The [Monday] Papers
Growing up in Minnesota, my perception of Chicago was of a grim, gray city shrouded in factory smoke and saddled with a perennially lousy football team. My view of Chicago didn't really change until about 1990, upon several visits to a friend who had taken a job here after college. Mostly, I discovered Chicago's tightly-packed and vibrant neighborhoods - the bars and narrow streets and graystones and the El running through people's backyards - and fell in love.
But even in the grim years, I never thought of Al Capone when I thought of Chicago - at least not in any meaningful way beyond the historical. That is, until I moved here in 1992 and heard incessantly in the years that followed - through the media - that Michael Jordan had finally erased the "Capone, bang-bang" association people the world over had with our fair city.
Jordan, we were told, had finally put Capone to rest.
Apparently not. I learned from the Tribune on Sunday that Chicago's international image is still one of "gangsters and meatpacking plants." And by gangsters, we're not talking about Gangster Disciples, because, as we shall see later, when it comes to Chicago's image, for some reason black people aren't a part of it.
I have my doubts about the Capone thing, no matter how many tourism officials say it's true. After all, they're always fighting for more funding and the Capone thing is a gimme. It's not as if our civic boosters could ask for more money to clean up our international image as the cradle of corrupt city politics - an image that has only been burnished under 17 years of Richard M. Daley.
Now Capone & Co. are being trotted out again as part of the Olympic effort. Marshall Bouton, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, told the Tribune that "There is nothing like the Olympics - it's like a giant billboard that will be seen around the world. It will reframe the city."
Really? Have you thought differently about Athens since the 2004 Games? Sydney since 2000? Atlanta since 1996? Have those cities been "reframed" in your mind?
I didn't think so.
If anything, the people who concern themselves with these things are the ones who could use some reframing. The Tribune article cites a 2004 study by World Business Chicago, the Kellogg School of Management, and a branding firm called Prophet that suggested (in a "light-hearted assertion") that Chicago's image was personified by guys such as Dennis Franz, Harrison Ford, George Wendt, Bill Murray, George Clooney, Robert DeNiro, Tom Hanks, and Daley.
That's funny, because the biggest Chicagoans on the world stage right now just might be Kanye West, Common, and R. Kelly. McDonald's and the Cubs are international phenomenons. Liz Phair and Wilco might rate mentions. Oh, and there's some black woman from around here named Oprah who I hear is pretty big.
If the city's international image is locked in the past, then those paid to promote the city aren't doing a very good job. More likely, when it comes to assessing the city's reputation, they aren't looking in the right places.
1. "Preposterous: The Mayor's New Budget Is Built on BS." And so the dailies' reporting on it is too.
2. "What Constitutes a Sore Loser?" Richard M. Daley oughta know.
4. The City Council is upset with how much the federal monitor appointed to oversee City Hall hiring is costing without any acknowledgement that it's their own fault. Hey guys, if you had been doing your job, a federal monitor wouldn't have been necessary. Even more to the point, blame the mayor. Consider: The city has already paid $1.25 million in legal fees for a federal monitor because the mayor can't even properly manage the hiring of his own employees.
5. Product Placements of the Day:
Loehmann's. "A Loehmann's shopper knows that she can get a good buy at $29.99, but she also understands that buying a top-notch, Italian designer handbag for $400 'is a steal,'" Fred Forcellati, vice president of advertising for the Bronx, NY-based Loehmann's, told the Sun-Times's Sandra Guy, who relayed the good news to you.
Ferrara Pan. Steinberg discovers how gummy bears are made (not available online).
8. The city will soundproof 300 to 400 fewer homes than promised as part of its O'Hare expansion. The city spins it just right.
9. The Sun-Times continues to rely on skimpy wire reports to track the possible breakup of the 159-year-old Tribune Company, which, like it or not, is a far more important Chicago institution than Marshall Field's and the Berghoff. Not only is the ownership of the city's largest media concern at stake, including its various newspaper, television, and radio outlets, but the Cubs and Wrigley Field could change hands as well as that evil but architecturally significant gothic tower downtown. A break-up or ownership change of Tribune Company would represent a seismic shift in the city's civic life. I mean, maybe not as much as a new Loehmann's store in the Loop, but still.
10. If I ran one of the newspapers here - and how many times have I had that thought - I would have assigned a reporter to cover Dennis Hastert full-time from the day he became Speaker of the House. Then maybe we wouldn't have had to rely on the Sunlight Foundation to expose the controversial land deal that in part landed Hastert at the top of Rolling Stone's list of worst legislators in what it calls the worst Congress ever. Hastert is "a guy who saw his chance to profit from his official acts and took it," a Sunshine Foundation official says in "The Highway Robber."
13. Sun-Times readers reveal their "TV boyfriends." I'm not even going to provide a link.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Shut up and sing.
Posted on October 30, 2006
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