Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Chiraq, Chiraq, that toddlin' town!"

This ran in the paper Monday—I had been a little worried that the moment had passed, and was reassured when I noticed my colleague Laura Washington also wrote about the movie, and the Tribune had not one, but two stories in its Monday paper, including a pious editorial hoping that Spike Lee will balance whatever gripping story about violence he ends up telling with ... well, the Trib doesn't quite say. The implication is, with good stuff. Maybe a travelogue of popular tourist spots. Or something about our vibrant convention business. You wonder if they've ever seen a movie.

     Procrastination gets a bad name.
     Such as "foot-dragging." Or "He who hesitates . . ."
     But sometimes waiting can be helpful.
     For instance, last week, a colleague stepped into my office. Would I, he wondered, be taking Rahm Emanuel to the woodshed for his clumsy attempt to pressure Spike Lee into calling his movie about violence in Englewood something other than "Chiraq"?
     I reacted like a child whose ball was snatched away. "But I'm almost done with this!" I pouted, gesturing to my screen, where I was hobby-horsing over risible feminist efforts to put a woman on the $20 bill — sure to be a hot topic on the streets of Chicago. "Maybe Monday."
     The delay provided clarity. On Saturday, Chicago's epidemic of violence flared up again: two dead, 18 wounded in just over 24 hours. With a whole summer to come. (UPDATE: Four killed and 30 wounded in weekend shootings).
     Which drove home the unfairness of "Chiraq," of equating Chicago with the Iraq War.
Unfair to the Iraqi war, that is. An average day there wasn't nearly as bloody as Chicago was Saturday.
     Ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead — an American tradition — U.S. forces suffered 32,223 wounded over eight years of war which, for the math averse, comes out to about 11 a day. That's considered light in Chicago. When it comes to deaths, the city does a little better — 432 murders last year versus 560 soldiers killed every year in Iraq.
Still, nothing to crow about, and it's strange to see the mayor and his aldermanic stooges try.
     Isn't Rahm the guy who was just on his knees, explaining how he's changed and is now listening to people? And I know there are South Siders who resent "Chiraq." But if you polled people in Englewood and asked where on their list of concerns is whatever Spike Lee might call his new movie, I can't believe it would rank very high. Were I the mayor, I would say, "If this movie can dramatize the toll that gun violence takes in Chicago and spur people to change, Spike Lee can call it, 'Take Your Convention Business to Vegas' for all I care."
     Instead we get the same bullying that Emanuel is known for.
     Believe me, I'm no fan of "Chiraq." It's one of those terms like "Chicagoland" or "Chi-Town" that advertise the speaker's lack of connection. ("Chicagoland" is where car dealerships say they're located; "Chi-Town" is something DJs say). Emanuel telling Spike Lee all the good that happens in Englewood is like the mayor of Verona dragging Shakespeare on the carpet to lecture him over "Romeo & Juliet" being bad for business. "Sure Will, the Capulets and Montagues were at each other's throats. But why focus on them? Why be so negative? Why not write your play about the Bonamini and Redoro families? Their olive business turns a nice profit."
     Not that Spike Lee is Shakespeare. But his movies are serious enough art that even a Midwestern Machievelli like the mayor should have enough sense to let him do his thing.
My colleague pointed out something else worth sharing. When people refer to Chicago as "The Windy City," some know-it-all invariably mentions that the term was coined, not due to the lake breezes, but as a comment on the talkativeness of Chicago politicians ballyhooing the 1893 fair. Maybe so. Maybe that's how it began. But people don't still call Chicago the Windy City because of something a 19th century New York newspaper pundit said. People call it the Windy City because — wait for it — it's windy here.
     Facts matter. It isn't all spin. The mayor should not fight Chicago's reputation as a place where people get shot all the time by trying to silence anyone who draws attention to it. The mayor should fight Chicago's reputation as a place where people get shot all the time by — again, wait for it — doing whatever it takes to stop the shootings. Change the facts and the reputation will follow.

