Pittsburgh PR Porn

Every year, US News & World Report publishes lists of "the best XYZ schools" in the country -- colleges, universities, business schools, law schools, etc. Lots of Presidents and Deans and professors make ugly noises about being ranked this way, but lots of schools spend lots of money trying to influence the rankings. Since one part of the rankings in law is school reputation among fellow academics and among practicing lawyers and among judges, law schools produce what is derisively called "law porn." Law porn consists of glossy brochures touting the accomplishments of the school's faculty and the quality of the school's programs, which are mailed to thousands of professors and lawyers around the country, many of whom throw these things away without reading them.

I thought of law porn when I saw two recent, classy examples of the journalistic genre that I now christen "Pittsburgh PR porn." Pittsburgh PR porn consists of op-eds and features written with a simple storyline: "Pittsburgh went through a long period of being crappy, dirty, and/or just old, but it's on its way to becoming young, clean, and great." There is a description of the old steel economy. A reference to contemporary smoke-free skies. A nod to an emerging economy supported by high tech, biomedicine, and higher education. Livability metrics and the low cost of living. There are almost always a few quotes from the City Fathers (usually, folks associated with The Allegheny Conference, or VisitPittsburgh, or the History & Landmarks Foundation) and/or the City Children (the Mayor). A reference (not too heavy-handed) to the quagmire of city politics and finances, but colored by generic optimism that those problems can be overcome. Stir gently, and voila: An uncritical, highly romanticized narrative of the City with a Past and a Future.

Today's example A is Howard Fineman, in Newsweek, "What Pittsburgh Can Teach the Country:
A city down on its luck has an optimistic young leader. The scene there mirrors our national situation. Maybe we can all learn something from Luke Ravenstahl."
Fineman is a Pittsburgher (who knew?!), so he knows local context better than most journalists. But the headline gives away the entire piece.

Today's example B (not online) is a feature called "Walking Through Pittsburgh: There was a time when Pittsburgh was described as "Hell with the lid taken off. Not anymore," by Bob Drury, in The Official USGA Program for the U.S. Open championship coming up this week at Oakmont. A taste:
Pittsburgh is like no other American city I have ever visited. Of
course America's urban centers evolve subtly each day, but as we skim the narrow
streets of the North Side it begins to strike me that none have changed so
dramatically as Pittsburgh. You can breathe here now, literally and
figuratively. The city fathers may be desperate for residents to fill
downtown housing -- Pittsburgh's population has been halved, to 316,000, since
its 1950s height of 677,000 -- but the metaphorical shifting of gears from brawn
to brain has also, in a sense, cleared the air.
The article even quotes a local: "Forward thinking; sums up the spirit of Pittsburgh right there."

To be fair, Pittsburgh PR Porn isn't intended to analyze. These are fairytales, and fairytales are for inspiration and for moral instruction. If you're already a moral person, however, fairytales can paralyze. Why think about novelty and creativity and innovation if you're already a special person? Once in a while, it would be nice to find a deconstructed Pittsburgh fairytale, a Shrek-on-the-Mon.

Comments

2 Responses to "Pittsburgh PR Porn"

Amos_thePokerCat said... 6/14/2007 4:39 PM

"Shrek-on-the-Mon". Ha! Now that is funny. Wish I had mad Photoshop skills. (but I don't)

Would Luke be "Prince Charming"?
Fionna-- Sophie? Towanda?
Donkey? Not sure I want to touch that.

Didn't know Fineman was a part of the diasporia either. Interesting, he goes off to a little former Baptist university in the middle of NY, and then started his career in Lousiville.

Somehow, I don't think he is moving back here anytime soon.

Jonathan Potts said... 6/15/2007 1:45 PM

Nothing makes me want to bang my head against the wall more than when people cite air quality as evidence of a dramatic economic and cultural turnaround. First of all, air quality here is still pretty lousy, even if not by historic standards and even if it isn't caused by heavy industry.

Second, major efforts to clean the air and water took place while the steel industry was still prosperous--if in decline. To that extent, those efforts, long in the past, deserve praise. However, that "clean" air we now enjoy is merely a sign of the absence of industry.

Search Pittsblog

About Pittsblog

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.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

Comments are moderated.
Subscribe to Pittsblog comments

Socialize



Blog Archive

Header Background

Header background images licensed from (left image) lemonad and (right image) plaskota under Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 2.0 Generic licenses.

Credits

Copyright 2003-2010 Michael J. Madison - WP Theme by Brian Gardner - Blogger Blog Templates, ThemeLib.com