By James Janega
1:53 PM EDT, April 24, 2013
Boy, Trib Nation had a few things to say about DePaul Professor Rachel Shteir's Sunday Book Review article on Chicago, drawn from three books written by people from here, and which appeared this week in The New York Times.
I have to admit, I read Shteir's review Tuesday without much interest until the responses began. Then, like the laziest cat on the couch, I felt compelled to chase the dot from the Shteir's laser pointer.
Here were Shteir's opening lines, which were provocative and challenged many from the area to offer their own definition of Chicago:
“'Poor Chicago,' a friend of mine recently said. Given the number of urban apocalypses here, I couldn’t tell which problem she was referring to. Was it the Cubs never winning? The abominable weather? Meter parking costing more than anywhere else in America — up to $6.50 an hour — with the money flowing to a private company, thanks to the ex-mayor Richard M. Daley’s shortsighted 2008 deal? Or was it the fact that in 2012, of the largest American cities, Chicago had the second-highest murder rate and the second-highest combined sales tax, as well as the ninth-highest metro foreclosure rate in the country? That it’s the third-most racially segregated city and is located in the state with the most underfunded public-employee pension debt? Was my friend talking about how a real estate investor bought The Chicago Tribune and drove it into bankruptcy? Or how 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration, was shot dead near the president’s Kenwood home?
"Actually," Shtier continued, "'poor' seems kind. And yet even as the catastrophes pile up, Chicago never ceases to boast about itself. The Magnificent Mile! Fabulous architecture! The MacArthur Foundation! According to The Tribune, Chicago is “America’s hottest theater city”; the mayor’s office touts new taxi ordinances as “huge improvements.” The mayor likes brags that could be read as indictments too, announcing the success of sting operations busting a variety of thugs and grifters...."
The piece in The New York Times, topped online by a picture of the Chicago skyline taken in 1985 by a photo wire service, begins seven paragraphs later to review the books Shteir had taken on. By then, I estimate, Shteir had lost much of her Chicago audience.
Northwestern University's Bill Savage wrote a reponse for Crain's Chicago Business. "Welcome to town, professor," he says. "Chicagoans hate all of that, too." (Savage reviewed Dyja's book for the Tribune last week.)
DNAInfo quoted Mayor Rahm Emanuel responding to the piece: "No one read the book review," Emanuel said.
The Tribune's Rex Huppke called her up to ask, essentially, Did you mean it to come out that way? Shtier said, essentially, Yes.
Of course, Shteir's observations are her own, and all are true. So, too, are the things going well for Chicago, which Chicagoans point out and Shteir called "boosterism." Also true: No one with any degree of sophistication likes having their hometown summed up by broad brush strokes, whether it's Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland -- or New York.
-- James Janega
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