Marketing techniques of an American city
Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to tour the interior of the United States by car, will know that all cities do not have the insolence of the skyscrapers of New York, nor the brightness of the architecture of Chicago, or the tainted charisma from the streets of San Francisco, neither the ramshackle charm of New Orleans nor the intellectual airs of Boston. Rather, most of the territory is dusted with tremendously boring and dull cities that, most likely, will be called Springfield.
In 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression, Soviet journalists Ilf and Petrov toured the United States from coast to coast. The tribulations of this curious road trip were inventoried in The America of a plant, (Cliff editorial), a recommended travel book for those who wish to board the United States by road.
In it, Ilf and Petrov tell fascinated this disconcerting phenomenon, that of the bland cities, so similar to each other "like those Canadian quintuplets whom he sometimes confuses even his own mother."
All of these towns have a Manhattan Café where they can eat apple pie, say the incredulous Russian journalists. All have a Main Street, with its corresponding Ford dealership, point not without some dismay. “If Americans ever reach the moon, there is no doubt that they will build an identical city there to these in all its details, ”they venture.
Ilf and Petrov, in slaughter © D.R
TOPONIMY FOR VAGOS
As with some people, the drama of these populations begins early: with their name. They are victims of a ruthless and endemic American species, that of lazy surveyors. In the 50 American states, there are a total of 46 Riversides, 45 Centerville, 43 Fairview, 42 Franklin, 40 Midway, 39 Pleasant Valley and 38 Liberty. Springfield, although it has the reputation of being the most widespread place name by grace of the series The Simpsons, is only present in 35 states.
Ilf and Petrov also call attention to this phenomenon: “Several cities are named after Paris and London. There is a Shanghai, a Jarbin and a ten of St. Petersburgos. Apart from the Moscow of Ohio, there are a couple more in two other states. There is an Odessa, although it is not on the shore of the Black Sea or any other sea, but in the state of Texas. ”
Wapakoneta, hometown of Neil Amstrong © Corbis
THE REBELLION OF ABURRIMENT
Despite their names, small and medium-sized American cities are faithful representatives of the famous spirit of American achievement and tend to claim proudly: "They have taken heroic measures to distinguish themselves from their sisters," the Soviets agree. “For example, they have hung a sign at the entrance, as do the merchants at the door of their stores, to indicate to the potential customers the nature of their products. Redwood city, read in one of them, and then come these verses: the best weather according to government forecasts”.
The main characteristic of this delirious rebellion against the bland is its peaceful character; its biggest advantage, that will delight any traveler collector of chascarrillos. From a three-month journey I made in 2009, I still have some of these innocent curiosities written in a notebook. For example: Muskegon (Michigan), which claimed to be the headquarters of the annual convention of the Buster Keaton Society or Wapakoneta (Ohio), hometown of the first astronaut who stepped on the moon, Neil Amstrong.
In the absence of Empire State, imagination is valued. The anecdote rises to the category of virtue and begins the deployment of hyperbole, a race whose climax came to the Russians the day they ran into a population that claimed to be “The largest small city in the United States”.
Wapakoneta, hometown of Neil Amstrong © Corbis
The Soviet writers, plunged during their trip in a constant state of surprise and admiration, give a folder to the issue of boring cities in a sharp way: "In that systematic monotony lies the colossal force and the inexhaustible wealth of the United States". It was not difficult for me to imagine a special body of municipal officials trained to sniff out newspaper archives or comb every inch of the city in search of a record as crazy as it was harmless: the highest episcopal church in Warren County or the Statue of a biggest baseball bat in the country (which, by the way, is in Louisville, Kentucky).
These attempts of those of the nondescript cities to carve out a unique identity are not desperate, but they touch the tone of a self-help manual and produce some tenderness. Knowing other American foreign marketing techniques, I keep the tenderness.
Waynesboro, Virgina © Corbis
Black Hills in South Dakota © Corbis