One Myth Worth Dispelling

The observer: Summer ’08
Illustration by Cathy Rubin One Myth Worth Dispelling
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Sonoma, Calif. — On an unseasonably warm and beautiful April evening in the heart of the California wine country, an enthusiastic crowd with many Pittsburghers gathered to see the premiere screening of “My Tale of Two Cities,” a documentary about Pittsburgh and the life of the film’s creator, star and narrator, Carl Kurlander.

Kurlander is a funny, witty fellow best known for penning the script for the brat-​pack movie “St. Elmo’s Fire,” whichhe conceived as a love-​struck teenager trying to win the affection of a Shady Side Academy classmate. He didn’t win the girl, but the movie was a hit and launched his career as a Hollywood screenwriter.

A la Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me,” Kurlander’s new film chronicles hisdecision to return to Pittsburgh with his wife and young daughter because “L.A. is no place to raise children.” The 85-​minute documentary is filled with self-​deprecating humor and includes plenty of Fred Rogers material and the Pittsburgh neighborhood theme, as well as interviews with Teresa Heinz, Cyril Wecht, Paul O’Neill, Franco Harris, etc.

The Sonoma crowd enjoyed it as any Pittsburgher would on some level, seeing David McCullough talk about Pittsburgh firsts and seeing the region’s proud history recalled.

The film is intended to resonate with cities everywhere that have seen better days and are striving to regain a bright future. Yet an observer might wonder when and whether members of the media in all forms will ever cease and desist from perpetuating Pittsburgh stereotypes that are not true.

Exhibit one is the mania that “the young people are leaving.” It is simply false that young people leave Pittsburgh more than they do other cities. For instance, last year Boston, Chicago, San Diego, the Silicon Valley and Philadelphia all had higher rates of “young peopleexodus” than Pittsburgh. We live in a mobile society, and young people leave every city. It’s a big world, and young people with capabilities often want to see a little of it.

Yet ad nauseam — in print and on TV and radio — this hackneyed theme that young people all leave Pittsburgh ispurveyed so often that consumers of local media believe it and think there’s something wrong with this region. Kurlander’s film is no exception, hammering the point again and again, and joking that after a new George Romero horror movie decided to film in Canada that “even the dead people are leaving Pittsburgh.”

The perception business is certainly a tricky one, and clearly there can be over sensitivity about it. Various local efforts to change the national image of Pittsburgh from “Steel City” to “Knowledge Town”or “Roboburgh” have so far been largely futile, as the television networks show fiery images of toiling steelworkers every time the Steelers are in the playoffs.

And there’s nothing wrong with being the Steel City. Far from it. We still produce steel here and are the headquarters of major players in the industry. But, we are other things too.

We are not, however, the “Young People Are Leaving City,” and it will indeed be a beautiful day in the neighborhood when the local media does its part todispel that myth.

PQ Staff

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