David Brooks’ Chicago: City of Culture Workers (?)

I have nothing to say on either of the two recent David Brooks columns on Markos Moulitsas and “the Liberal Inquisition” (what a show) that have received attention from many quarters. Rather, I’m interested in his recent meditations (behind the NYT wall) on the City of Broad Shoulders Culture Workers:

No American city has progressed as much in the past two decades as Chicago. It’s richer, cleaner, more livable, more honest though less colorful than it was.

OK, I’m with him so far (though perhaps there’s a case to be made for San Francisco on that count). Brooks continues:

The social conditions that underlay the urban realist reporting of the old days no longer exist…Chicago is no longer the city of broad shoulders but of cultural workers. The newspaper-devouring working class no longer exists. The old neighborhoods are not as cohesive (or insular). A Daley is still mayor, but the machine is gone.

There is no real working-class consciousness in popular culture today. The city is now shaped by the suburbs. Slats Grobnik has given way to legions of grown-up Ferris Buellers.

I realize that Brooks probably just parachuted in during Bush’s 18-hour Chicago visit last week and likely didn’t have actually visit any of the unnamed neighborhoods to which he refers. Furthermore, other than the Red Eye, or Hoy, I rarely see newspaper readers on the Redline north of Belmont. And, indeed, neighborhoods on the Near North Side sure tend to have more of a Ferris Bueller-feel than they did when Ferris ventured from the North Shore into the dark, scary city neigh-on 20 years ago.

Chicago is a city of contradictions: Studs Terkel refers to “the two sides of Chicago: the one side a Jane Adams, the other side a Capone…” Chicago’s second Daley era–America’s Best Mayor— is a major success by most accounts, crowned by the glory that is Millennium Park; while at the same time it is losing population and produced the two most-publicized post-Sept. 11 American wanna-be terrorists–Jose Padilla and Narseal Batiste.

But Brooks’ lament of the lack of reliable, aware and funny media voices is overwrought. There is no Mike Royko on the scene, alas, and its unfair to expect his role as the workingman’s advocate to ever be filled by one person today. But some folks and entities belie Brooks’ assertion that “there is no real working-class consciousness in popular culture” in Chicago media; some suggestions:

One thought on “David Brooks’ Chicago: City of Culture Workers (?)

  1. John – Just came across this. Thanks for the mention, I appreciate it. David Brooks rarely knows what he is talking about. He can be a fine writer, in terms of using the language, but is also the master of the surface impression, IMHO. Anyway, thanks for noticing our work at the BR.

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