Cleveland Uber Alles

Untimely Dispatches from the Neighborhood of the Unrepresented & Inarticulate; Anecdotes that Pedal and Coast Through the Boot-Print of 20th Century American Urbanism

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Disbelieving in Cleveland Some not so astute commentators are beginning to weigh in on Cleveland’s efforts to refashion Baltimore’s Believe! campaign to suit its own brand of post-industrial, urban malaise, and at least one commentator, writing a response to a local weblog’s assertion that the city doesn’t need a slogan at all, has managed to note the primary thought disease of which the Believe in Cleveland!® advertising campaign is merely a symptom: namely our city’s oft psychoanalyzed inferiority complex. Contrary to the conventional thinking about our region’s “quiet crisis,” however, Cleveland Uber Alles asserts that this so-called inferiority complex is, if not merely the result of the middlingness of our city’s commentators and boosters themselves, then probably the result of the fact that so many Clevelanders’ with media podiums (including little ones, like this blog) are the progeny of white, immigrant forbearers who either didn’t have the good sense to buy low and stay put on the East Coast over a half a century ago or lacked courage to strike out for territories West, where they might have made a real fortune, had they the gumption or the smarts. But they didn’t, by God, these Vitos, Sergeis, Stanislavs, and so-ons; instead, they stayed put, full of their peasant village-bred fears and doubts, tethering themselves to the first mill, or foundry, or assembly line that promised them three starchy square meals a day, plus a buck or two for time to forget the whole thing in the tavern afterwards. Oh, our fathers, our fathers’ fathers and our fathers’ fathers’ fathers—we blame them, we do, all of us young would-be Cleveland media and advertising professional types, who’ve either already missed our non-existent big breaks or who feel we must move, as Bill Stern, the lament-filled founder of the Believe in Cleveland campaign said this morning on WCPN, “to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York”—for a chance to buy the right brands from their flagship stores and stride confidently to work in our dry-clean-only clothes on our way to perform the superficial duty of retelling the rest of us what the authorities would like us to think. And this, friends and fellow citizens, is a self-hating blame: minus the soppy stories about “hoping to find streets paved with gold” and “enduring for the promise of some better life,” we want to run away from the world of these poor immigrant forbearers of ours in much the same way our parents or our grandparents did, changing their names to something, well, a little more American, and fleeing the old city ghettos to for the suburbs, where it would be easier to keep up with some imaginary Joneses than to hold together a community. And it’s hard, really, to pity second, third, or fourth generation kids who cried about the reeking food our grandparents tried to feed us—for our own good—which, along with the panicked lessons of their Old World to New World deprivations, were supposed to teach us to just how much the odds were stacked against us, just how much the score favored the WASPS we’d want to emulate and want to emulate still. Yes, it’s hard to sympathize with kids like us who just wanted to go home to our safe little plots of land where the white flight had taken our parents, who just wanted to drive away from our grandfather’s house with the tomatoes he grew out back safely stowed away in the trunk and a bag of McDonald’s sweetening up the air of the family wagon. These people—our grandparents and their parents—had been foolish enough to believe Cleveland was a boomtown (wasn’t John D. Rockefeller buried here, after all?), and if they didn’t buy that the boom meant anything was possible for them and if they couldn’t recall the best hopes that were supposed to find them after the delousing on Ellis Island, then perhaps they were just plain lazy or weak, or perhaps they’d simply given in to the possibility that they might have earned a little respite from all their struggling, when any fool then or now could have told them that American Capitalism rewards manic, insomniac striving only. Ah, these past generations, whom we both complain against and love with each new plea for belief—ah, those people who Polkaed down 185th St., who funded those Catholic Churches that still draw holiday crowds from the suburbs, like the Hungarian Church on once beautiful Buckeye! Were they so wrong to wish for a little bit of peace and rest? After all those long days laying bricks, wheelbarrowing hither and thither with the materials that build the city that stands around us, didn’t they deserve to do just what they did? They broke their backs unloading ore from barges so that we could complain that the bars here suck; they picketed for days outside a plant that once made Army tanks so that we could tout the arrival of 300 luxury housing units as a cause celebre and reason to hold firm in our conviction that this city is a home for all of us (Click on the Hanford Dixon Ad for Real Audio Stream). All right: We believe. It’s not just that those who seek to remedy the city’s discomfit with itself aim so low, trading a real history of working to build prosperity for the community as a whole for McMansions for the few on our should-be public waterfront; it’s that these people deny the reality of the city itself, in favor of a fiction that merely serves the interests of the very people who are responsible for the reprehensible state of the city itself. The people behind the Believe in Cleveland! plan, like Bill Stern and Plain Dealer publisher Alex Machaskee, are white, and so are all of the various people blathering about what the campaign might mean to the city--the writers at the PD, Crane's, etc. who are making their little living reminding Clevelanders (who are so happy stuck in the past) of that cute little Cleveland is a Plum ad campaign from the late 1970s. That campaign, Stern himself explained this morning on WCPN, was really Cleveland business leaders talking to themselves, posting ads at La Guardia airport, lest Cleveland professionals deplaning there might not forget that their home wasn't so bad after all. So it is with this Believe in Cleveland! It doesn't seem to matter that according to the 2000 census over 58% of the city’s residents are minorities--as usual no one is bothering to ask them what to believe in. And when the likes of Bill Stern talks about reasons to be hopeful about the future, he doesn't have these real Cleveladers in mind anyway. Instead, he's talkng about "that 23 year-old kid who's just graduated from Case" or some other such Richard Florida inspired, Rise-of-the-Creative-Class crap GenX type whose coffee house laptopping is supposed to equal a thriving economy. There's talk about still more luxury apartments on E4th St, talk about night life, but no talk about the beauty supply shops that those apartments drove out and no talk about small business loans to the African and Asian Americans who ran those places and kept jobs in the and money inside community. Talk about wig shops and ghetto nails would be, well, too unglamorous. So, too, would be talk about working to integrate the schools (yet again) and talk about figuring out ways to increase the taxes to pay for education. All in all, what we have here, my fellow citizens, is just another instance of Cleveland's arriving late to some bankrupt thinking that eminates from some other part of the country. In this case, of course, it's Washington DC, where a faith-based government is being relied on for the likes of ongoing war and disaster relief and the message is simply this: The facts don't matter. Believe.

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