Saul Steinberg's classic will, sadly, always be relevant
Here's an interesting piece from former New Yorker Cord Jefferson about finding a home in Los Angeles, and the blindness many Gothamites have about life outside their own borders:
A year ago, New York's Time magazine said the revitalization of downtown LA could be dubbed the neighborhood's "Manhattanization," as if New York invented the idea of clustering bars and restaurants to attract crowds. A few months later, writing about Pacific Standard Time, a massive multi-museum retrospective of the best in LA art from 1945 to 1980, the New York Times called the collection "overcompensation" from a city "where interest in culture starts and ends with movie grosses and who is on the cover of Vanity Fair." "It's corny," art critic Dave Hickey, who also used to direct the Reese Palley gallery in New York, told the Times of the collection. "It's the sort of thing that Denver would do."
When I moved out of New York, I knew at the time that it was the best decision for my career and pocketbook. Only now have I come to realize how important leaving was for my sanity, as well. Not that I was afflicted with claustrophobia or exhaustion or any of the pseudo-ailments with which so many hypochondriac New Yorkers diagnose themselves. Rather, I'd deliberately forgotten that life outside New York is just as pure and valid as life inside New York, which is a hazard of the City just the same as street crime, and one that's far more prevalent.
On a side note, Denver must've mauled Dave Hickey's family at some point in the past. Sheesh.
While I like Jefferson's piece quite a bit, it's worth noting that rural areas and small/mid-size cities get this sort of crap directed at them constantly, and from more corners.
A few years ago, Asheville got some surprise attention in Charlie Papazian's "Beer City USA" poll. There are a lot of breweries here, and many have gone from backyard operation to success story without the benefit of a major metropolis surrounding them. Good, local beer is an important part of the city's culture, and we're proud of that. So Ashevilleans voted in the poll both to show support and attract more attention to our efforts.
Many in Portland apparently couldn't stand this, to a degree that I found a bit surprising. I understand loving your turf, friendly rivalry, and even a bit of shit-talking. But the bile level got way nastier, with every ugly Southern stereotype flung our direction. Ashevilleans mostly stuck to praising our own city's achievements. The fact fermentation occurs beyond the Pacific Northwest is apparently a deep insult to Portland; Willamette Week's beer writers are still incredibly sore over the whole thing.
If you want a more serious example, take The Stranger's infamously stock-stupid Fuck the South piece or, for that matter, the whole issue from Nov. 11, 2004, brimming with the type of dismissiveness I'm talking about. The cover even proclaims "You live in the city. A big city."
Good for you.
But with its columns cheerfully hoping that Southern children will blow their brains out, it just contributed to a pile of old, burning resentment. Millions of Southerners hated George W. Bush, and probably had similar political positions as The Stranger's staff. Those same people even actively worked against the president's policies without the comfort of living in a state where numbers were always on their side. I'd wager every last one of them, upon seeing that issue, immediately thought "fuck you, Yankee." Not exactly a recipe for understanding.
The South isn't the only area that gets the crud end of this arrogance, and that old issue of The Stranger is far from the only example, just an unusually concentrated one. The pervasive stereotypes about any place outside a major metropolis make it difficult to discuss real issues of poverty and neglect because "the hicks deserve it." On the cultural front, the same blind prejudices mean that new voices emerging from anywhere but the same old places are largely ignored.
I adore New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many other big, established cities. I can see why people I care about find them places worth fighting for. I respect their accomplishments. But that doesn't mean people aren't also finding the "pure and valid" lives Jefferson describes elsewhere too.
Personally, I find a rare opportunity in my small city's hunger to define and advance its identity, and I like the fascinating hybrid it's creating in the process. The world is a big place, and it's a good thing that there are many people in many areas trying different possibilities. "Learn from each other" works. "Stay in your enclaves and mock" is stupid. Always.