Unshakeable Faith

That Lycos post really has legs, owing, no doubt, to the fact that both I and some of the commenters have unshakeable faith in our intuitions about what's right and wrong about Pittsburgh, and about what's changing, or going to change, or never will change about the city and the region. Some people believe that Pittsburgh has all the raw materials needed to make the city great again; those materials just need to be connected and blended and led in just the right proportions. And no number of failed plans, ineffective collaboratives, and broken funding promises will demonstrate otherwise. Other people believe that Pittsburgh is on an irreversible slide into industrial oblivion, and no accounting of innovation, university-led technology deals, real estate renaissance, or neighborhood initiative can shake them from that path.

What are the other unshakeable -- if sometimes contradictory -- articles of Pittsburgh faith?

An example: I thought I was on to one with my recent post provoking comparisons between fans of the Pirates and Steelers, but no one took the bait. I have a hard time accepting the premise that fourteen losing seasons explain why support for the Pirates is weaker than support for the Steelers. That explanation tends to make out fans of both teams as fair weather friends. Maybe that's true for the Pirates (I really don't know, since I'm not a true baseball fan in any weather), but I have a hard time accepting it for the Steelers. Steelers fans just don't strike me as the bandwagon types. Meaning: Is it an article of faith that we stand by the Steelers at all times? Or might I put it more strongly: In any weather, any season, and any time of year, the Steelers exemplify what Pittsburghers regard as the best of the region.

That's unprovable, of course, which is what would make it an article of faith. Do Pittsburghers believe it? And what else do Pittsburghers believe about Pittsburgh?


3 Responses to "Unshakeable Faith"

Albert said... 8/11/2006 9:38 AM

Ok, I'll take the bait. As some background, I was raised in El Paso by two parents who were born and raised in Pittsburgh.

Speaking to the sports teams, Pittsburgh's identity was built on times of true regional glory. Pittsburgh served as a financial and industrial capital that rivaled and surpassed New York at certain parts of the past century. When these glorious times began to slow for a region so used to winning, the Steelers and Pirates were the only things left standing.

Let's not get too positive about Steelers fans in down times; they're downright brutal (see Stewart, Kordell). To some extent, Steeler fans are like anything else; when it's great, people follow and when it's not, people lose interest. The regional connection to the team isn't unusual; Trafford, UK has a similar obsession with Manchester United.

As for the Pirates, 14 losing seasons do matter. There's little excitement that surrounds the team, little story line. The team has become nothing more than a big corner bar with overpriced beer, Primanti's sandwichesm, and oh-by-the-way it happens to serve as a baseball stadium. While I'm personally optimistic and love the sport, from a PR and product standpoint, the Pirates are hard to buy for the general public.

The love for Pittsburgh is based on its myths. If you're here long enough, they become part of your worldview. There are few cities with the bona fide legend character that personifies Pittsburgh and its people. People who dislike the region simply don't buy into the narrative. For some, the edginess of New York or the hipness of Austin is a narrative that they can hold onto and call their own. For Pittsburgh, however, it's hard not to buy into our own myth: strong work ethic, stability, love of family, help-your-neighbor warmth, religious committment, winning in the face of long odds and legendary creative spirit.

Yes, the lack of risk can be and is stifiling. However, failure in Pittsburgh hurts less; there's more friendly support that doesn't take eons to build. You can get to nearly anyone within a few phone calls, with that person probably agreeing to meet you for coffee and a chat. The willingness to give time, advice and help is a part of the social fabric of the community. If regional measurements included the anecdotal evidence of sincerity and willingness to help, Pittsburgh would be much more highly regarded.

Mark Rauterkus said... 8/11/2006 1:54 PM

The Steelers were bad for a generation or two before they got good. When the Steelers were bad, the greater community didn't give much of a care about them.

Remember Cannonball Butler?

Furthermore, the NFL did a great climb as did media saturation in these recent times -- matched with the rise of the Steelers successes.

The league's "glory" (begin to play the NFL Films soundtrack...) compounded the results for sure in terms of Pittsburgh's fabric to its Sunday, gridiron heros....

Mike, nobody took the 'bait' with the contrast between Steeler and Pirate fans because, I dare say, your assumptions are wrong (especially when you do a long-term view).

Mike Madison said... 8/11/2006 2:17 PM

Do you mean that the Steelers *don't* embody the best of Pittsburgh? That football fans in Pittsburgh are really band-wagoneers in black-and-gold? Talk about myth-busting!

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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