New York, New York, a wonderful town.
"Go ahead, bite the Big Apple. Don't mind the maggots."
Basically, City Noir
+ Big Applesauce
= The Big Rotten Apple.
New York City
is depicted as a dysfunctional, crime-plagued, vermin-infested, smog-choked, polluted, grimy, sleazy, seedy, corrupt, racially-divided
, poverty-ridden, morally-and-financially-bankrupt Wretched Hive
filled with Apathetic Citizens
, hostile Jerkasses
, violent psychotics
, drug addicts, deviants, a crumbling infrastructure, and not enough parking spots
And the worst thing is, once you've gotten a taste of it, you can't stand to live anywhere else.
The Big Rotten Apple trope can come into play in any story set during the city's existence but you'll most often see it in stories set in New York in the years before the economy began to pick up steam and the nation's cities started to recover (roughly the period lasting from the mid 1960s to the early 1990s). You'll also sometimes see it in stories set in late 19th Century/Gilded Age New York.
It's not uncommon for people these days to feel oddly nostalgic
for this time since, as many commentators note, the city had a relatively low cost of living at the time compared to nowadays
See also Brooklyn Rage
, and the Place Worse Than Death
section for New York.
Anime and Manga
- Mad Bull 34 portrays the Big Apple as a crime-ridden hellhole, where the only difference between the criminals and the police are uniforms.
- In Mobile Fighter G Gundam New York City is portrayed this way, but then so is the entire rest of the planet due to the fact that humanity's "betters" abandoned Earth for space colonies some decades ago, leaving the trashed-out planet to the "have-nots". It ends up being a relatively positive portrayal, as Chibodee Crockett (America's entrant in the Gundam Fight) is a Self-Made Man who came from the Bronx and his example serves as inspiration for his fellow New Yorkers.
- In Daredevil, the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York has this element.
- The Punisher: The change in the city since the 70s and 80s is acknowledged at one point during the "Welcome Back, Frank" story arc when Frank, during an inner monologue, reflects a bit on how the city's cleaned up quite a bit on the surface, but at the core it's still as rotten as ever.
- In the story arc "Kitchen Irish" Frank mocks the idea of gentrifying Hell's Kitchen. Calling it "Clinton" and making it trendy to well-off young people hasn't done anything to make it safer.
- Gotham City is an expy of the darker side of NYC in the Batman franchise. ("Gotham" has been a well-known nickname for New York City long before Batman even came about, and artist Frank Miller has referred to Gotham City as "New York City after dark.")
- Watchmen: Rorschach gives his opinion on the city:
"The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood...Beneath me, this awful city, it screams like an abattoir full of retarded children. And the night reeks of fornication and bad consciences."
- NYX is set in a particularly nasty, crime- and gang violence-riddled part of New York City.
- The fanfic series Ultimate Sleepwalker: The New Dreams and Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light are both set in the same alternate version of the Marvel Universe. This universe's version of New York has both the highest number of supervillains per capita and the overall highest crime rate in the entire United States. It's specifically noted that Rudy Giuliani's law enforcement initiatives were a dismal failure, and the city remains as much of a crime-ridden hellhole as it's ever been.
- The Out Of Towners (1970): An Ohio couple journeys to New York and finds a rundown metropolis beset by crime, ineffectual police, strikes, institutional incompetence, and a callous populace.
- The French Connection follows a couple of 1970s New York police officers investigating and trying to break up a drug-smuggling ring.
- Serpico: Especially as the protagonist of the film and the non-fiction book it's based on keeps getting told that corruption in the NYPD is a matter of a few "rotten apples" rather than "the barrel itself being rotten."
- Death Wish and its New York-set sequels depict a city where violent crime is so out of control that citizens are forced to take vigilante action.
- Taxi Driver: Travis Bickle, a night taxi driver, sees the mid-1970s city as this.
All the animals come out at night — whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.
- The Warriors portrays New York as having an entire alternate society of warring tribes (which includes the police) that only come out at night. There is also a game adaptation showing how the cops are largely complicit in underworld dealings.
- Fort Apache The Bronx is based on the real-life nickname of the 41st Precinct (South Bronx) of the NYPD in the late 70's and early 80's.
