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 Machiavelli 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.