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.

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