56 comments:

  1. repeal all gun laws now

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    1. That's easily one of the dumbest comments I've ever seen.
      And you're such a coward you do it as Anonymous!

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    2. That is cowardly and it's not this Anon. I'm anti NRA-and they have repubs and gun manufact. in their pockets.

      Since I commented on this article yest. elsewhere, I'll say I don't agree with Mark Brown today-if that lady is comabative with police and her own family and the services for the mentally ill can't keep her, then jail is fine, as her dad said. She won't take her meds and is diagnosed psychotic.

      Having said that, Mr. S, who is one of your fave ST columnists, other than yourself?

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    3. (that should be combatative)

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    4. Its not the guns its these young brainwashed children on murder because im brain dead. Where are the parents of these children. Many shootings arent reported. This crap been going on for 30 yrs of my lifetime. Too damn tired of it. How are the drugs getting into the united states? Oh they just show up hugh....get a grip. All the murder dealth kill from 58th to 43rd cottage grove to state oh no dont report this hugh ....last friday shooting at 47th n greenline 3pm then again on sunday.... We have to start policing our own .... by the time police get there just dead bodies... oh n all the caneras that dont see nothing. Just tired of all this useless killing n those doing killing aint got jack to show for it. Round them up send them across water(s) where real killing going on . I bet they cry like a baby. Lord help us all....

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  2. Warning: tangent ahead. The "American tradition" of ignoring foreign civilian deaths Neil refers to is wider than most progressives will admit. Take Iraq: there are plenty of arguments as to why the war was a disaster, but Iraqi civilian casualties aren't one. Why? Because the so-called "containment" of Saddam Hussein - was killing far more. The U.N. estimated that the sanctions were killing 50,000 *children* a year. Those deaths were Saddam's fault: he was diverting much of Iraq's permitted oil revenue to maintain a token army and keep up those 40 palaces he owned and the like, but that was the reality. And after 9/11, nobody in mainstream politics would have even suggested allowing Saddam to rebuild the 4th largest army in the world (one that crossed borders twice within a decade). Remember that many liberal interventionists were urging more military action in the late 90's in-part because of concern about the sanctions and in-part to preserve international law. I'm not saying the war was worth it (the money and manpower alone would have saved far more lives if applied elsewhere), but civilian lives (as well as some other things discussed in the Iraq war authorization) is a complex issue worth a lot more attention than it has received in the war's aftermath.

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    1. Yes, like the lies about our dead in the Vietnam era.

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    2. Well said as usual, AnA.

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  3. Well said. I get so tired of people saying with such certainty that the Windy City isn't about wind. I call these dubious corrections "Actuallies." And the one thing worse than Chicagoland is The Chicagoland Area. Or Drudge using Chicagoland to mean the city of Chicago.
    And can you imagine New York getting into a snit because of a movie about it? I don't think even the peevish Bloomberg would.

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  4. Chicago as Iraq is a cute metaphor but a bad analogy. You can't fairly compare numbers of Americans killed and wounded in the two places without taking into account the comparative populations: about 2.7 million in Chicago vs. an average force level of a few hundred thousand in Iraq. Iraq was a far more dangerous place than any American city, and Chicago, at about 17 murders per hundred thousand, is far from the most risky place to live in this country. And, of course, the "American tradition" of ignoring the manifold Iraqi deaths, a tradition most of the rest of the world doesn't abide by, makes no sense. Saddam was no doubt a bad apple, but, in the prescient prediction of a Saudi diplomat, we opened the gates of Hell in deposing him with no plan to ameliorate the evil consequences. I tend to deplore "Chiraq" less for the damage it will to our town's towns reputation, which will survive it, than because it trivializes our nations greatest foreign policy mistake of modern times.

