In Praise Of: Urban Credentials

There’s an interesting on-going discussion following Sunday’s ‘Treme’ episode about the perennial debate of tourism/nativism of American cities.

What constitutes regional credentials? In Dennis Lehane’s “Gone, Baby, Gone”, Boston private dic Patrick Kenzie asks a purposely flippant question to Boston Police Detective Remy Bressant.  “What kind of name is Bressent?” he throws at him, questioning the cop’s Beantown credentials. “The kind they give you in Louisiana,” he replies.

“Oh yeah,” says Kenzie, ” Thought you were from here.”

“Well,” says Bressent. “It all depends on how you look at it. I mean, you might think that you’re more from here than me, for example. But I’ve been living here longer than you been alive. So who’s right?”

Treme’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” asks the same question, one that I had to answer over at Alan Sepinwall’s blog. First, read his review. My thoughts below:

“My native neighborhood in Baltimore is a traditionally working-class blue-collar enclave that has undergone two distinct waves of gentrification over the last 25 years, one catering to rich shoppers in the Northern part of the city, and another appealing to urban-dwelling hipsters into Charm City’s burgeoning music scene (google Bmore Musically Informed or check out citypaper.com for more info).

One of the first businesses to open in the first wave of gentrification was called Cafe Hon. They’ve grown from humble beginnings to a huge economic engine for the neighborhood, and host the three-day “Honfest” each year (again give a quick google), where suburban women dress up like their grandmothers, donning beehive hairdos and horn-rimmed glasses, and talk in old “Balmerese,” the city’s (quickly disappearing) working-class dialect originally made world famous in John Water’s movies and in David Simon’s “The Wire”.

The festival attracts thousands and infuses a dumptruck load of money into local businesses, but ask an OG neighbor about the festival and you’ll get mostly negative responses. As one old-timer put it “All they [expletive] do is come here and [expletive] make fun of us.” Is the business vital to a healthy local economy? Yes. Does it still feel icky when people make light of your local culture? Yes. These are not easy issues to deal with.

So, I understand both Big Chief’s anger, and Simon’s point. Culture tourism is bound to chafe someone, especially when your not the impetus of the newly established tourist industry. Imagine how, say, the Amish in Pennsylvania feel when a tour bus starts snapping pictures of their buggy? I’ve never seen this issue addressed before, in any medium. I’m glad Simon focused on it. And, as Alan pointed out, provided multiple viewpoints. I even thought the bus driver, from the sound of his accent a native Nola resident, understood the situation and quickly pulled off.

Oh, and go Green Wave.”

Author: Geoff Shannon

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One Comment

  1. What if I’m from Sparks, MD…?