- After Hours takes a more absurdist approach to the trope by following the surreal misadventures of a man who gets hooked up on a blind date one night, only to find himself lost in the weird environment of Greenwich Village late at night.
- Do the Right Thing depicts a late 80s Brooklyn neighborhood as a racially charged tinderbox ready to explode.
- Quick Change: the three main characters get so sick of what a shithole New York is that they rob a bank to try and get away from it. The city returns the favour by forcing them through a nightmarish comedy of errors as they try and accomplish what should be the simple task of driving to the airport to make the getaway.
- This trope is employed in Last Action Hero where, after two people are shot dead in the middle of a street in full view of numerous bystanders, one of the shooters shouts to the rooftops that he did it and wants to confess only to be met with apathy by the crowd and one person yelling at him to shut up.
- Joes Apartment. The eponymous hero gets mugged three times in a row. ..Before leaving the bus station.
- Super Fly is about a drug dealer looking to pull off One Last Job and get out of the life. It is set in Harlem in the 1970s. Harlem looks really, really rough.
- This trope can also be seen in films that take place during the 19th century that show the gritty side of 'Gilded Age' New York:
- Gangs of New York mostly takes place in the historic Five Points slum, which is filthy, violent and crime-plagued, ruled over by rival gangs and a corrupt police force. And then the Civil War Draft Riots break out and the area gets destroyed by cannon fire (which really happened).
- An American Tail has a New York ruled over by cat gangs (representing racial persecution in historic New York at the time) extorting immigrant mice with a protection racket. The sequel accentuates New York's negative characteristics to force the Mousekewitz family to move out west.
- Movies set in a future New York that take the hellishness depicted in this trope and multiply it exponentially include:
- Escape from New York: where New York ended up getting so bad by the 1990s that the (admittedly rather fascistic) government just gave up on it, turned it into America's only maximum security prison, and just started dumping all the country's criminals in there.
- Soylent Green: where New York is hugely overcrowded as a result of the global population swelling by 400%. Shortages and civic unrest are endemic.
- The Harry Canyon vignette of Heavy Metal.
- Grim and gritty slasher films such as Maniac and The New York Ripper.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles depicts New York in the middle of a huge crime wave perpetrated by Shredder's Foot Clan, made up of teenage runaways and orphans. The sequels don't have this trope so much though.
- Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. Almost a Bakshi trademark.
- Batman: Anton Furst's Gotham City is New York "if Hell erupted through the pavements and kept on going." It's also inspired by, in Furst's words, "an immigrant's vision of New York City."
- Ghostbusters, its sequel, and the Video Game. Diners at Tavern on the Green ignore a panicked Louis Tully as a Terror Dog possesses him; the combined negativity of the city's denizens manifests as a river of slime; the city is routinely attacked by ghosts of its own homeless and construction-workers...the list goes on and on. Worst of all is the feeling of a city without spiritual direction, and the city's only contact with the other side is mischievous at best and outright malevolent at worst. Subverted in the sequel's climax, when the Ghostbusters use the Statue of Liberty to awaken the good feelings lurking beneath New York's crusty exterior and combat the slime's negative influence.
- In Coming to America, this is possibly invoked. Prince Akeem and his best friend Semmi stay in New York in order to meet an American woman. Akeem insist on staying in a dirty apartment in a rough neighborhood in Queens so people won't realize that he is royalty.
- Horror Movie a Day's review of Red Hook:
"Not since Jason Takes Manhattan
have I seen a film that was seemingly designed to scare people from wanting to go to the Big Apple (oddly, the trailer inexplicably points out that NY has the lowest crime rate of the nation's ten biggest cities). During their first date, our leads go into a convenience store (pretty much the first time we see them leave the school) and instantly the place is held up, with the robber and clerk ultimately shooting each other. Then she is mocked for being upset, as if a NY resident should be used to people being shot to death right in front of them whenever they walk out the door. All clerks that they encounter are jaded assholes, and every place they visit looks like a hellhole. I mean, the scavenger hunt was actually designed as a real one for new students — shouldn't he have chosen landmarks for them to visit in order to find clues instead of closed down dance studios and anonymous seedy bars? And even odder, when one girl is killed, her body is left in plain sight on the sidewalk for a good chunk of time, undisturbed, which just suggests that a corpse is nothing unusual in the city."
