Pittsburgh needs Oprah. It needs Oprah to tell it that it’s really and truly good enough to stand up with all those flashier cities that it feels so inferior to. And maybe to buy it a car, or whatever. Because Pittsburgh has a self-esteem problem, and I never noticed it until I had to start telling people that I just moved from Austin.
By now, I’ve developed a standard response to the inevitable gushing of a Pittsburgher who has heard such wonderful things about Austin and was it just wonderful to live there? I’ve developed an even more extensive standard response to the Pittsburgher who reacts to the news that I moved deliberately, on purpose, to Pittsburgh from Austin in the same way that I might react if someone informed me that they have given up eating Roland’s hot lobster rolls in favor of eating dust bunnies.
My response consists of discussing the traffic and crowding problems in Austin, the general sense of smug ennui there, and the fact that I never could have bought such an unbelievably awesome turn-of-the-century Victorian row house there – because 1) it wouldn’t even exist there, and 2) mere mortals can’t afford property there. It consists of extolling the incredible beauty of the city of Pittsburgh, and its wonderful sense of history and identity, and its down-to-earth authenticity that is okay with me being both a compassionate and sensitive servant of humanity and a beer-swilling psychotic sports fan freak. I wrap it up by just shrugging and saying I guess I wasn’t hip enough for Austin, which is the only lie in the whole spiel and inevitably the only part accepted as truth.
I don’t like the underlying principle that this phenomenon seems to suggest – that Pittsburgh’s image problem comes just as much from its own apparent self-loathing as it does from bad PR. The bad PR problem we can overcome, and to some degree we are, if the steady stream of love from the New York Times is any indication. But all the good press in the world can’t save the city from its bad self-image.
Pittsburgh, you need an Aha! moment.
(Note: The above link is brought to you by me googling “Oprah catch phrase.” Perhaps I shouldn’t write about a celebrity if I know absolutely nothing about her. Oh well, what’s done is done.)