Still an Outsider After All These Years!

The following comment came in recently, and it calls for its own place in a post:
Please discuss Steely McBeam the new Steelers mascot. Why can't we let big steel go? What's your perspective as an outsider?

As to Steely: I won't demean the blog by posting a picture of this lunacy or a link to any of the news stories describing it. ("Steely McBeam" is the new name for a steelworker-inspired 3D "mascot" for the Pittsburgh Steelers.) Football is a simple game. It calls for simple measures. As a great but flawed man once said of a different sport, but in a related spirit, "'This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Think about that for a while." Someone in the Steelers organization should take that to heart.

But that's the easy part.

The harder part is calling me an outsider. By the bizarro rules of Pittsburgh culture, I *am* an outsider, because I'm not a native. I wasn't born in Pittsburgh. I've lived in the area only for nine years. No member of my family was living in the area when Maz and the Pirates beat the Yankees; no member of my family worked in a mill. I don't know where Isaly's used to be. (But I'm learning.)

So, yes, I get that. Native Pittsburghers are tribal, and they have their rituals, and you can "convert" if you adopt the rituals (I, too, mute the TV and listen to local radio on Sunday afternoon in the Fall), but you will never acquire a native-born belief in their true power and significance. Still, it grates on me that those people who are natives -- many of whom no longer live in the area, of course -- so obsessively impose and re-impose their tribalism on newcomers. Instead, try this. If you care about the future of this area, no matter where you live or where you were born, you're a Pittsburgher. "Insiders" take note: Accept our interest! We come in peace.


10 Responses to "Still an Outsider After All These Years!"

Gene said... 8/09/2007 8:52 PM

I haven't spoke to a single native Pittsburgh who isn't outraged and/or disgusted by this Steely McBeam creature. Everyone hates it. Everyone with taste, brains, functioning eyesight, etc.

I think the Steel-focused name has more to do with the name of the franchise than with nostalgia for the steel industry. Just my opinion.

Bram Reichbaum said... 8/09/2007 10:22 PM

To make no comment on how well the Steelers executed:

Mascots are the *appropriate place* to honor one's tribal heritage. By celebrating our history at our sacred games, we could not possibly be doing any further harm to our strategic (and hopefully, pragmatic) economic agenda.

In fact, to the extent that Steely McBeam is so obviously trite, maybe he'll steer us all in the right direction.

Anonymous said... 8/10/2007 9:27 AM

For what it's worth, I'm a native and I wouldn't call you an outsider. I'd call you a non-native, if the subject came up, but I wouldn't call you an outsider.

As for Steely McBeam... I don't think the Steelers needed a mascot, but if they're going to have one a steelworker makes sense. The name is dumb though.

Sandra said... 8/10/2007 10:59 AM

People who have left Pittsburgh are generally also looked upon with suspicion, if that helps at all.

Perhaps you must work on your yinzer accent a bit more. And don't forget the unifying nature of the fire hall wedding.

Jonathan Potts said... 8/10/2007 2:23 PM

I guess I'm an "insider", assuming that Latrobe counts. When I first started to work in Pittsburgh, I had at least one co-worker who used to make fun of Westmoreland County, as though now that I lived in Pittsburgh I finally had running water and electric lights. And Pittsburghers have the nerve to get insulted when someone from New York, Boston or LA makes fun of them.

The problem is not just that it takes a long time for "outsiders" to be made to feel like true residents, but that as a region we are not very receptive to their ideas. It's a problem, though I think things are getting a bit better.

As for the mascot, the Steelers are just trying to mark their 75th anniversary, which doesn't make it any less silly, I realize. As Jason Togyer noted, do the Steelers really need marketing stunts?

Anonymous said... 8/10/2007 8:44 PM

It could be worse... after seven years of living in suburban Boston, outsiders such as I were still referred to as "blow-ins."

Jefferson Provost said... 8/12/2007 2:06 PM

I'm starting to feel like a broken record, constantly making comparisons between Austin/Texas and Pittsburgh, and if I'm tired of it, then anyone reading my comments must be really tired of it. Still, this is one area where Pittsburgh really does compare unfavorably to Texas. Texas has arguably more regional pride than Pittsburgh -- they still think of themselves, symbolically, as the Republic of Texas. Nevertheless, Texas is full of non-native Texans -- all one really has to do to be a Texan is to live in Texas, love Texas, and declare yourself as proud to be Texan. I'm not sure it's purely a coincidence that the cities of Texas have been enjoying a lot of growth, while Pittsburgh has, well, not.

ps - I am a native PIttsburgher, and I never much liked the radiocasts of the Steelers games, if I could watch and listen to the TV broadcast. I did listen sometimes, but once Cope retired, what was the point anymore? The quality of the network broadcast is almost always higher. Here's a good post-Cope drinking game: instead of drinking for every "yoi!" you drink every time Hillgrove mis-identifies the key player in a play, only to later correct himself (presumably after being corrected off-mic by his spotters).

pps - I was on a plane flying back from Texas on Friday, and the guy next to me was a former PIttsburgher who now lives in Columbus. In the course of a 3 hour flight, he refered to "where Isaly's used to be" at least 3 times. (He also declared that he would never, ever move back to Pittsburgh.)

Anonymous said... 8/13/2007 9:39 AM

Am I the only native who has not heard the phrase "where Isaly's used to be" in a real conversation? I have no idea where it used to be and don't think I've ever heard anyone refer to it.

Maybe it's just my age (I'm 26) but a lot of the things that natives supposedly do and say are unfamiliar to me. So I'm hoping that this apparent unwelcoming attitude will fall by the wayside by the time my generation hits middle age.

Mike Madison said... 8/13/2007 9:42 AM

It's a *metaphor.*

For more (and to find out where Isaly's really used to be), check out this older Pittsblog post.

Jefferson Provost said... 8/13/2007 10:05 AM

Heh. In my case, the guy was literally referring to Isaly's. I assume he meant the big one on the Boulevard of the Allies in Oakland, since we were talking about Oakland. I agree with Mike, however, that generally "Isaly's" is just a generic placeholder for a landmark that no longer exists but is assumed to be common knowledge.

Yes, at 26, you're probably too young. I think they closed down when you were 2 or 3.

BTW, I'd never seen the Isaly's map before. It's ironic, given Mike's other blog, that Lebo/Dormont/Brookline had one of the highest concentrations of Isaly's restaurants in the city.

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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] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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