A city can be a catch-all for personal junk. Here, the mechanism is a psychological one, and it’s one called “projection”, which is defined as “a defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own negative attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world instead”.
The comment section on Cleveland.com, and other metropolitan comment sections, is perhaps the ultimate proving ground for excavating interpersonal crap onto the other, be it a community, a race, or a group—such as immigrants—who are defined by a shared attribute, in this case by an act of mobility.
Delineating the immigrant angle further, I recently have come across a commentator whose handle is called “My Dad Lost His Job to an Immigrant” on Cleveland.com. The person’s handle, and the body of his comments—i.e., “This idea that America needs immigrants to better America is one giant canard” or “Taking talented workers away from their home countries is a crime”—serves not only to give the commentator a big giant “F” on the basics of international economic development, but it also informs on the “why” of the comment outside of grounded economic theory.
The “why” is xenophobia, or the “irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries”. In other words, the source is an interpersonal one, one from a pit of problems tied to fear or anxiety that’s not being dealt with through self-awareness, but through projecting it onto the immigrant who in all likelihood is bettering his or her own life, their host city’s life, and their native country’s life.
Meanwhile, the xenophobic act of tearing apart what is an act of community building under the auspices of community building is doing nothing but encouraging—indeed—a culture of joblessness. But not because the commentator’s dad lost a job to an immigrant, rather to a generational perpetuation of small mindedness.
As was stated, a city, or a collection of people tied by geographic proximity and culture, can take the brunt of interpersonal projection as well. Take this rant from a site called Leaving Pittsburgh entitled “Pittsburgh Sucks”:
I hate Pittsburgh. Everyone there is an idiot and thinks it’s the best city in the world. There is life outside of the Steelers. I went to school for film, and even though there’s a movie shot there every once in a while, it’s not enough to warrant me living there for the rest of my life. The city itself is fucking pathetic. No matter where you go, it’s either alcoholic, brain dead Pittsburghers who have lived there their entire lives or young, brain dead Pittsburghers who will never leave. Most of my graduating class from high school went to Pitt, most of them won’t leave PIttsburgh even after graduation. No one wants to know what else is out there. It’s a closed city. There might as well be a fucking wall surrounding it. It’s misery. It’s gray. It’s dying.
It’s clear the comment is coming from a not-so-nuanced take about the city—which is actually doing quite well and statistically getting younger!—and more so from a source of anger and/or loathing. What the person loathes who knows. It’s enough here to say the so-called critique is not constructive, instead adding to a long history of “woe is us” talk that so easily tips from self-assessment to self-deprecation.
And so the decades-long post-industrial chorus line continues: “The Rust Belt is dead. Long live elsewhere”.
Now, does this mean as a city or a region we cannot be self-critical? Hardly. That’s absurd. Especially given the economic and sociological struggles the Rust Belt is still facing.
What it does mean is that the motivation behind criticism should be checked, as criticizing your community through projection will mean a criticism that never ceases, as it is less about a community’s needs or progress—less about a city’s assets or deficits—than it is about a constant internal urge to dump on a thing outside of oneself if only because there is no honest self-assessment as to what is going on inside oneself.
To that end, there are few folks in the Rust Belt who I think are toeing the balancing act of simultaneously critiquing and celebrating the region nicely. With both, you could tell there is care there. Missing is the vitriol that comes with projection. Present is a sincerity that just wants a fucking Rust Belt progression.
One is Phil Kidd of Youngstown. Phil is both a civic leader that fights the city’s status quo as well as a champion of Rust Belt identity as a means of attempting to progress the city out of its self-defeat. From a recent Atlantic Cities piece:
Phil Kidd stood below the veteran’s monument in Youngstown’s Central Square most every Friday and Saturday night during the summer of 2006. Kidd, whose civic spirit channels the fervor of a street preacher, held a sign to engage passing motorists: “Defend Youngstown.” People started to talk to him. Then came t-shirts, which he sold first on the corner, and later online—in the thousands and for just slightly above cost.
The solitary stand became Defend Youngstown, “a movement dedicated to the advancement of the city of Youngstown.” Its logo is a Soviet realist-style worker wielding a sledgehammer, expressing, perhaps, both an enthusiasm for demolition and a willingness to strike hard against external foes. For Kidd, it’s a marketing campaign to get the city to believe in itself.
“This guy says, ‘I built this place. Do something.’”
Another is Cleveland’s Jack Storey. Storey, a community advocate, is also a filmmaker, having recently finished up a Rust Belt documentary called “Red, White, and Blueprints”, which is currently screening at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Storey, like Kidd, is a Rust Belt defender, with his heel-digging a means to push forward and away from a mindset stuck in a state of all that is lost.
Does that make him a booster? He doesn’t believe so. Nor does he care. He has work to do. Community capital to produce.
Speaking recently to WCPN’s David C. Barnett, Storey responds to the question of how he addresses the inevitable boosterism charges when it comes to making a movie that celebrates a struggling region:
“I will tell that person ‘you are absolutely entitled to your opinion. I appreciate your thoughts. Now get out of my way’…
I have sat through some incredible discussions—public debates—on boosterism versus what they will call ‘realism’. To me, there is a vast difference between calling something ‘boosterism’ just to call it ‘boosterism’ and trying to deflate progress, and when you are just negative constantly about where you are, what value does that add?”
Very little. In fact, though the Rust Belt has a poverty of a multitude of things, negativity-fueled criticism isn’t one of them. It has been around for a while, with a poor track record of fostering an environment for change.
That said, here’s to a new generation that can accept the good with the bad, and that doesn’t fall into the trap of all this or all that. Cities, like our insides, are ambiguous and conflicted. Honestly recognizing this can allow the discourse to be freed from projective screams of anger to a yelling because you want your region to have a voice.
This post originally appeared at Cool Cleveland.