Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Flyover Country

In February's issue of Vanity Fair, author A. A. Gill describes his trip to the Cincinnati area to visit the Creation Museum. The Creation Museum, Gill says, "isn't really a museum at all. It's an argument." It boasts huge, elaborate displays of dinosaurs riding Noah's ark and seeks to explain how fossils, ostensibly 10 million years old, are actually only a few thousand years old.

To Cincinnatians, the museum (and I use that term loosely) is a curiosity, like Miss Emily in Faulkner's classic story. We suspect there's something strange there--a corpse in the attic, perhaps--but no one's really being hurt.

What made Gill's article so offensive wasn't its ridicule of the museum. I get a little uncomfortable when questioning someone or something based on faith alone, but any place that charges its patrons money and then stretches and denigrates science should be subject to challenge and criticism. No, what was most outrageous about the article was the ridicule he reserved for the people who make Cincinnati their home.

Gill begins, "It's not in the stoic nature of Cincinnatians to boast, which is fortunate, really, for they have meager pickings to boast about."

Huh? Blogger Kate the Great responded best when she listed a plethora of cultural and entertainment opportunities in the Queen City and favorably compared a Cincinnati restaurant to a famous one she recently visited in San Francisco. Also, she made the excellent point that "while Cincinnati ranks 32 in media market size, our metro ranks fourth in the nation in per capita giving."

With one broad stroke, Gill paints an entire region the same color as that ridiculous museum. He seems to suggest that we all believe Moses palled around with a T-Rex. Because when we live in flyover country, clearly we don't understand facts and reason - otherwise we'd be smart enough to move to one of the coasts, where we could pay triple the rent for a third of the space and where our friends would all be as tolerant as Mr. Gill.

While Mr. Gill's piece was just one man's opinion - he certainly doesn't speak for all of Vanity Fair or for everyone from whatever coast he comes from - it struck a nerve. From our libraries to our zoo to our museums and beyond, culture abounds in this city and region. And the people are as varied as our landscape, sprinkled with hills and valleys, parks and forests, rivers and lakes, new homes and old homes. Like any city, we have our knuckleheads and we have room for growth.

We're not a destination city. Kids in other parts of the country don't think "I'm gonna move to Cincinnati when I grow up!" like someone might for New York or Los Angeles. But we have a vibrant community that is on the rise. We deserve to be a destination city. Those of us who grew up here may move away for a bit, but many of us return to the city we love.

I'm already late to this conversation. In fact, Gill's piece showed up about three weeks ago. Tom Callinan sums up the blogger reaction to the article. But it made me angry enough that I had to respond with my two cents.


Sevach said...

Wow. This author reminds me of a certain type of Middle Class Briton over here who spends thousands of pounds a year to take trips to New York or Orlando but then slams the very people who show them--nine times out of ten, they often admit--the kind of unreserved warmth and welcome that is rarely experienced in Britain. British people are friendly and kind, but they prefer politeness over warmth when it comes to strangers.

The whole exchange with the woman in the Opticians Shop--I bet she thought he was a sanctimonious freak! Any one of the latte-sipping liberals I know would have thought that exchange odd, supporters of Darwin or not. Only a pompous shite who fancies himself the bastion of metropolitan culture in the US would use an exchange in an optician's to reinforce his own importance about himself. Good Lord!

Sevach said...

The most galling comments in this piece were references to the visitors in terms of their weight (more likely to overdose on carbs than vanity), their (lack of) education (declaring the scientists who oppose their world view as people who stayed on at school past 14), and the terrible swipe at the Amish (those people dressed like Little House on the Prairie). If any American wants to contest that we have a class system, here it is in all its rather disgusting glory.

Don't get me wrong: I get rather hot and bothered when faced with the stubborn and unshakeable faith of the Creationists and specifically their refusal to engage with science. But on the other hand, it makes me far angrier to see the real ignorance of certain supposedly well-educated people. You are a journalist, and bloody hell, you should know better. But they don't.

george rede said...

Whoa. Some righteous indignation here. Good to see you folks defending your hometown. I've never been there but I'm impressed by your loyalty. I also followed Kate the Great's link to a NY Times Travel piece. Looks like a lot of happening stuff.
Good for you for calling out A.A. Gill and Vanity Fair.

August said...

I try not to get righteously indignant, but I'm a loyal Cincinnatian. You know, me against my brother; me and my brother against our cousin; me, my brother and my cousin against the world :-)