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Jonathan Barnes

I like McCollester's take better than the NYT's Brubach piece, but I don't think Brubach was as harsh as you depict in your post. She said straight out that people here don't care about celebrity and glitziness, and for the most part, that's true. That's one of the beauties of Pittsburgh; it's one of the things that make ex-pats long to come home to the Steel City.

Jonathan makes another good point. I can only add that I was not very clear in the post. I was not trying to characterize the NYT piece as saying the 'Burgh is a shit hole, or in some way exotic. The piece is much more even handed than that.

I meant the "shit hole" part to be a general observation about the way people view Pittsburgh as some kind of exotic local in need of study. A backwater place, strange but somehow intriguing. All these things have a kernel of truth to them, and in a lot of ways locals take pride in the stereotypes. The whole blue-collar mystique, for instance. Yeah, its partly real. But partly not. So no wonder people have a hard time figuring the city out. What makes it even harder is that such things make really good story lines whenever the city's name comes up.

One thing I have been talking to a lot of people about is the fact that the whole Steeler thing is real. By the "thing, I mean the fact that it unites the city. I was in a workshop the other night discussing how it's nearly impossible to write about because as it would come across as so much cliched hackery. But it's TRUE.I ride the bus to Oakland. And people who don't know each other, black and white, rich and poor, start up conversations about the team. And that was BEFORE the playoff run. Seriously, run that storyline past an editor from the New Yorker or some equally sophisticated outlet and they'll laugh you out of the room.

But in Pittsburgh it's real. There really are white-collar execs at who wear Steeler gear and drink in dingy bars. That's the part of the mystique that keeps people coming back for more. That makes people observe the city like an anthropologist from another civilization might.

So some of the "Pittsburgh gawking" is understandable. And good, in a lot of ways. Still, I think it spells trouble for people who try to package, sell or otherwise "brand" the city with an image. Yeah, I know, all city's are too complex for that. But I think Pittsburgh is especially so. Any soundbite is going to leave out a part of it. And almost all editorials aimed at the same thing will come up short, too. And i feel like the piece in the NYT did come up short. Can you say that there is an "chronic inferiority complex"? I suppose. But not without discussing a concurrent and related "superiority complex," along with healthy dose of judgement aimed directly back at those who would even consider judging the city.

Very strange.

Jonathan Barnes

The condescension you're referring to is something of a NYC/East Coast fixation, don't you think?
Pittsburgh is like New York's crazy, in-your-face, hick cousin. They resent us a little, because they don't understand us and can't control us.
--I knew you could.
Sam, if you don't think there's a major inferiority complex in this city, you better look again. It's part of what leads to the silly public policy decisions that you constantly lambast on your blog. That compex also results in companies picking outsiders to run things here, when at least some of the time, natives, or at least current staffers, would be a better choice for the leadership post. Check my latest City Paper rant from a year or so back.

Sam M

I certainly agree that an inferiority complex exists. I see it most strongly in the perverse race to throw as much money as possible at "high end" development in hopes of attracting the creative class types. Nothing wrong with the creative class types. I think (gasp) I might be one, teaching writing to undergrads and all that.

I think that race turns perverse as soon as you have places like Hartford, Connecticut, investing a cool billion to attract the same people, and places like Pittsburgh scurrying to keep up. Creative people are good and interesting and all. But they are not messiahs.

So in a weird way, it seems that the people with the real complex are the ones in charge. The people trying their best to "brand" the city one way or another rather than letting it speak for itself.

On the whole, I think the average guy on the street is fine with Pittsburgh's image. Or doesn't give a rat's ass. Especially now that the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

And these are the people that I consider "Pittsburgh." They are not perfect. And maybe their grand plans would fall flat, too. If they have any. There certainly are some grumpy sorts here who seem to be pining for the return of Big Steel or its replacement. And that seems hopeless to me. But to be honest, despite the fact that everyone keeps talking about these people, I don't see a lot of them around. I see nostalgic people, sure. But very few operating under the assumption that there will or even can be a return of the ubiquitous $28-an-hour union job.

And I think a lot of these people do have a sense of superiority. A sense of "toughness" that they, rightly or not, attribute to the city's blue-collar roots. A sense that other cities of the world are engaged in so much fluffery. A sense, ultimately, of uniqueness.

And this was, without a doubt, a unique place. And to a large extent the mills made it so.

What seems strange to me is seeing ghow this grafts onto the current lay of the land. Yeah, Pittsburgh has, say, Pitt and CMU and UPMC. But other places have Notre Dame, MIT and Blue Cross. And a whole lot of places have Cheesecake Factories.

Where does all this lead? I am not sure. When I am pessimistic, I think it leads to an atavistic attachment to an image of the city that no longer holds, or can't for long. In fact, can any city lay claim to an "image" or "identity" any more? If they can, should they?

But then I slap myself a bit and read pieces like this


that hint that maybe there is something left in the old image.

Jonathan Barnes

Aw, shucks. Thanks for the props on my Super Steelers post. And thanks for linking it.

Susan Beitler

This is such a backward town, and it is full of ignorance and racism. It refuses to grow, period, and I don't see how that is advantageous to anyone. You people are idiots. Supporting sports teams with players who make millions while you make minimum wage salaries, and you have pride in that? Even the players leave when they can get more money somewhere else. Does it feel good to live in the past? Do you enjoy being a cultural anomaly? I pray I can get out of this shithole as fast as possible. There is nothing here for anyone under 40, and by then you are so ensconced in the bullshit that you could care less about anything than drinking beer, going to a job that you hate and devoting precious hours of your time making old stupid cunts rich, and watching millionaires play touch football. The number one place to live, why? I can't figure it out. There are no opportunities for young people, unless you get a shitty associates degree for medical assistant and spend your time watching people die. Who puts any faith in ranking and stats? Are you too ignorant of your own life. "Hey, my life is a piece of shit, but I live in the #1 ranked city." Good, enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe you'll get lucky and they'll put the Steelers logo on your coffin, assuming you can pay for it.

Jonathan Barnes

As we say here in Pittsburgh, Susan Beitler, don't let the door hit you in the ass.

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