Sticks and stones
Pittsburghers need thicker skins, says Chris Potter. Amen:
But if someone wanted evidence that Pittsburgh is a hick town, they wouldn’t need to hear Miller’s remarks. They could just listen to the city’s response. They could look at the sneering Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headline about Miller’s remarks: “Semi-famous actress dumps on the Burgh.” (What’s this? “One of America’s great newspapers” faulting someone else for having delusions of fame?) Or missives like the following, posted in response to an online Us magazine story:
“[W]alk up to any native Pittsburgher you know and tell them their hometown sucks. After you pick yourself up off the ground, you’ll realize that you don’t mess with [a] ’burgh man.”
Damn straight! We will totally kick the ass of anyone who says we’re unsophisticated. Anyone who doesn’t praise our friendliness should die and go to Hell.
Of course, Pittsburgh shouldn’t be judged by what some steakhead posts online. But there is something typically Pittsburgh about all this outrage.
It is, after all, the flip side to the fetishistic glee we get from positive national attention. We have an unhealthy fascination with what the world thinks of us. Every mention of the city in The New York Times or Forbes inevitably prompts stories of our own, in which reporters cover the coverage. There’s an entire cottage industry in coming up with Pittsburgh “branding statements” and ad campaigns. Actually, it’s not a cottage industry at all: When the Pirates and Steelers sought millions of tax dollars for new stadiums, a key selling point was that they would market the city to the world.
This PR fetish is a local tradition. As David Cannadine notes in his new biography of Andrew Mellon (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), it dates back at least 100 years. During the early 1900s, he notes, the famous Pittsburgh Survey was commissioned to study the city’s living and working conditions. The Survey discovered horrific dangers inside the city’s factories, and an appalling lack of sanitary or human services outside them. But instead of changing the miserable conditions, local leaders tried to downplay them with a PR campaign.
“[T]he local press launched a vigorous counter-offensive, denouncing the survey’s authors as ignorant outsiders,” Cannadine writes; business leaders concentrated on “projecting a more positive image of the city across the nation and attracting new industries.”
Gee, launching a PR campaign instead of getting down to the nitty-gritty of trying to solve the city's real problems. Where have I heard that before?