By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)
Those who get paid to comment have had their say. Now, it’s my turn.
The topic: The controversial CNN series “Chicagoland,” an eight-part documentary of sorts about my home town. Although with eight installments, “documentary” probably is a misnomer. Perhaps “real-life urban mini-series” is more accurate.
In the days before an after the debut episode March 6, the program generated the expected flurry of commentary. After watching “Chicagoland” last week, I shut the TV off with these four thoughts in mind.
The Politics. Unquestionably, Chicago is known for politics, and with good reason. It’s well documented that for decades our elected officials have elevated politics to a high art. From the onset, the first installment of “Chicagoland” centered on politics as it relates to two of our biggest problems: Violent, often gang-driven crime in some neighborhoods and a financially strapped, under-performing public school system. These two subjects were explored in footage featuring Mayor Rham Emanuel, Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy and a remarkable woman, Elizabeth Dozier, principal of Fenger High School. There was high drama, and there were poignant moments last Thursday; but I seriously question why the initial episode of “Chicagoland” focused so heavily on two topics and three people. This set a tone of helplessness and despair.
The Problems. Problems, Chicago has them, certainly, as depicted in Episode 1. Headline-grabbing crime and a broken education system assuredly rank way too high on the scale. But there was no mention in the first episode of the kind of problems that don’t make for combustible television and commentary. Underfunded pensions, soaring taxes, gridlock-at-times traffic, the continued erosion of some outlying neighborhoods, out-of-control open-air drug markets — these and other issues plague Chicago . Perhaps these will be covered later in the series, as they should, along with what’s being done to make things right.
The Good Stuff. Politics and problems aside, a lot of good is taking place in Chicago. There’s tangible, big-picture stuff like a flurry of new downtown developments and revitalization — okay, gentrification — of some neighborhoods. A new manufacturing sector — driven by technology — has emerged. Cultural amenities and restaurants — and some professional sports franchises — are world class. Like the other problems the city faces, maybe the producers of “Chicagoland” will address these later.
The Name. Reportedly, the name “Chicagoland” was coined by the legendary Col. Robert McCormick, editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. To me, it’s a silly title. This metropolitan region has a lot of entertaining and attractive attributes. But let’s leave the “land” monikers to all things Disney. Besides, I never heard anyone from Chicago refer to the city or the region as “Chicagoland,” except in TV commercials hawking carpeting.
Clearly, the 60 minutes of “Chicagoland” Episode 1 got me and a lot of other people to take notice. I plan to watch tomorrow’s installment, and perhaps I’ll have four more thoughts.
Here are some other thoughts from the PRDude on Chicago and politics:
- A September 10, 2010 post about Mayor Richard M. Daley’s decision not to seek re-election.
- A March 8, 2010 manifesto against production of a “Jersey Shore” type of program proposed for Chicago.
- Finally, this July 31, 2011 travelogue of Chicago’s historic Logan Square neighborhood.