Monday, November 21

More jerks per square foot

One of our sports people ventured to Murfreesboro this weekend for whatever championship game or tournament was being held there (I can't keep track of them; was it TSSAA?). At the end of last week, I overheard him talking about how all the hotels in M'boro seemed seedy and podunk, so he booked one in Antioch. I didn't quibble with him about that (truly, can one town's Sleep Inn be more podunk than another's? Doubtful) but I told him that there would be plenty to do around Antioch, and that if he wanted to check out M'boro dive culture, he could mosey across the street from Floyd Stadium and check out The Boro. It's always hopping.

He reported back today and told me that he didn't hang around in Murfreesboro because "they roll up the sidewalks at 11." That was amusing. He did, however, see two dueling mariachi bands at a Mexican restaurant in Antioch. That got us talking about the growing Hispanic population there. He said that it's funny to see Nashville's lily white status threatened, since they have a history of looking down on Memphis for having such a large black population. And then someone else joined the conversation and a "Nashvillians are major jerks" meme was thrown out there. I had to disagree, telling them that I've met far more jerkbags here than in Nashville. They laughed and called me a traitor and we moved on.

But the Nashville vs. Memphis rivalry interests me. I see it pop up everywhere. Here, of course, in conversations between people about sports teams (as in Grizzlies fans vs. Titans fans, as if there's even reason to compare) and The Tennessean being inferior as a paper and as an employer. In Nashville, I've seen the rivalry pop up in blog comment conversations and Scene "You're So Nashville" contests, where many Nashvillians seem repulsed by the sheer volume of corruption that pumps into and out of Memphis. (I'm repulsed, too, and it's one reason why I would never live here for a long time.) I suppose both cities think the other has more jerks, but I just don't even see it as comparable. There's a thick undercurrent of negativity here that I don't detect in Nashville. I'm sure it's from a complicated mix of strained race relations, stretched finances, an obvious suburban/rich-urban/poor dynamic, rampant crime, and the simple fact that Memphis has more people.

Phil and I were talking the other night about this (we talk about it a lot). He raised an interesting point: For a city with such a significant history -- one that virtually defined American rock 'n' roll -- Memphis sure struggles just staying alive. I mean the city is deep in debt and, once again, has ranked near the top of the list of most dangerous cities in this country (to be fair, Nashville isn't far behind). Sure, it's poetic in a Hustle&Flow kind of way (life ain't easy for a pimp, apparently), but the reality of living here for so many people is so depressing and shitty that I can't imagine the poetry makes it worth it. What would it take to bring Memphis out of poverty and obvious jerkdom? I don't know. Fresh, visionary leadership would be a start, I guess.

There is so much good in and about Memphis, but the good has a hard time breaking through the tough, leathery exterior of jerkdom. I know there are people out there trying to change the city and get a productive ball rolling (and not just in the change-the-facade-and-let-the-guts-crumble way, either), but it seems like progress is a boulder and Memphis is Sisyphus, perpetually moving forward, but never gaining ground.


Blogger J. R. said...

As I'm as much of a typical "Nashville boy" as you are going to find, let me shed some light on the rivalry.

To be general- Memphians see Memphis as a superior city, with a more vibrant, more genuine culture. It's hard to argue with that. With the exception of Graceland and the general "Elvisland" feel of that whole area, Memphis culture is more genuine. They see Nashville (and it's hard to argue with) as a sort of industrified tourist destination. "We ARE Music City, come to Music City, look at all the record-company approved tourist destinations, etc." Thus, they don't understand why Nashville gets all the good publicity (and all the good "stuff" if you will). They bitched and moaned about the Oilers coming to Nashville but de-camping in Memphis. "We are the bigger, better city" they cried. And then no one showed up at a game for two years. Memphis sees itself as put upon, but they don't see why.

Secondly (and more specifically)- Memphis is angry that, during his time in Congress, Estes Kefauver (famous for campaigning for VP in a coonskin hat) called out the G-men to shut down the machine politics in Memphis, the largest city in his home state. They were really incensed because, as the time, Nashville was machine-run as well (read the excellent book Secrets of the Hopewell Box for more information on this little-known part of Tennessee history).

Tue Nov 22, 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger theogeo said...

I've been seeing some not-so-subtle sentiments on some local blogs that liken Memphis to the red-headed stepchild of the state, and I understand why. We're all the way down here, practically in Mississippi, so far out of the capitol's sight and mind. One blog was particularly pissed that the state ponied up some money for the Nissan plant that wasn't ponied up to help Memphis land IP.

If this city doesn't figure out a way to stop the business bleeding (so much growth is going south into DeSoto County, Miss., because of lower taxes and a lower cost of living), the future is going to be pretty bleak. I hear a lot of comparisons to Detroit, where the city's industry is, in a lot of ways, a mere shell of what it once was.

Thanks for your thoughts on the matter. I'll see if I can track down that book and learn a little local history.

Tue Nov 22, 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger phallicpen said...

They don't roll up the sidewalks. They send the coppers out to pull over stoned newspaper editors.


Tue Nov 22, 02:19:00 PM  

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