Friday, December 5, 2008

Sure, we're City of the Year -- but for what?

The magazine formerly known as Gentlemen's Quarterly has named Chicago its 2008 "City of the Year."  Sure, anyone from the hot dog vendors at Sox Park to the ballcap-and-sweatshirt crowd in Lakeview could have told you that.  But GQ's reasons are intriguing because they're both insider, and wildly superficial.

The article focuses immediately on politics, and of course the city's mostly benevolent dictator, Richard M. Daley.  It then moves on to perpetual insider, and now Obama-maker David Axelrod, the Rove of the moment.  But then it derails by picking Jesse Jackson Junior as a reason Chicago is good.  Umm...  Excuse us?  The article notes that he's come out of his father's shadow, and while that's true the only way he made that happen is to adopt many policies that run in direct opposition to his father's legacy.  The elder Jackson wasn't afraid to stand up to the elder Daily.  These days when Hizzonor says, "jump" Junior says, "how high?"  Jesse Jackson can call up WGN-TV and demand to be on the News at Nine whenever he wants (and he does).  If Junior tried to pull that stunt, he'd get laughed at.

Fortunately, the GQ article goes way beyond politics and gives literature as the number three reason the city is so great.  Good for GQ.  A lot of people don't realize that Chicago's literary heyday is not in its past, but in its future.  With the recent death of Studs Terkel a lot of people saw it as the figurative, and literal, nail the coffin of great Chicago writing.  But GQ notes that there are many talented writers still slogging through the gritty streets of the city with rumpled suits and a wad of notebook paper.  Though, these days they've traded their mac coats for Mac computers.  Still, in this age when even Tony Bennett has sold out to the MTV crowd, the pleasures of crisp book have the power to seduce.

And then there's the architecture.  While Chicago was the home of the world's first skyscraper (much to the chagrin of New Yorkers) , and has been a trend-setter from art moderne to Meisian International to 90's McScrapers, and now into the wild blue postmodern, all GQ could find to talk about is the Spire.

Ah, yes, The Chicago Spire -- the hopes of a new generation of architecture fans wrapped up in a shining baguette of technology.  Don't get me wrong -- we're huge fans of the Spire around here.  But GQ's choice of it as a symbol of the city's greatness does Chicago a disservice since anyone who's been following the project knows that it's on hold.  Now thousands of people who see it featured in the glossy pages between impossibly-breasted supermodels and impossibly-sculpted shaving ads will do a quick Google and learn that Chicago isn't everything the article promised.  That the ancestral land of wild onions has its flaws, too.  And that if the article is wrong about the Spire, then what else is it wrong about?  Suddenly all that hard work and goodwill is tarnished, and an opportunity to raise the city's domestic profile is wasted.

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