- In Saturday Night Fever 1970's New York is full of youth gangs and the subway is covered in graffiti (that is Truth in Television). The only escape from it for Tony is disco.
- Briefly touched upon in Godzilla Final Wars. There is one scene where a gaudily-dressed gangster type pulls a gun on a cop for trying to get him to move his car while a drunk guy cheers him on. And this is before the city gets attacked by Rodan.
- Though maybe downplayed compared to other examples, Enchanted does use New York as a backdrop for the more cynical real world vs the fantasy world of Andalasia.
- The Bonfire of the Vanities: 1980s New York at its most divided and dysfunctional.
- Made fun of in the beginning of Mostly Harmless, which proceeds to outline all the ways in which New York is a terrible place to live if you care about your quality of life.
- In Animorphs The Familiar, Jake wakes up in a dystopian, Crapsack World version of New York where all of humanity has been enslaved by the Yeerks and the only free people are an underground group of rebels.
- In Big Trouble by Dave Barry, there's a suitcase-sized nuclear bomb is on the loose that CIA agents explain the True Believer intends to blow it up in the middle of Times Square (the book was written pre-September 11th), which prompts one character to remark it wouldn't be a big loss.
- Lyndsey Faye's novel The Gods of Gotham, is set in mid-nineteenth century Manhattan like Gangs of New York and follows one of New York's first cops whose beat is in the squalor and poverty of Five Points.
- Hubert Selby Jr.'s Last Exit to Brooklyn portrays the titular borough in the late 1950s as a Wretched Hive of prostitutes, drag queens and criminals. It was quite shocking when first published in the early 1960's.
- In Coda, the dystopian city the book takes place in is a future New York.
- In Those That Wake, ever since Big Black, New York has not been a nice place to live at all.
- In The Dark Half, in a scene set in New York, it's mentioned that New Yorkers lock their doors instinctively:
Maybe you only locked up when you were going away on vacation if you lived in the sticks, and maybe you forgot to lock up once in awhile when you went to work if you lived in a small city like Fargo, North Dakota, or Ames, Iowa, but after you'd been in the maggoty old Big Apple for awhile, you locked up even if you were just taking a cup of sugar to a neighbor down the hall. Forgetting to lock up would be like exhaling a breath and just forgetting to take the next one.
- In the present day of the Star Carrier series (the early 25th century), New York is an abandoned, largely lawless slum after it was abandoned due to being inundated by a hurricane and rising sea levels in the late 21st century. It and other flooded areas along the East Coast, the "Periphery", became havens for those who didn't want to be found. Periphery restoration efforts are shown underway at the end of book three.
- In The Memory Wars, New York starts off this way, having been secretly ruled by supernatural predators for years. Of course, that's before Nathan Shepherd gets involved.
- Alluded to in The Man Who Brought The Dodgers Back To Brooklyn, since it is partially set in the New York City of the 1980s, but it's also hinted that the Dodgers' return to Brooklyn helps end this. The narrator mentions that crime rates actually fall in Brooklyn during the book's version of the 1988 World Series.
- Barney Miller takes place during the 70's and early 80's. The bureaucracy, high crime, and perpetual budget crisis make for great comedy and occasional drama.
- Late Night with David Letterman and Late Show: Before September 11, 2001, the opening would have the announcer make some disparaging crack at about the city ("From New York, where the subway cars smell like urine, it's The Late Show with David Letterman!"). Post-September 11th though, every episode begins, "From New York, the Greatest City in the World...."
- Saturday Night Live: Since the show airs from New York, it has often invoked this trope during much of its run.
- For a short time during the early 80s, the opening credits announced, "From New York, the most dangerous city in America, it's Saturday Night Live!"
- A sketch from the 1990-91 season featured guest-host Joe Mantegna as an oblivious city official being interviewed on a radio talk show who deflected caller complaints about the city's increasing crime rate (including one from a caller who was mugged and assaulted as he was waiting on the phone) by pointing out where else could they see great Broadway shows like Cats.
- The BBC America series Copper is set in the same time and place as the film Gangs of New York (a few months after the Civil War Draft Riots), so it deals with the same rotten apple.
