Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Steelers Nation Matters

There is a downside to all the Steelers fanaticism. As Pittsburgh works itself up into a Super Bowl froth, Mike Madison wonders if the serious issues facing the region will be neglected:

Pittsburghers around the world today feel the civic football populism of the Steel Curtain era -- recalling precisely the lowest point of the city's and region's 20th century history. Steelers bread and Steelers circuses keep the region mired in habits of thinking that recall the woe-is-us and damn-the-rest-of-the-world mindset bred of the demise of steel. We have to look out for ourselves, because no one else will look out for us. Read that recently? I have -- in the sports pages, in stories and columns quoting Steelers players and coaches? (It's practically tattooed on Hines Ward's forehead, much as I love how the guy plays.) With good reason. In the sports world, that's a great way to keep yourself motivated.

In the civic world, however, it's a formula for lack of ambition and lack of resistance to the interests of political elites.

The Steelers distraction is real enough. I've been less motivated to blog while Pittsburgh marches through the playoffs. Time seems to stop as I strive to savor the success of my favorite sports team. Indeed, Steelers success has been a wonderful diversion.

However, I think team pride, and thus civic pride, is manifested differently in the Diaspora than it is in the Pittsburgh cultural hearth. My passion for the Steelers inspired me to dedicate myself to the economic development of the Pittsburgh region and start this blog. There is a big difference between local Steeler fans and Steelers Nation. What is going on in and around Pittsburgh is not reflective of the entire fan base.

I'm still trying to figure out how to channel constructively all this displaced fan energy. Blogger Ryan Avent provides one possible avenue:

So, the other day I jokingly twittered (normally, my twitters are dead serious) that a bunch of us new media types should pack up and head to Detroit, where we could all buy mansions for $1000. A friend responded by suggesting some analysis would be necessary before we all up and make the leap. Fair enough.

The idea is this — if enough people of a certain productive potential move to Detroit, then Detroit will begin exercising an attractive force. In response to the growing population of people, supportive infrastructure will grow up. Employers will follow or start-up from among the migrants. Consumption options reflecting migrant taste will appear. And eventually the whole show will become self-sustaining. People who want to be in the industry involved or related industries will move there, employers who want to employ such people will move there, and so on and so forth.

Replace "new media" with "diaspora" and, of course, "Detroit" with "Pittsburgh". Pick a part of Pittsburgh in sore need of urban redevelopment, say Uptown, and market it as Steelerstahlville. (kidding, sort of ...) The love for the Steelers is a powerful motivator. And, fostering a high-density residence of long-distance migrants is an impressive economic engine. The influx of talent to the city can help address a lot of the problems that Mike fears are now on the backburner thanks to Super Bowl madness.

Social forces that can travel well beyond their place of origin are valuable assets. Witness the presidential inauguration today. Time has stopped, almost for an entire world, as Obama jingoism works it magic. Obama might squander his opportunity. He might also galvanize a nation and purpose them for a worthy cause. Pittsburgh is at the same crossroads with Steelers Nation.

Update: Terrible Towel graces Obama's inauguration.

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