Monday, June 8, 2009

I Typed All This While Wearing a Monocle and Boy, is My Good Eye Tired!

Oversimplification and synopsis: a musicologist/professor from Cornell wrote a big diss piece on the soon-to-open Dallas Center for the Performing Arts. He talked about his personal distaste for the actual architecture of the building. He also expressed his distaste for the entire landscape and city planning of Dallas. Then he talked about how this center would play host to rich oil guys in their Stetsons and their big-haired wives who drive in from the suburbs in their gas-guzzling automotive behemoths. The Dallas Observer’s Unfair Park ran excerpts from this essay. Then the gates of commenting fury were flung open as people rushed to defend their city from a snotty, big-city East coast librul. Ok, now you’re caught up.

There were only two things in the essay that vaguely insulted or annoyed me.

#1. That he took the “oil guys in Stetsons/big-haired wives” route. Rich Dallas society wives have caught up to at least the mid-90’s, style-wise and any glimpse of the charity gala pictures in D Magazine or Dallas Morning News would reveal that straight hair is the new curly hair. Sometimes their rich husbands wear cowboy hats but that seems to be a waning trend.

#2. That he the essay is drenched in condescension and essentially scoffs at the notion that Dallas, TEXAS could have a genuine appreciation for the arts and specifically something as hoity-toity as opera.

I hate that he used those two tired old tricks in his essay because he is essentially right. First off, the building and surrounding areas are not particularly attractive. It’s like half Nortel off-site IT training facility, half space-age hog rendering plant. And Christ on a cracker, it’s flat. It doesn’t help counter the criticism that Dallas likes everything to be sprawling, big, flat and wasteful. But architecture is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

When he complains about the Stetsons driving in for the opera in their oversized vehicles, he’s right. It’s not an aberration. Dallas’s suburban sprawl combined with the general unpleasantness that is downtown Dallas has guaranteed that anyone heading into the Arts District will be there solely to do that and then get back in their vehicles, which stand a better than 50% chance of being an SUV or truck, and get the hell out of Dodge and back to their respective safer, better lit, cleaner communities. And I say this as someone who lives in East Dallas and enjoys opera tremendously. I am the minority and I know that. But I also realize that those rich, oily suburbanites are often the patrons and board members who bring operas, collections and exhibits which I highly enjoy to town.

This brings me to the often hilarious tug of war that I see happen monthly between local and national publications. I laugh and then shake my head when I read local publications and their coverage of the Dallas music scene, the Dallas restaurant scene, the Dallas arts and culture scene. There is ALWAYS some achingly desperate reference to a restaurant having a more exhaustive wine list than any comparable establishment in Chicago or New York. Or there’s a jab about the Dallas Museum of Art having a more comprehensive hinge collection (someone please tell me you got that joke) than even the Guggenheim or Getty Museums. It always feels a little like the younger brother at a family reunion trying to top his much more successful older brother’s professional achievements by reminding everyone that he IS next in line for the assistant manager’s chair at the Arby’s at which he works.

Likewise, national publications love to remind everyone of how Dallas really isn’t a real city and regardless of how much culture they try to import or fancy fusion cuisine joints they open, they will always be the big dumb oil city. In their eyes, nothing that happens in Dallas is actually credible, arts-wise. It’s Dallas after all! Real culture happens in New York and Chicago and (really?) Los Angeles. Dallas is just a two dimensional city full of adulterous Stetson-wearing rancher playboys and their game show hostess wives.

Dallas needs to stop trying so hard to be something it is not. Face it, Dallas as a city is merely the hub for a vast, sprawling network of suburbs. And in many ways, that’s Dallas’s own fault. They knock down anything that isn’t protected by a plaque and the National Registry of Historical Places so that we can have one more block of condos, sandwich shops and dog groomers. They have done everything they possibly can to suck the life out of downtown by failing to address a near-pandemic problem of homelessness in the area. They offer no incentives to anyone, specifically young people who could breathe life into the corpse, to move downtown. A few months ago, I wrote this piece about Victory Park and the failures therein, of which there are many. In it, I mentioned that the development could be saved by bringing in hipper or more youth-oriented retailers such as H&M, Marimekko, Urban Outfitters or even my personally-despised American Apparel. Well apparently the city of Dallas thought that was a good idea, but instead of Victory Park, they want to bring it to downtown. It might be a step in the right direction. My first instinct is to worry about parking for such an expansive retail plaza. But that’s what garages are for. Maybe this would be the first step in getting something going downtown. But it does at least tell me that someone somewhere is trying.

Which means that it’s officially tired and lazy for people outside of Dallas to use suburban sprawl, oil money or the unpleasant presence of George W to immediately write off the city and its inhabitants entirely. Yes, I think the Arts Center is kind of ugly. And yes, I was angry that Dallas lost the new Cowboys stadium. But it does say something when the city devotes as much time and budget to building an Arts Center and trying to bring in artists, conductors and exhibits from around the world.

In conclusion, please take note:

People of Dallas – Please stop doing things like leaving comments like these about a story on war protester Cindy Sheehan’s planned protest at George W’s house. Because here’s a quick sit rep on that: George W. Bush is still widely hated around the country and around the world. And it’s therefore assumed that people who would defend his failure of a presidency would be angry, dumb rednecks. Ergo, when you leave poorly spelled and vaguely threatening comments like those in defense of the most hated contemporary president of our times, you give them (“them” being stuffy East coast/northern liberals) more fuel for the fire. Please proceed to STFU.

People Not of Dallas – Might I remind you of the following things: The New York Post and New York Daily News, Staten Island, Long Island, bridge and tunnel people, Times Square, the Freedom Tower, the new Yankees stadium, Howard Stern and everything in Los Angeles other than the Griffith Observatory and the Getty Museum.


Anonymous said...

The funny thing is, I lived in Chicago for many years and they have the exact same issues as Dallas (which is why I thought odd you kept mentioning Chicago)...there is an inferiority complex in comparison to New York and LA. I live in San Francisco now and they have the same thing going on with LA...and Oakland has the same thing with SF. Why can't people just enjoy where they live without comparing it (abstractly) to somewhere else?

amandacobra said...

Yeah, I don't understand Dallas's need to be on New York's level and am equally confused by New York's smugness about Dallas not being on its level.

I do completley understand the Dallas-Houston beef though. Houston is a disgusting and pointless hell hole.