Friday, June 19, 2009

Ypsitucky Is In The Rust Belt

As Bill Cowher might say, "There's a fine line between self-deprecating and offensive." The term "Rust Belt" has mostly negative connotations. Nonetheless, it's a globally recognized brand that could be leverage in a positive way. In “Ypsitucky", the use of irony in naming a music festival is lost upon the powers that be:

I can kind of see how some folks were upset by “Ypsitucky,” as the word was traditionally used as a pejorative against us, but “rustbelt”? Really? Are we so sensitive that we can’t hear the name of our City even mentioned in that context? Isn’t it time that we embrace reality? Like it or not, we’re in the rustbelt, folks. Just because we refuse to use the word, doesn’t mean it’s not true. I’d agree that we probably don’t want that single fact to define us, but we can’t pretend that it’s not true. Not mentioning it in a festival name doesn’t make it any less real. And what could be more positive than taking it, and owning it? What could possibly be better than “Rustbelt Revival”? That’s us taking ownership for something and elevating it. That’s us saying to the rest of the world, “Yeah, you think we can’t make it, but we can.” I love that. It’s the perfect message for right now. It’s honest. And it’s empowering… Instead, though, we’ve chosen to be home to “The Jamboree.” I feel sad for Ypsi tonight.

I love that, too. I love Rust Belt Chic. I'm also discouraged when I encounter fellow natives who would apply rust remover to the region's image. (e.g. "Green Belt") I appreciate the call for a Great Lakes re-branding, but the Rust Belt identity is already so powerful. I can say I'm from the Rust Belt and it means something, allows me to instantly relate to someone born a few states over in a city that's surprisingly similar to my own hometown. I'm not from Michigan, but I understand the "Ypsitucky" reference. Intimately.

Actually, that brings me to a recent post I wrote about the Three Rust Belts. There's a Rust Belt tendency to distinguish itself from Appalachia. Perhaps unwittingly, Richard Longworth reinforces this tradition in his book "Caught in the Middle". I didn't think too much about the cultural tension between the Midwest and the Mountain South until I deconstructed Longworth's regional map. I'm still fond of this definition of the Rust Belt. The eastern part of this region might as well be Northern Appalachia (a.k.a. Pennsyltucky). As for Pittsburgh's Appalachian roots, read this Mike Madison post and the comments that follow it. Pittsburghers don't appreciate the reminder that their city is in the mountains and the Applachian cultural influence is strong. Very strong.

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