From the NY Times:
New Jersey chic used to have a name: Bruce Springsteen. And that was pretty much it, at least according to the Garden State’s haughty neighbors across the Hudson River, a point that justifiably rankled generations of New Jerseyans. No matter how much New Jersey natives fired back by extolling the virtues of spacious split-levels on family-friendly half-acre lots, or summer beach strolls in Cape May, or even New Jersey’s rich literary legacy (forget Brooklyn Heights; Norman Mailer was from Long Branch!), New Yorkers long took it as a birthright to dump on their neighbors to the west.
As the writer Frank DeCaro put it in this Clinton-era Styles cover story: “New Jersey didn’t become a national punch line — ridiculed as a repository of industrial waste and bad taste — without reason. The words ‘New Jersey’ conjure up sights and smells for many nonresidents of the northern stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike — tank farm after pipeline after brewery.” And that was from a guy who grew up in the town of Little Falls!
Consider the deeper context. As recently as the ’80s, even Jersey natives like Mr. Piscopo, from Passaic, were expected to milk their home state for easy laughs. Remember his Paulie Herman character from “Saturday Night Live”? The whole gag was built around the supposed horror of being trapped with the Jersey-est of Jerseyites in, say, a diner booth as he squawked, “I’m from Jersey? Are you from Jersey?”
The pendulum had to swing eventually, and sure enough, by 1999, the Garden State was in full bloom, according to Mr. DeCaro. Exhibit A: Lauryn Hill, of South Orange, then “the most popular woman in hip-hop,” shouted to a sold-out Madison Square Garden, “New York, let me take you out to New Jersey and bring New Jersey back,” without, he added, “a trace of irony or condescension.”
By that point, the article argued, New Jersey had “captured the attention of moviegoers, readers and couch potatoes alike,” thanks in part to Generation X film directors from New Jersey like Kevin Smith (“Clerks,” “Chasing Amy”) and Todd Solondz (“Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Happiness”), not to mention a certain HBO show involving an angst-ridden mob boss.
It was the dawn of a “post-Springsteen school,” Mr. De Caro wrote, “that has rethought the suburbs as a place of humor, color and intrigue. These works recast New Jersey’s little towns as Peyton Places with secrets in every cupboard, and they raise the question: If the suburbs are so boring, why is this stuff so fascinating?”
It made sense that New Jersey was suddenly embraced by the cool crowd, Mr. DeCaro argued, since seemingly every other celebrity turned out to be from there. A Vanity Fair story from a few years earlier, “Garden State Babylon,” listed more than 120 New Jersey-bred celebrities and influencers, including Charles Addams and Pia Zadora, broken down by turnpike exit. Meryl Streep, Martha Stewart, Bruce Willis, Jack Nicholson, Deborah Harry, Tom Cruise — was anyone super-famous not from New Jersey?
And then there was that little-known comedian from Lawrenceville, Jon Stewart, before he transformed comedy television with “The Daily Show.” No wonder that by 1999, New Jersey had “gone from a private shame to a juggernaut,” as the playwright Paul Rudnick, from Piscataway, was quoted as saying.
Two decades later, those old New Jersey jokes sound as dated as a Bob Hope routine (although Jersey bashing enjoyed a brief renaissance with “Jersey Shore”). Sure, the Nets fled the Meadowlands for Brooklyn. But lately, the real flow seems to be going the other way, as stratospheric real estate prices in New York City have inspired members of the creative class to decamp to the Boss’s backyard to live, raise families and, you know, “create.”
The migration is enough of a thing that Time Out New York ran an article a few years ago, “The Coolest Places in New Jersey for New Yorkers,” that offered Garden State alternatives to New York neighborhoods: Montclair as Greenwich Village; Jersey City as Williamsburg; Westfield as the Upper East Side; and so forth. It was a useful guide for would-be colonizers, surely. But ask any Jerseyite: They really don’t need New York publications to tell them they’re cool, thank you very much.