    Tom Evans

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    1. You make some good points, as always Tom. Though your last sentence surely overstates the case. Unless you define "modern times" as the past dozen years. Think of the competition.

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    2. Granted. Lets say "since the cold war ended." Vietnam ended up a disaster, but the cold war context made it more or less understandable. I like Robert Macnamara's rueful comment: "Everybody was for it until everybody was against it."

      TE

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    3. good points on the math ratio, Tom

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    4. I've heard/read the line "Saddam was no doubt a bad apple" or variations of same a lot from Iraq War critics and I think it's an understatement. Saddam Hussein is estimated to have been responsible for 1,000,000 deaths prior to the 2003 war. He invaded two sovereign nations. He chemically gassed 4,000 Kurds. He openly flouted the cease fire agreement he signed in 1991. He played rope-a-dope with Hans Blix and UN inspectors, and we later learned that this was a gambit to make people think he *did* have WMD's (betting that the US would never actually invade). It's not like he was a two-bit despot and we can be so certain the world would be a safer place if only Saddam had stayed in power and kept up attempts to truly acquire WMD's in secret.

      And if a nation tried to assassinate Barrack Obama today, that wouldn't be an act of war? Does it matter that much if the attempt is on an ex-president (like George HW Bush - this is cited as one of the reasons in the Iraq War authorization).

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    5. and don't forget Cheney, his puppet string puller and war $ to be made at Halliburton

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  5. "Whatever it takes to stop the shooting." Such as?? There's nothing the mayor can do to stop it short of legalizing drugs. The number of murders per100,000 population, the REAL murder rate, has been falling steadily for about 25 years. It's roughly the same as it was in the prohibition/gangster era.

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    1. And we're still trying to shake that reputation off.

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    2. Today's New York Times carries an editorial titled "The Violent Legacy of Chicago's Police." From the damning narrative as well as the enthusiastic "amens" from commenting readers it looks like we've got a long way to go.

      Tom Evans

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  6. One thing that might help is taking the actual murders seriously enough to put sufficient resources into solving them, as opposed to heavy-handed "preventive" measures that do little but engender resentment. I'm right now in the middle of a fascinating book titled "Ghettoside," about Los Angeles homicide detectives. The author makes the provocative point that many big cities don't take black-on-black homicide seriously enough to adequately fund and support the detectives tasked with investigating them, leading to the perception that black lives don't matter and that people in those neighborhoods have no choice but to take the law into their own hands if they want justice.

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  7. I see some lady posters here are ignored. This must be the good ole boys club.

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    1. too much hairsplitting with some posters, trying to out do one another in cleverness

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    2. Too much pointless criticism by some posters. Or at least one.

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    3. Re: "the good ole boys". The large majority of all comments here are ignored. One needn't take it personally, nor as an indication of sexism. : )

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    4. to anon 9:50, maybe you are a bored housewife

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    5. lol, mr. scribe, good one

      mr. jackash , you are too kind

      and I hate when people mean too and they write to, gets on my last nerve

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  8. NS/ do you know Mark Brown, if one may ask?

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  9. Maybe should invite colleagues to post here anon if they wish.

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  10. sounds like a nice place to work with there, with colleagues almost like family

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  11. unfort. some columnists don't have time for blogs

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  12. hope you get a chance to talk to the interesting Ms. Mitchell at times as well

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    1. Talked to her too. She was name-checked in the lead editorial in the New York Times today. So I told her, and gave her my copy.

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  13. "Were I the mayor, I would say, 'If this movie can dramatize the toll that gun violence takes in Chicago and spur people to change, Spike Lee can call it, "Take Your Convention Business to Vegas" for all I care.'" Were getting people to change actually the likely outcome of his making the movie, I'm not so sure Rahm wouldn't jump at that deal. It seems much more likely that any movie will indeed dramatize the toll and highlight the nature of the violence, while the "change" part trails far behind.