- Detective show Cagney & Lacey derived much of their drama from being in the Rotten Apple in the late 70s and early 80s and the various conflicts, gang turf wars, and poverty related crimes formed the bulk of the station's workload.
- A background theme of Mad Men is the decline of New York City during the 1960s. In season 2 (set in 1962), 22 year old Peggy's biggest concern about riding the subway alone at night was that the bamboo seats would ruin her stockings. In season 6 (set in 1968), sirens play in the background of almost every scene, the Drapers' Upper East Side penthouse is robbed, and Peggy's boyfriend is stabbed while waiting at a bus station near their home on the Upper West Side.
- Lampshaded in a season 4 (set in 1965) episode by Joan and Roger. They go to a diner that they used to frequent back in the 1950s (also on the Upper West Side) and note how much seedier looking its gotten since the last time they went. Of course, that dinner ended with Joan and Roger getting mugged.
- Law & Order. The early seasons of the original series particularly embrace this trope, to the point where it's practically a time capsule of what the city looked like at the early-1990s. There are lots of slums and crack-houses, political and civic corruption, social and racial tensions and overworked and underfunded cops and district attorneys about the place, and everything looks pretty grungy and worn down. Since the series is a Long Runner that lasted for twenty years, it's also a good way of charting New York's gradual transformation from this to the city cleaning up in the 1990s under Giuliani to 21st century gentrification.
- Night Court Played for Laughs, as the courts have to deal with a non-stop parade of prostitutes, petty thieves, muggers and grifters to the point that criminal courts have to run around the clock just to keep up.
- MAD in the seventies and eighties liked to make use of this.
- Billy Joel's song "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" is a partially-satirical vision of what might happen if America just plain gave up on New York City and ordered it to be completely demolished. The tone shifts throughout, but the second verse mockingly suggests that some places, namely 42nd Street and Harlem, might be none the worse off for it.
- Word of God is that the album cover of Billy's 52nd Street was photographed in a setting (the dingy, weatherbeaten walls of a New York City jazz nightclub) to reflect both the jazzier sound of the music (Billy's holding a trumpet, like a jazz musician), and the time period it was recorded in (late 1970s, around the time of "Son Of Sam").
- Shattered by The Rolling Stones (quoted at the top).
- Also to some extent "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)".
- "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Dirty Blvd." by Lou Reed.
- The whole New York album, really.
- "New York's Not My Home" and "Box no. 10" by Jim Croce describes New York as a wretched, depressing place.
- The Message by Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five, which was about the pressures of living in the inner city. It's taken further with New York, New York, which explicitly names New York and all the crime and poverty: having to eat dog food to stay alive, homelessness, criminal insanity, single motherhood and abandonment, stick-ups, prostitution...
Too much. Too many people...
- Let's Go All The Way by Sly Fox:
Living in New York
Looks like an apple core
- Foreigner: "Long, Long Way From Home" is about leaving a small town for "the apple in decay" and winding up alone in a sea of millions of people and longing for home.
- A video for New Order's "Confusion" shows New York as it existed in 1983, including graffiti-strewn subway cars and a Times Square full of porno theaters.
- The Lonely Island song "I Run NY" mocks this; it is sung from the perspective of New York's mayor and his complaints get progressively more mundane as the song progresses (at one point he nearly cries because the Chief of Police mocked his tie).
- Fear's "New York's Alright if You Like Saxophones" is about this. Each line of the song begins with "New York's alright if..." and then mentions various unpleasant things, such as being pushed in front of the subway, being mugged or murdered, having drunks in your doorway...and liking saxophones.
- Bob Welch of 1973's Fleetwood Mac lineup gave us "The City": a smart blues rocker that included analogies such as the following:
It's A Prison without walls...
It gets so bad that I stop breathin',
and the sun don't wanna shine.
- In a column he did in retaliation for a New York Times piece on Miami being a crime-ridden druglord paradise, Dave Barry tells of researchers from New York asking people why people didn't like New Yorkers and being told everyone was so rude. "Then the researchers spat on them."
- Bill Hicks riffs on this a couple of times.
