Sunday, September 11, 2005

The city's narcissism problem

One of San Francisco's least attractive qualities is its relentless civic and cultural narcissism. Not the routine kind of hype produced by the city's tourist industry, but the inflated civic self-regard from the city's politicians, journalists, and Groovy People.

A short list of some examples of this cloying practice:
 
"Only in San Francisco":

This usage is like fingernails on the blackboard in its civic egotism. It's particularly annoying when used to describe mundane events that also happen elsewhere. Rachel Gordon described the taking down of the Central Freeway and the new, unimproved Octavia Blvd thusly: "The project is one of those only-in-San Francisco stories." ("Boulevard of Dreams," SF Chronicle, Sept. 8) No other city has ever taken down a freeway? Hard to believe. Former Mayor Agnos went one better in the same article: "We obviously are the model for the rest of the country in terms of what a city really can do to take advantage of the enormous benefit of demolishing a series of freeways that cut across the city..." It's just as likely that our Octavia Blvd. experience will be a cautionary tale, since the Central Freeway has been replaced by a six-lane street serving the new freeway ramp on Market St. It's even likelier that the rest of the country doesn't give a shit whether we take down our freeways or not.

Capitalizing "city":
The SF Examiner is the greatest offender on this one, as it insists on capitalizing "city" when discussing San Francisco, as if our town is a paragon of civic greatness, virtue, and attractiveness---The City! There are no other attractive cities in the world?

"The city that knows how": Knows how to do what? SF fiddled and diddled around on the homeless issue until it became a national scandal---"The Shame of the City," as the SF Chronicle aptly called its fine series on homelessness by Kevin Fagan. After years of political inertia, an ambitious, intelligent young politician finally took possession of the issue and rode it into the mayor's office. Speaking of housing, does progressive SF know how to produce affordable housing for its workforce? Nope. But our city does know how to produce housing for the rich, as Chris "Rincon Hill" Daly, the city's poster boy for the delusional left, has demonstrated.

Cultural narcissism: To hear us tell it, we are the grooviest people in the world. Look at our history of hipness---the beatniks, the hippies, Burning Man---born on Baker Beach!---Critical Mass, City Lights, the Castro, Lenny Bruce (oops! Actually, the SFPD busted him several times while he did his act. Never mind.) And the bike fanatics are trying to make SF into the bicycle capital of the country. One of their main talking points seems to be that they are free, creative spirits. On the other hand, maybe they aren't very smart to ride bikes in an American city that has 464,903 registered motor vehicles. But don't forget that a lot of hippies were groovy without being very smart.

Tim Holt makes the case for a link between bikes and coolness in the SF Chronicle:

Like those earlier movements, cycling attracts iconoclasts and free-thinkers with a natural affinity for the creative arts...San Francisco's bicycling culture thumbs its nose at mainstream society and middle-class strictures. It trumpets an anti-consumerist message, reveling in its freedom from what Critical Mass co-founder Chris Carlsson calls the ball and chain of auto debt and expenses ("Wheels of Revolution," SF Chronicle, Aug. 21, 2005).

Whoa! Thumbing their noses at "mainstream society"---in San Francisco, yet! Hope Tim's folks back in Kansas don't hear about this.

I've suggested that the bike fanatics aren't very smart, since they risk life and limb unnecessarily. They ride bikes in SF more, it seems, to make a political/lifestyle statement than as a safe and sane way to get around. Holt proudly offers more evidence that some members of the cycling community don't climb very high on the old Bell Curve: "It's not uncommon to see cycling parents with kids in tow in those Market Street bike lanes." Yes, I see them all over the city, the little trailers that some cyclists tow their kids in, a practice that amounts to child endangerment. I rest my case on the IQ issue.

I'll save the tattoos, the nose rings, and the grown men on skateboards for another time. And I've already done a riff on Mark Morford, the purple prose laureate of risk-free rebellion in San Francisco.

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