Hithering about Town

November 26, 2007

Over time, the different Saladeers have developed their own particular quirks and rhetorical tricks (or simply stolen them from classical figures; my gaze is fixed firmly on you, ‘designed’lateral!). One figure that I’m most guilty of is the use of invented city nicknames to poke fun at a city. The logic: city nicknames are so ridiculous, that no-one will ever notice. That is to say, is there really so much separating “The Paris of the Prairies,”(Chicago) “Metropolis of the Western Reserve” (Cleveland), and “The Paris of the Middle East” (Beyrouth) from “The Dubai of the Disillusioned” (Chicago), “The Manchester of Mid-America” (Cleveland), and “The Singapore of the Somnambulistic” (Manchester, NH)? One would need to be a skilled socio-cartographer, or at the very least a daft wikipedist, to be able to tell the difference.

Still, the most influential of all invented (fake) city nicknames was H.L. Mencken’s moniker for Little Rock, “The Sahara of the Bozart.” The term was introduced as part of a broader essay bemoaning the cultural ineptitude of Southern Society. He wrote,

Virginia is the best of the south to day, and Georgia is perhaps the worst. The one is simply senile; the other is crass, gross, vulgar and obnoxious. Between lies a vast plain of mediocrity, stupidity, lethargy, almost of dead silence. In the north, of course, there is also grossness, crassness, vulgarity. The north, in its way, is also stupid and obnoxious. But nowhere in the north is there such complete sterility, so depressing a lack of all civilized gesture and aspiration. (more and much more)

Though I hate to apeluchier [obs. rare, “to pick faults, carp”] with myself, I must bemoan the fact that I have missed the opportunity to include Mencken’s nickname in any of our coverage of the Little Rock Streetcar. But never fear, Dash is a quick learner, and will not make the same mistake when discussing the the recent babbitry in the Queen City (Charlotte) and The Necropolis of the Neo-Conservatives (New York). Babbitry, by the way, was also coined by the great Mencken, this time in response to the phenomenal success of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbit which critiqued the type of of materialistic, self-complacent businessmen who made up the bourgeoisie (or, as Mencken called it, the “booboisie”). Babbitry refers to any behaviour associated with this type of person.

As for the babbitry itself: Charlotte opened a light rail system with expectations of 9100 daily riders to 60000 riders on Saturday (though most just came along  for the ride), and New Yorkers celebrated the fact that the G will now be included in the rider report card.

The word, and sadly Lewis’ brilliant novel, may be fading, but babbitry still exists.

Ibiteyoureyes was sitting on the outdoor patio of a beach-side restaurant with a bikinied shepicksyournose. We were sipping on some Dos Equis. That’s Spanish for almost pornography. The beer and bikini, both, were good.

Then, from the table behind us, a shrieking child. Let it be known that shrieking children do not often annoy me, especially in public places, especially outdoors. I can forgive them for simply being children. But whining beyatch children…Ibitetheireyes.

“Gimme my camera!” he shrieked at someone. “Gimme my camera! Gimme my camera!” Later he made a noise like a comic book superheroine in explosive pain: “Aiieeiiiiiiiiii!” I missed what happened in between those two things, because I was busy stuffing napkins into my bleeding ears (and busy admiring the print of that bikini). Probably the little hooligan had received a light smack.

Fast forward only a few minutes later. The mother of said shrieking child was sending him away to play on the beach and/or to drown. But before he left…

“Gimme my camera! Gimme my camera! Gimme my camera!”

This was actually the mother, shrieking also, and setting a bright, shiny good example for her child.

I bite her camera, I bite her parenting, and I bite the harsh reality of that little boy’s future.

Concomitant yet unconnected bi-coastal strikes by unions in culture producing industries have struck. (Do strikes strike?). Hollywood will assuredly be fine. The behind-the-scenes set constructors and set-dressing “little people” will feel the squeeze on account of the writers, but we’ve come to expect nothing else from the totem that is La-la land. Broadway, the name of a street (!) as well as one of the world’s foremost centers of musical and dramatic theatre has gone “dark” due to a stagehand strike, and precisely at its most crucial time of year for making money (something it generally does little of as an industry). Both sides will lose too much money for the strike to continue much longer according to experts (read:my Dad) and The Times (that’s the New York Times) has reported (breaking news!) that our expert analysis is accurate. This post has been forced to change course in the middle of its creation.  Well, it’ll be the same post just with less potent urgency.
The prospect of the arts without the theatre is frightening. Musical theatre (spelled the pretentious way of course) is a neglected art form deserving of greater respect.  Some have difficulty suspending their disbelief and see individuals bursting into song and choreographed dance routines as campy and absurd.  True, musicals can be trite.  Even masters of the form such as Rogers and Hammerstein wrote musicals such as “State Fair” which define corny.  But to judge the genre in this way would be akin to summing up the worth of belles lettres by only reading Mary Higgins Clark.

Any male in his 20’s who has felt undue pressure to get engaged, be married, and find his worth by “settling down” needs to see a production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”.  It is impossible to not be impressed by the score of “Sweeney Todd”.  I personally have been able to recall much political history at cocktail parties because of “Assassins”.

Classically trained stage actors whose careers begin on the stage often lend their talents to Hollywood to Hollywood’s great benefit.  Sometimes this requires great actors taking roles that are beneath them in order to pay the bills or pay for other projects.  “Mr. Deeds” is a formulaic and silly movie (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and John Turturro is arguably the greatest actor of his generation.  The X-Men trilogy is terrific in my opinion, but to see Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stuart in action is to see Halle Berry and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos outclassed, plain and simple.

Acting can and should be about more than celebrity and entertainment.  Television and movies contribute more than their share of schlock as Ibiteyoureyes has recently demonstrated.  They also contribute plenty that is of value.  The stage has its drawbacks, of course, but the ability of a performer to hold a live audience in his or her hands is God-given and only to an elite few at that.  See how the mighty plastic Hollywood sign/edifice may fall without those trained and reared on the stage, their dignity exploited.  Yet another pyramid scheme claims those at the bottom.