I'm from Houston, Texas originally, I moved up here a year ago. The first thing I noticed when I came here was the homeless situation. Now I'm no bleeding heart, okay? But when you're walking down the streets of New York and you step over someone who, I dunno... might be dead, do you ever stop to think, 'wow, maybe our system doesn't work'? Does that push a memory bubble up out of you? If there was only a couple of bums I'd think 'well, they're just fuckin' bums,' but there's THOUSANDS of these guys. I'm running a bum hurdle down the street. It's the hundred yard bum hurdle.
- The small press RPG Fates Worse Than Death posits a "street level cyberpunk" future where Manhattan has gone bankrupt. Anyone who lives in the decayed, dangerous island either commutes in from heavily-secured suburban communities, is a natural thrill-seeker, or is just too damn poor to move out.
- This trope appears in Shadowrun's backstory: As the crime rate continued to rise across the US into the 90s and 00s (unlike in Real Life where they promptly began falling), New York City became crippled by internal strife. In 2012, the teamsters went on strike and the ensuing food riots made sections of the city descended into anarchy, leading to the Seretech Decision when rioters attacked a medical lab and corporate security responded with deadly force. Then, the city was flattened by an earthquake. The rebuilt New York City featuring in the current game-verse averts the trope.
- Both the theatrical and film versions of Jules Feiffer's pitch-black satire, Little Murders, feature an over-the-top depiction of New York as a decaying urban hell-hole beset by continual garbage strikes, electrical outages, and numerous unsolved random murders.
- Grand Theft Auto:
- Although the series as a whole is commonly known for depicting fictional counterparts of New York City, Liberty City, as vice cities, the Grand Theft Auto III version of the city evokes this trope the strongest by portraying itself as "The Worst City in the World" with heavy pollution, rampant crime fueled by a menacing new drug, widespread corruption, increasingly militant tramps, and no tourist industry to speak of. Grand Theft Auto Advance even portrays the city as having been hit by bubonic plague. In the Turn of the Millennium.
- Grand Theft Auto IV toned it down somewhat, given that it's based more on the "cleaned-up" New York of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg rather than the Wretched Hive that it was in The Seventies and The Eighties. Of course, this means that this trope has been replaced with stereotypes of modern New York, such as the city's gentrification into The Theme Park Version of itself, its "nanny state" attitude to things like guns and junk food, and its post-September 11th police presence.
- Max Payne takes place in an Anachronism Stew of seventies-era Manhattan — when the city was a throne to vice and grunge — and the slick corporatism of modern NYC. The mob is so powerful that it controls the police and the press, and Aesir Pharmaceuticals controls the mob. Even with Max's efforts, it hasn't gotten much better by the time the second game rolls by.
- The Nostalgia Chick seems to agree that NYC is rotten but loves the city anyway, as movies that depict it as clean always draw her ire, and the insults in "Fairytale Of New York" make her nostalgic. (She was in Los Angeles at that point.)
- Thanks to the worse economy, New York City in Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72 goes bankrupt in 1975 and has its finances taken over by the federal government, on top of all the other problems that it faced in The Seventies. Things are no better The Eighties, where it gets taken over by Mayor Spiro Agnew, of all people, who institutes a policy of walling off the worst ghettoes and arming the NYPD with belt-fed machine guns and other high-powered military hardware.
- The Simpsons: In "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson" episode, Homer tells about a previous visit to New York during the 70s when this trope was in full force. A pickpocket stole his wallet, a police officer stole his suitcase, a pigeon stole his hot dog, Woody Allen dumped garbage on his head, and he got chased through the streets by an angry pimp until he fell in a sewer.
... and that's when the C.H.U.D.s
came at me. Marge:
Oh Homer, of course you'll have a bad impression of New York if you only focus on the pimps and the C.H.U.D.s.
- Manehatten, as seen in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Rarity Takes Manehatten", is glorious at first glance but is outright stated to have a cynical, corrupt side and that everyone is out for themselves. This is quickly proven to be quite true.
- Frequently Played for Laughs on The Critic. In fact, in one episode, when his parents were presumed to be dead (they're plane actually got lost over South Pacific and they were stranded on a deserted island), Jay decided to use the money from his inheritance to clean up New York City. His efforts ended up being all for naught when the city threw a parade in his honor and they ended up trashing it again.