public art and open hostility. And for dot-commers with a
sense of humor and even the slightest distrust of dot-com overkill,
it's hard not to sympathize with the outcry. The owner of an Internet
PR firm who asked to remain anonymous admits that the ubiquity of
dot-com advertising disgusts even him. "I make a living evangelizing
dot-com messages," he says. "I want to see them in the business
section, but I don't need dot-com-branded coffee cozies. The
messaging is so aggressive – it's ruining San Francisco."
Nowhere is this tension felt more than in the Mission. In the 1980s
this neighborhood became the preferred bohemia for those who
moved in to take advantage of low rents. From predominantly
middle-class backgrounds, having chosen not to take corporate jobs,
these new residents, like it or not, were the first wave of
gentrification that made the Mission safe for yuppies.
But now, the Mission looks increasingly like tony Pacific Heights –
restaurants with valet parking, boutiques selling $100 capri pants in
soft hues and high rents to match. The new face of the Mission
makes funky types feel fussy, and has sparked some of the city's
most intense backlash.
The Mission's popular Beauty Bar is decorated like a '60s hair salon,
with sparkly, salmon-colored walls and cutout ads of women in
beehives – "a sports bar for girls," jokes manager Aaron Buhrs.
For three months after the bar's opening, Buhrs says, the place was
graffitied twice a week with slogans, including "Yuppies Must Die."
"We also had a stink bomb, the toilet tank got kicked in and
somebody lit the garbage on fire," he adds. Most recently a pail of
snails, urine and feces was dumped in the bar's entrance.
Though Buhrs asserts that the clientele of
the Beauty Bar is diverse, he admits that,
generally speaking, it caters to "dot-com
white wealth," noting "there are only a
hundred other businesses that could make
that same claim."
Other reactions are less strident, and come
from artists like 39-year-old Andy Cox, who
conducts "unauthorized interventions in
public space" with his group TWCDC –
Together We Can Defeat Capitalism.
In 1998, Cox bought a video ad in the
city's BART subway system, shown on a
monitor that updates riders on which train
is arriving. It read, "Capitalism stops at
Since then, his art has become more
decidedly anti-Internet. In May, he rented
a blinking highway-display board
programmed with the words "Danger, Digital Divide Ahead," and
parked it in the dot-com-saturated neighborhood of San Francisco's
South Park. Cox's next project will involve posters showing himself
vomiting, accompanied by the message, "If I see another dot-com
ad, I am going to puke.com," which he intends to paste over dot-com
company billboards and posters.
"I started doing this out of disillusionment with the way I saw that
society was heading," says Cox, who is originally from England but
earned his master's degree in art at San Francisco State University.
"Now that the dot-com thing has taken off, it really has a new
impetus; I'm seeing other artists leaving the city and getting
One Mission renter whose building is for sale enlisted theatrical friends
to put on a show when her landlord brought prospective tenants by.
A Butoh dance troupe performed a somber piece while a man wearing
a gas mask and holding a spray can informed visitors that he was
"cleaning up" the neighborhood.
While the wealthy, young Net entrepreneurs who inspire fear and
loathing among San Francisco's counterculture types are often
blissfully unaware of the ire directed toward them, midlevel employees
are not, and this seeming us-against-them movement can be more
accurately described as a case of us-against-us.
For many young professionals, even those with countercultural
leanings, the lure of the dot-com, with its high wages and low
barriers to entry, is hard to resist. Many are getting paid well, but
feel like they're contributing to a culture they ultimately detest.
"It sickens me," says one startup
employee. She describes leaving work after
a recent power outage, along with all the
other Internet workers in the
neighborhood: "Everybody looked the
same! They were kind of tan, [and had]
pastel-color clothes with black shoes and
new haircuts. Do I have to swim in this
river? And yet I am!"
Another dot-commer, describing the
backlash as a war between haves and
have-nots, adds: "The 'haves' have
become so unabashedly unashamed and so
obnoxious with their Porsche Boxsters that
it's almost like this needs to exist to keep
them in line."
Eric Shea, a musician and staff writer for
music search engine Listen.com, laughs
about how his ex-girlfriend used to call him
"Eric.com." That is, until she took a job at
software company Macromedia.
In fact, one of the most ubiquitous anti-dot-com campaigns was
created by a Mission couple going by the pseudonym Sam Lowry.
Until a month ago, they worked in the Internet industry. The couple
came up with a collection of satirical URLs that poked fun at their
industry, and turned them into posters and stickers, including
ButIdon'tNeedMyToothpasteDelivered.com and FuckYouandthe-
The seeds of the campaign were sown when the male half of Sam
Lowry tried to attend a launch party but was met with a line that
stretched around the block. Amazed that people would wait for hours
to get into an industry event, Lowry and his friend began to poke fun
by making up fake URLs and yelling them at the line.
"There's this crazy myth built up in San Francisco about the dot-com
industry and how cool it is and how glamorous it is," says the female
half of Sam Lowry. "How people are moving here and trying to get
into this. We wanted to punch holes in that." In the first few weeks
of the campaign, BlowtheDotOutYourAss.com received so many
visitors that the site crashed. Much of the fan mail that followed was
Even stranger alliances have come of this identity crisis. Listen.com's
marketing manager convinced his company to underwrite a recent
Food Not Bombs Benefit concert in San Francisco, featuring the
bands Fugazi and Sleater Kinney. A Food Not Bombs spokesman told
the crowd he didn't usually like dot-coms, but begrudgingly
acknowledged Listen.com for sponsoring the event. Some members of
the audience wore shirts that read "San Francisco, 1969-1999."
While some struggle with their place in the dot-com world, others are
so caught up in the race that they don't notice it. Kendall Fargo, VP
of corporate operations and services for Beyond.com (BYND) , an
online software retailer in Santa Clara, Calif., says he works so much
he barely spends time at home in San Francisco. When he does, he
notices only the positive effects of the new economy, including youth
and good vibrations.
"I like to see the excitement and passion that seems to be a part of
having people succeed," adds Fargo. "It's creating a lot of new jobs,
bringing the whole world together through one network and allowing
businesses to expand worldwide through electronic delivery of
But for those who don't share Fargo's vision of a digital utopia,
working in the dot-com economy can trigger a mild identity crisis.
Listen.com's writers still joke about the day they were guided through
their stock options paperwork. To illustrate what riches could be
theirs if Listen.com were to go public, the consultant bubbled, "Then
you can buy that sports utility vehicle."
She used the example a few minutes later. The writers looked at
each other and laughed uncomfortably.
Finally, Sean Garrett, Listen.com's communications director, pleaded,
"Could we use another example? How about, like, a really cool guitar
and amp or something?"
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