    I agree that it seems silly for the mayor to try to wheedle Lee into changing the title. But I certainly can understand the impulse. After all, the Capulets live on, while the Bonaminis are forgotten! "Chiraq" is a familiar term to many around here, but it's hardly in wide use, as far as I can tell. A movie with that title will increase familiarity with it exponentially, way beyond the viewership of the film. And, whatever the real problems and issues conveyed by that name, a pithy moniker pigeon-holing Chicago as a violent place is not gonna help, as the city tries to compete for business and tourism on an ever-more competitive global stage.

    But, I'll leave it to a much more eloquent person than myself to point out the historical analogy...

    "For Chicago, that dream of continual progress died ... when the staggering gang violence brought about by Prohibition gave Chicago its most enduring representative: Al Capone. In the span of a decade, Chicago went ... to being hailed worldwide as the most crime-ridden (city in the country). Movies spread that reputation. Chicago was the home of Capone and his tough-talking, tommy-gun-toting surrogates, killers like Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar". .... The movie gangster image stayed strong for half a century -- it lingers still ..."

    -- Neil Steinberg "You Were Never in Chicago" page 21

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  14. Re: The Windy City. Yes, people who talk about it being windy these days ARE referring to the weather. I submit, though, that if it weren't for the 19th Century nickname, people today would not refer to "THE windy city" per se; they'd just say it's A windy city, as they do in many, many other places.

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  15. re:Tribune pious editorial- no surprise there, it's a dull paper and they don't rock the boat

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  16. Good blog today. One minor quibble: the phrase "wait for it" drives me crazy. Also, why keep dumping on the Trib? I used to read it and the ST everyday since High School (class of '66) until we moved to CO last year. Both papers have good columnists.

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  17. Now, I liked the "wait for it" phrase.

    JP

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  18. what's with the new captia anti robot thing? now you have to select matching pics, time consuming...

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    1. it's like passing the drivers ed book test with the signs

      I was looking into the synagogue that rahm belongs to, as per wikiped. , it's a stricter ortho one, read some of the rabbi's comments on kosher, how could one live like that in mod world, reformed is better

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  19. some muslims are much worse than westboroApril 21, 2015 at 2:29 PM

    When someone says: Chicagoland, I think they mean counting all the surburban area. It's not about not really being in touch with the city.

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  20. westboro are nutty but those right wing funds don't behead , kidnap and blow up

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  21. NS/ hope you are the boss in your house and not the Mrs.

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  22. I think of all the Chicago nicknames "Chiberia" is the worst.

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    1. Hadn't heard that one. Maybe in 30, 40 years it'll be "Chiami."

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  23. but it's accurate, come winter and spring

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  24. better chiami than chiberia

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  25. NS/ Ever meet Lynn Sweet or M. Sneed, other fellow reporters there?

    I see Rahm will have to explain about his crooked school board. The dictator doesn't want them elected.

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  26. Mr. S., with all due respect, when someone writes asinine things on here, just delete it with no explanation. They don't deserve any.

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    1. Thanks for the thought. To be honest, I was too busy doing my job today to read through all these posts. I took out one that strayed into pig ignorant bigotry. I like to give a bit of explanation, just to take the steam out of their inevitable "Wither my freedom!?!" cry of alarm.

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  27. If they want full freedom to be idiots, they can go to own blog.

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  28. good idea to put the upcoming pic on the night before, keep readers intrigued

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  29. That's a side benefit. Otherwise, people who wake up before me complain that I'm behind. The picture/date atop the blog is one thing I can't schedule to post automatically, but have to post manually. I do it before I go to bed, or after supper if I feel like stepping away from the computer.

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  30. your readers are slave drivers to you

    you are too kindly-I'd have said too bad, then look at pic later

    and I didn't need the morning paper with a dead body in a coffin there, a shame about cardinal but we don't need to see that on front page

    a certain female columnist there will write a bit nasty when you don't agree with her in a readers email, so why not?

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