Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before. He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.
– Kurt Vonnegut
A friend, who shall be named Jasper Pipestone due to his politico connections, called me up in December of 2011 with an idea for a city tagline to sell around the village to peasants (poor people) that said, Pet the sick puppy. Rockford, IL. I laughed immediately and offered a thought that I’d sit on it awhile. (Truth be told I mentioned to Jasper that it it may be too abstract for the locals to grasp in exchange for their gold and silver pebbles.) Months have passed and Jasper’s simple, humorous city-pride tagline has festered over into something other than it’s initial, healthy, intended reaction.
Imagine the American city is a puppy, imagine the puppy is sick, imagine it’s all a dream and you look at the puppy pretending everything will be ok. Let us reminisce about the one time puppy caught that ball and ran it back to ya.
This is an example of what happens in sick, dying American communities when community leaders produce get-positive marketing campaigns to cover up awful, real, original truths. Campaigns executed at the expense of it’s Creative Class to improve a community’s attitude and outlook, to cover up what we already know in most cases. Government, business and private sector organizations and individuals take on the roles of false prophets, often misconstruing emotions over mathematical logic for political peddling. It becomes offensive at best to analytical thinkers who don’t associate attitudes & emotions with logic and math, but politicians and false community prophets know that the majority can be fooled if presented in a soft, glowing manner.
The truth is that puppy can’t see, puppy can’t hear anymore. It’s ok to pet the puppy when it’s sick, but don’t cover up what is killing it. Rockford, IL. This is an example of facing the reality of a negative situation, learning from it and moving on to something new. Why do we ignore decades of problems by assuming the fix is to think positive? It’s not you silly people, it’s not personal. It’s just math.
Well, the telling of jokes is an art of its own, and it always rises from some emotional threat. The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful.
– K. Vonnegut
I’ve observed a recent rash of get-positive-community marketing projects disguised with saccharine smiles. There’s a large community of professionals here (and everywhere) rising called the Creative Class. We are the new workforce and we have invented our own rules and methods to deal with a corrupt system that left us behind years ago to figure out new ways to survive, to work. This corrupt system includes businesses and government working together, two entities that have destroyed the middle class in the last 4 decades, especially evident in smaller American communities. Rockford, IL was a strong, industrial middle class city in the 40s, 50s and 60s. The 70s brought a downturn and into the 80s it continued it’s collapse. By the end of the 90s and into the early 2000s, outsourcing, layoffs, sell-offs and closings pounded the final nail into Rockford’s manufacturing history. See Ingersoll Milling Company, once a 12 block factory backbone of jobs for many middle class people and families, and an anchor for the west side of town, gone. Nothing was done for decades to slow down the death of a community.
City council and local business leader decisions to push Northern Illinois University out to Dekalb and away from the center, downtown, along with new construction and development performed on the east end ripped the heart and future beat out of Rockford in the 70s and 80s. We have no center, we are the sprawl. There is no pretty, positive way to paint that picture, but it was painted by people with power and wealth— not by people with imagination, ideas and the ability to foreshadow a possible future.
The Creative Class is now being counted on to reinvent Rockford, but at what cost? We have nothing, no one to speak up for us or protect us with regards to business and government plans to use us, our skills, our ideas. We are worth more than they can bear to part their pockets with and expect charity in many situations from the Creative Class. They are aware of this as am I. Fact: There are more of us, The Creative Class professionals, than there are of them.
In recent years the slow move towards politico get-positive feel food city pride campaigns have been produced by the Creative Class at the request of city officials and business leaders, and in many cases it’s expected of us to provide discounted or charity labor ‘for the better of the community’ – as if it’s our duties to while our bills pile up too. This is a problem because they know which weak, inexperienced links to pillage creative skill-sets from.
The Creative Class needs to band together now, to prevent the pillaging of of skills and ideas— and for what? For nothing in cities like Rockford, IL, because math, ethics and business patterns have proved to be negative towards the Creative Class in a town that lives, breathes and acts within the past tense at all times. REcollecting ancient memories, a proud manufacturing past is fine and dandy though it doesn’t move us into the present and future. We are stuck on idle, drowning from promises in a desert that once had water for boats we made to float on. We are dead ducks, sick puppies being petted by positivity, but without cures or opportunities for the present and future. We don’t attract new businesses to come to Rockford, we open up new bars and fast food chains— and that’s about it. Some of us aren’t exactly mentally qualified to handle the public when they’ve been drinking.
We are a community that has become too comfortable with defeat, missed opportunities and sprawl. We are beyond contempt it seems, settled nicely into a rare form of low-self esteem that breathes an awful stink called city pride. A community disease has taken over many people, the stain of contentment offset by positively pretending it’s the past every single day. That’s no way to create a better present in need of any future to survive until the earth goes hot, cold, and then dark.
Rockford’s inabilities to accept progress for decades has only fueled thoughts and actions that the past tense is a wonderful, delusional place to live in these days. We had jobs, thriving opportunities, healthy mob activity, two dozen more manufacturing companies, 40 less fast food restaurants, a few extra grocery markets and a train. Oh, the train. Oh, GAP. We had a lot of ‘stuff’, man. Live in the past tense but the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s are over. Wake up to the sprawl and eat from it’s belly… it’s somewhere out there on East State and Perryville or 173 and nowhere. Do we really need political reminders about how great american cities like Rockford, IL, once was? Not me, not in this lifetime, not here. Call me a minority or negative (that’s what drunk hillbilly union teachers and city council men do on weekend bar benders), but I want to know more about now and tomorrow.
I’ve heard the cattle cooing, memos received from the town choir post dated at bars and imaginary churches. Honor the past tense all you want, guys, soak in the stink of beer and weed that permeates over Rockford replacing the stink that used to come from sweat and labor in now empty factory buildings. Go ahead now, eat that grass they’re feedin’ the cattle and drink all the saccharine you can suck on from the city’s poor, poisonous well. That kind of solution’s not going to fix the immediate futures of you, you, you and me. We’ve become our own infested dangerous joke that Kurt Vonnegut warned many Americans about: Real. Original. Rockford, IL.
A long time ago we worked, we manufactured and we gathered on weekends to relax. We watched puppy catch the ball and everyone clapped. We sat around and recollected recent memories and no one could imagine what we have to imagine from scratch now. Process the damage that’s been done already by many business and government leaders before us, topped off by the community’s lack of voice, too— complacency’s been on display for decades— for that is the truth found in this American city’s past tense.
Now go ahead and pretend it’s all a state of mind— pet the sick puppy.