The Biggest References to Westchester in Pop Culture in 2011

It’s written somewhere in the Blogger Handbook that we all must reflect upon the previous year with some sort of top-ten list. And so, as in years past, I bring you the biggest references to our area in 2011.

10. The County’s Stealthy Stand-Ins
It’s not quite a reference, but almost: Twice this year, the county got its close-up, and didn’t get credit for it. I recently mentioned that White Plains and Greenburgh stood in for Mercury, Minnesota—a one-horse town outside of Minneapolis—in Young Adult. Earlier this year, portions of Peekskill doubled for Depression-era Pasadena in the critically acclaimed HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce. Chilly climates or sunny with palm trees, in modern dress or period garb, Westchester is one of the most versatile actors working the screen today.

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9. They Might Be Giants’ Authenticity Trip
This barely made it on to the list, because They Might Be Giants isn’t the most mainstream of bands, and the reference they make isn’t on a proper album, just a collection of B-sides and rarities. But the song “Authenticity Trip” makes multiple references to one of our hometown heroes: Ichabod Crane. Operative lyrics: “Tonight Sleepy Hollow’s just a few miles away/With dramatic re-enactments and an overnight stay.” I can only imagine that they’re referring to the Horseman’s Hollow. Maybe they heard about it when they played the Tarrytown Music Hall a couple years ago. Hear the reference at 1:41 below.


8. A Visit from the Goon Squad‘s Pulitzer Win
Okay, so A Visit from the Goon Squad came out in 2010, so it really should’ve been on last year’s list. But 2011 was the year it won the Pulitzer Prize—and deservedly so. The novel is a series of interconnected stories about people involved in the music biz, and, one of the characters, Bennie, lives in the fictional Westchester town of Crandale. So many other authors believe that the music industry—the musicians, the fans, the live gigs—lives and dies in the city, I was grateful that author Jennifer Egan acknowledged that yes, people in the ‘burbs are musically aware, too. But even without the local love, the book is pretty terrific and completely deserved to win.

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7. How I Met Your Mother‘s Hurricane Hangout
I know I’ve written about How I Met Your Mother in this space before, but I really appreciate how the show takes the time to get its geographical details right. In an episode about Hurricane Irene, the main characters, who live in New York City, can’t decide if they want to stay and hunker down in their apartments, or flee to a house in Westchester. Their dithering about it delayed them so long that the mayor closed the bridges and they couldn’t leave, but it turned out okay—they were fine, but the house in Westchester was hit by a tree. That seems to be pretty close to the way the hurricane experience actually played out around my area. We spent so much time worrying about our City friends and their evacuation zones, but they never lost power and we were stuck without electricity and a lot of heavy clean-up.

6. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s (Not-So-Great) Shout-Out
Jay-Z and Kanye West are two of the biggest names in hip-hop, so when they teamed up for an album, Watch the Throne, of course everyone would be excited and pay attention. But when they get to talking about Westchester, they’re not mentioning our rolling hills, good schools, or big houses. Instead, they talk about one of the most horrible incidents to happen here in recent years—the death of Danroy “D.J.” Henry, Jr., who, during a brawl at a bar in Thornwood, was shot and killed by police[CC: Might want to say “amidst a brawl outside a bar in Thornwood” or something; Henry was in a car driving away from the scene when he was shot.]. Jay-Z, who is reported to have a house in Scarsdale, begins the song by saying, “This is to the memory of Danroy Henry/Too much enemy fire to catch a friendly.” You can read more below.

5. HBO’s Tragic Recreation
Continuing in the vein of horrible incidents playing out on the pop-culture stage, this year HBO made a documentary, There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane, about Diane Schuler, the wrong-way driver who caused a fatal accident on the Taconic State Parkway. Authorities called it the worst accident our county had seen in three-quarters of a century. While it couldn’t answer the most pressing question of the case—why?—the documentary did shed some light on what had happened that day, and it got generally favorable reviews from critics.

4. Conan O’Brien’s Character Reformation
If you’re a fan of Team Coco, you no doubt have kept tabs on one of his most beloved recurring characters: The Masturbating Bear. (Hey, I don’t come up with these things, I just report on them.) Unfortunately, due to a desire to break new ground for his show (and possibly due to legal issues with NBC), O’Brien hasn’t used many of his usual characters on his new show. But, when he did a one-week stint at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, he took the time to catch up with some of his old characters. And the Bear? Well, according to O’Brien, he’s been living a quiet life in Westchester County, making a living as an insurance adjuster, and commuting to work from the Philipse Manor Metro-North station. Take a look.

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3. X-Men: First Class‘s Exaggeration
Of all the superhero teams, the X-Men are closest to our hearts, because they keep their HQ in “Salem Center,” Westchester County. Whenever a new X-Men movie comes out, I get most excited about seeing how they interpret my hometown. This time, my heart raced when I saw a title card that said “Westchester – 1944″—only to be disappointed when I saw that the Englefield House, an Elizabethan manor in Berkshire, England, was the stand-in for our fair estates. Next time, X-Men filmmakers, bring James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender to the real Westchester (and, um, invite me to lunch).


2. Pan Am‘s Covert Operation
The Scene: An innocuous park bench. A stealthy G-man gives orders to a Pan Am stewardess. She’s been seeing a guy—one who just so happens to have UN connections—and the feds want to know where his sympathies lie. How does he suggest she can get him to open up? By taking him to the one place where he can really let his guard down: Playland. He even gives her the admission tickets.  


1. Suburgatory‘s Imaginary Suburb
The show begins with an overprotective father moving his daughter out of the big, bad city and into Chatswin, a fictional town with a 914 area code. In order to make it a true fish-out-of-water tale, though, Suburgatory indulges every opportunity to make Westchester appear as Stepfordy as possible. Matt Zoller Seitz nails it in Salon: “The ‘typical suburb’ we’re seeing bears little relation to any ‘typical suburb’ anywhere in 21st century America that I’ve ever visited. The hedges and lawns are immaculate. Almost every resident is white. The high school is immense, its facilities handsome and new. The men are mostly metrosexual fussbudgets, one of whom is a strapping blond dude who hangs out by a swimming pool with a Blue tooth device clamped to his ear. All the women look like they’ve been recently exfoliated and tanned in a booth, and both mothers and daughters have implants…I don’t think this show is about what it says it’s about. I think it’s really about a privileged entertainment industry family that makes a mint with a successful show, moves to Beverly Hills and hates it at first, but ultimately fits in fine.”

Any references I missed? Let me know in the comments!

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