Weekly Obsession: As our ‘It City’ reign closes, what will we do with our It-ness?

Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 2:28pm

It was a little more than a year ago when The New York Times "discovered" Nashville.

It was mid-June 2012 when the Old Grey Lady went on and on and on and on about East Nashville and how the "hipsters" — as meaningless and contrived a descriptor as "conservative" is across the river at the State Capitol — liked to eat food.

From there, Nashville was caught in a maelstrom of it-ness. GQ found its way here, the Times came back to cross the river and see if there was anything worthwhile outside of 37206.

It's a year into our reign as America's Next Big Thing, but that title is under attack. The Times' food writer Pete Wells was, like another Peter before him, summoned to Memphis to review Memphis restaurant Hog & Hominy. As if to indicate the Bluff City is growing beyond its stereotype, Wells' review doesn't employ the word "barbecue" at all. "Sweetbreads" are there and called "sweetbreads," not "chitlins."

Is this the opening salvo in the coastal arbiters of tines declaring Memphis the new ‘It City’? Is our reign over? Are we, like other It Cities before, destined for the scrap heap of hipstory?

If that history is any indication, Nashvillians will react to this slight against our credibility as a world-class metropolis and capital city of greatness the same way we always have: with incredulous anger.

The reason so many outside media outlets write stories with the phrase "it's not just country music!" is because Nashvillians can't shut up about how our city is not just country music. Should an observer dare to assert that Nashville is not Xanadu on the Cumberland, then the knives glint in the sunlight, their blades sharpened on seemingly important statistics like the rising population of rich young people — called "affluents" in the ugly neologistic nomenclature — downtown or increased number of locally sourced, gluten-free, farm-raised, free-range, organic, hand-crafted infused cocktails at our reclaimed barn-wood, co-op, free-trade, chef-driven pop-up food trucks.

And, if the Convention and Vistors Bureau's Butch Spyridon is among the ravenous gang of defenders, the phrases "room nights" and "millions in economic impact" will be sprinkled throughout the discourse, much as the home-grown, single-pot black pepper is dashed across a plate of charcuterie, cut from a pig raised in the most humane environment, which is to say the porker was never subjected to "The Accidental Racist."

It's an attitude best explained by the way Nashvillians reacted to Robert Altman's Nashville — "That righteous outsider got us all wrong by showing us, warts and all! Boycott this man!" — compared to how we reacted to ABC's Nashville, a show that made us look so pretty, the mayor wrote them a huge check.

Should the stats fail them, these guardians will talk about how they feel, the energy that envelopes them like wafting hickory smoke when they explore our gritty and real urban neighborhoods from the safety of their B-Cycles.

But eventually, words must be replaced with action — or failing action, idea-making — and Step Two of the defense is implemented: nextification. What big addition — a new sports team, a new high-rise, a top-notch electric monorail? — will keep Nashville on the radar of writers from the national newspapers we pretend to read?

They sit in their focus groups — thought-leading and synergizing — and formulate plans to Make Nashville Great. "Great" by the way, at these meetings, is synonymous with "More Like New York Or, At Least, Austin or Portland."

No group of people on earth has ever so effectively combined hand-wringing and boosterism the way Nashvillians who feel Nashville has somehow been slighted do, ever worried about doing whatever it is that will keep the city on the arbitrary standard of it-ness crafted by judges who live in places that have no need to reinvent themselves to be considered world-class.

Will you still love us tomorrow, New York Times? What about next year? What about in 30 years? What must we do to keep you interested? Please, please don't leave us for Tulsa or, worse yet, Memphis!

Of course, progress is fine, and reform is necessary from time to time. Revolution, on the other hand, is hardly worth the effort. Nashville is a growing, vibrant city with its own advantages and its own problems. And local solutions — not solutions copy-catted from elsewhere or solutions designed to appease some distant critic — are the way to leverage those advantages and conquer those problems.

Let's be It on our terms.

Filed under: City News

5 Comments on this post:

By: BigPapa on 8/1/13 at 12:35

Memphis is the "it" city for murder, illiteracy, robbery, & racial strife- that's it. A virtual Detroit on the Mississippi.

By: Libertine on 8/1/13 at 3:36

That reveals a lot about the City Paper. It is more important for its management to emulate New York or Chicago and get recognition from an elitist writer there than to appreciate and report on Nashville as it exists......I don't see the cool hipster joints advertising here.......

By: courier37027 on 8/1/13 at 3:52

This article makes me wants to smoke clove cigarettes while wearing skinny jeans.

By: ancienthighway on 8/1/13 at 4:09

Why can't I find any skinny jeans in XXL?

By: shinestx on 8/1/13 at 6:18

J.R. you have written far better pieces than this... just about every time you've written a piece before this one. You are at your best when you're not regurgitating clichés. I enjoy your writing... most of the time.