My brother-in-law is quoted in today’s New York Times. In an article called “A New Wind Is Blowing in Chicago,” reporter Jeff Zeleny writes about how Chicago is basking in the glory of increased attention and prestige as it prepares to become the site of the Western White House. (No doubt the reporters who follow the President are basking in the glory of never having to set foot in Crawford, Texas, again.) “It seems like there are eight million people walking around here congratulating each other,” said Scott Turow, the best-selling novelist who was born in the city. “Chicagoans are unbelievably proud of Barack and feel of course that he’s ours, because he is.”
Obama will be the first U.S. President ever to call Chicago home. Hillary Clinton was born at Edgewater Hospital in Chicago and Nancy Reagan moved there when she was eight and attended the Latin School, but Obama is the first President who will be making the frequent trips to the Windy City during his time away from the White House. The Chicago tourism industry is already capitalizing on the Obama frenzy with an ad campaign that invites visitors to come and “experience the city the Obamas enjoy.” Oy.
After a 1952 New Yorker article snidely used the term “Second City” to refer to Chicago, some smart ad executives decided to seize upon the slogan rather than be offended by it. Still, I’ve talked to New Yorkers who believe the hype and assume that Chicagoans feel somehow less than because of this B-list status. In my opinion, this concept has always been pure myth. I was happy to see my brother-in-law echoing those thoughts in the New York Times article:
Jeff Tweedy, the leader of the band Wilco who grew up in downstate Illinois and lives in Chicago, said the city never felt the inferiority complex that outsiders spend so much time musing about. Still, he said, the election of Mr. Obama, a friend for years, has given an unusual boost of confidence in a city that is usually nonplussed.
“I think people really do enjoy the idea that we’re living in the center of the world all of a sudden,” Mr. Tweedy said. “There have been all these prevailing stereotypes, and people don’t know how big and urban Chicago actually is. People think of it as being in a cornfield.”
I'm not sure about the cornfield, but when I went to school in France in the late 70s and mentioned I was from Chicago, people would always aim their fingers at me and make the sound of machine gun fire. Good lord, are there still people who equate the city with gangsters and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?
As for the inferiority complex, what is there to feel inferior to? Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE New York and think it is one of the most exciting cities on the planet—the last thing I want to do is get into some kind of pissing contest with that town. But as I wrote last August when I was visiting my family, “Chicago rules in terms of architecture, food, theatre, public parks, museums, and general cohesiveness and brand loyalty.” Not that it makes much sense to compare any two cities with each other (as I kept doing with Los Angeles, much to the irritation of my L.A.-born wife). But suffice it to say that as much as the city is thrilled to claim him, Chicago didn’t need Barack Obama to put it in on the map.
Hmm, is this going to be one of the fallouts of the 2008 election? Now that the Obama victory has made some Democrats too smug for comfort, will Chicagoans become so obnoxiously proud of their city that they make New Yorkers seem humble by comparison? Is that why the Cubs couldn’t catch a break this year? Was it God’s way of making sure Chicagoans don’t get too full of themselves?
I’m looking forward to all the newfound interest in my beloved home town. Even though I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 22 years, I have always been and always will be a Chicagoan.
“There is a really strong sense of self in Chicago: People aren’t defined by wealth or by work or accomplishments, but rather who they are,” said Alex Kotlowitz, an author who makes his home in Chicago because he believes it is a place to peer into America’s heart. “Obama seems so comfortable in his skin and with who he is. That’s so Chicago.”