Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Chicago Hicks and New York Slickers

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Chicago Hicks and New York Slickers

Article excerpt


THEY basically called us hicks.

A cry of injured pride from Chicago, America's Second City, where people are nursing scars inflicted by the First City, New York, looking down its educated nose at its country bumpkin cousin.

The hurt is real. It all began when certain civic heavy-hitters in New York rashly decided to emulate Chicago, which encourages city-wide reading by selecting a single book and asking the whole metropolis to discuss it. Uproar ensued. New York does not copy the primitive practices of lesser urban centres. The idea of letting a city of meat packers influence the cultural life of a society which preens itself on its literary refinement shocked New Yorkers.

Ann Douglas, a Columbia University professor and author of The Feminisation of the American Culture, sneered: "The New Yorker disdains to be a booster of his own city or culture. That is for the provinces. We are the most important readers and critics in the world. I would prefer to go on as we have for the past 100 years, deciding what everyone else should read."

The distinguished critic Harold Bloom, who tells us not only what but how we should read, capped that.

"I don't like these mass reading bees.

It's as if we're all going to pop out and eat Chicken McNuggets or something horrid like that at once."

I spent the weekend in Chicago, where a traditional rivalry with New York still rattles the sensibilities of a prideful city - its marvellous opera house was designed so that its rear faces Manhattan. Chicagoans will tell you they like to be what New Yorkers are not.

"We know they are better than us, so we make up for it by being nicer," said my cocktail party host, a very nice man, with tongue in cheek.

Another described his city's booster spirit as "unironic, unanalysed, without bitterness or animus towards anyone". Not so the attitude of some New Yorkers. A young actress friend who has lived in both cities told me: "New Yorkers were supposed to have become more modest, less snooty, less filled with a sense of their own superiority after 11 September. …

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