Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Cleveland is Not Cool

'Along with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which Cleveland landed by stuffing the ballot box in a USA Today survey, the West side is supposed to represent Cleveland's new-found hipness. This is all wrong. Cleveland is not cool. Cleveland can never be cool. Think of Cleveland's greatest entertainers: Drew Carey wears thick horn-rimmed glasses and a Marine buzz cut. Fred Willard has played so many cluelessly gregarious suburban dads that you can't film a tasteless summer comedy without writing him a cameo. Fellow Clevelander Martin Mull put Willard's talent to use in The History of White People in America. Cartoonist Harvey Pekar--record collector, file clerk, irritable bachelor schlump--knew "From off the streets of Cleveland" would clash perfectly with American Splendor, the title of his comic book. Their uncoolness is so much a part of Cleveland's character that the city is cooler when it's uncool than when it tries to be Brooklyn or San Francisco. This might be Cleveland's moment, too. In America's hippest urban neighborhoods there's nothing cooler than looking uncool. From coast to coast, alienated, countercultural twenty-three-year-olds have raided Cleveland's closet for Penguin sports shirts, Jack Nicklaus golf slacks, chunky glasses, and granny skirts (preferably worn with sneakers). They think bowling and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer make a great night out. Cleveland's thrift stores and alleys could become major tourist attractions. But Cleveland isn't cool enough to pick up on that. Instead, it flogs the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rock and roll isn't even cool anymore. Rock and roll is the music of baby boomer dads. It's the soundtrack to investment ads. Memphis was the logical winner of that USA Today poll, but I've come to agree that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame belongs in Cleveland. Only Cleveland would think putting rock music in a museum is cool. that's why you should go to the polka hall of fame instead. It's up front about being uncool. Which makes it so much cooler.'
--from The Third Coast--Sailors, Strippers, Fishermen, Folksingers, Long-Haired Ojibway Painters, and God-Save-the-Queen Monarchists of the Great Lakes, by Chicago-based writer Ted McClelland.

14 Comments:

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Kim said...

Clevelanders unite in our collective "uncool"... I prefer to think we simply march to the beat of our own drummer. Probably some rock drummer.

 
At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Mike Q said...

When you think of it, is "cool" a relevant term at all anymore? Can a term invented 50 years ago apply today? Hasn't it been replaced, ironically, by "hot?" Initially, hot may have referred to one's sex appeal, but I believe it now encompasses anything or anyplace to be envied and emulated.

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kim, oddly, without his even seeming to realize it, he made his own countercase for Cleveland's coolness. But I think he also foolishly fell for the idea that what Clevelanders believe has anything much to do with the chamber of commerce propaganda or the visitors' bureau marketing. That can happen when you parachute into a new town and fatuously try to make pronouncements on its soul, based on a few days' visit.

And Mike, I'm with you: I don't really buy into the relevancy of the whole coolness thing. I'm afraid I kind of left all that behind sometime around junior high school. If you;'re trying to be cool or worrying about being cool, by definition, you're not.

 
At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shhhh... I'd like to keep the best kept secret city quiet from all the non-sayers. ;-)

Neve Black

 
At 3:17 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

As a San Diego native, you have maximum credibility on this subject, Neve.

 
At 4:17 PM, Anonymous angela said...

With a title like that who could resist peeking between the covers?

 
At 4:19 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I quite agree, Angela. As we emphasize around here often, good titles are crucial in getting readers' attention. Anyway, thanks for taking a moment to leave a comment.

 
At 9:20 AM, Anonymous steveg said...

The guy is a d-bag, with no sense of what cool is. Cool is never found from PR and marketing. It's in the late nite venues, DYI shows, cafes, and cheap beer bars. We knew that in the early days of CoolCleveland and worried of that effect. Now I hardly think of CC as cool, but that's the idea. If it's accepted mainstream, it used up its "cool." But new cool is already replaced it. It's a dynamic, an attitude, not a destination or a pose.

Look at the cutting edge music that came out of NE Ohio and will continue. We have one of the most active poetry scenes in the country. You can see homegrown dance, theater, and art show openings every week. And that is just in my little neck of the city, Tremont.

So I say again, the guy is a d-bag. And for now, the phrase d-bag is cool.

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Stevo, you always make me smile, and think. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

 
At 9:28 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Stevo, you always make me smile, and think. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

 
At 6:03 PM, Blogger Diane Vogel Ferri said...

Maybe we can be something besides "cool". I like the notion that the very word "cool" is quite old. Even though I'm a Cleveland booster - I thought this piece was pretty funny.

 
At 6:09 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Glad you found it interesting, Diane. I surely did when I first came across it, through the power of (once again) the independent bookstores. I found it at the Learned Owl bookstore in Hudson, a place I hope everyone (at least those readers who live in my region) will visit when they get the chance. It's the only place I've ever seen it stocked.

 
At 3:46 PM, Anonymous Kristine said...

I used to think Cleveland was cool. I suffered quite the harassment going to college in Pittsburgh for 4 years. GO BROWNS.
But today I found out we're really not cool: SCHLITZ is making a COMEBACK here!

Now I am having flashbacks to 1987. Let's leave it at that.

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That must have been brutal, Kristine. But I'm guessing you might have also come to love Steel City a little, as I have just by visiting occasionally. Thanks for adding to the conversation, and a double welcome as a first-time commenter. Here's hoping you'll come back regularly.

 

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