Sunday, October 2, 2016

Whisper City

I'm enough of a St. Louis insider to see the inner workings, and enough of an outsider to see what makes it all interesting, but I don't think any non-native can truly understand the secret language of the locals. In particular, the whisper campaigns used to elevate and to shun. 

On the surface, St. Louis is defined by restraint. Unlike in-your-face New Yorkers or boastful, showboating Texans, St. Louisans hold their cards close to their chest. In many cities people are openly competing for their piece of the pie, and to the untrained eye, St. Louis, by contrast, is wide open and ripe for the taking. But there's so much beneath the surface, and non-natives are constantly falling into traps. 

Let's take the case of 15th Ward Alderman and New York native Megan Green, who along with practically all other elected officials, was opposed to funding a new NFL stadium. Her peers nearly all spoke out against the stadium deal, but when it came time to vote everyone but her got on board. Something was lost in translation, and she didn't understand the dance -- the speaking out against it and then pushing to pass it -- and the knives came out when she not only didn't get on board, but spoke out about the deal making.  

The whisper campaigns seem to be even more of a factor in the LGBT community. 

Many openly despise Vital Voice publisher and Tulsa native Darin Slyman simply because of the whisper campaigns by supporters of his rival, who seem to feel there should be no players in local LGBT media outside of their preferred blog. 

I, of course, am constantly dealing with these issues. Just in the past few weeks a couple who put every detail of their relationship and breakup on Facebook, including video, claimed, in retrospect, that I was somehow to blame for the breakup, or at least played a role. Others jumped on board with this claim, but when pushed to defend it, conceded it might not be true --but I was wrong for speaking publicly about the accusation. I should have, according to one longtime Facebook friend, "taken the high road" and ignored the baseless claims. There's also outrage in certain circles that my book claims a popular bar has a dark room - when there is no such claim in the book.

Then there's "Queen of Controversy" and Springfield native Janessa Highland, who has been blacklisted from most gay bars for making controversial comments. This, despite the fact local drag queens say worse about one another all the time.

Fact-based arguments aren't enough to change the narratives pushed by the whisper campaigns, because once the tide has turned against someone, embracing the shunned person would mean being disloyal to the group. People therefore tend to fall in line, facts be damned. 

For a moment in time Chicago and St. Louis were each vying to be the nation's fourth largest city, but as well all know Chicago shot past us. One theory is that while Chicago was relatively open, by comparison anyway, St. Louis business interests carved up the city amongst themselves and shut out newcomers. 

I'm under no delusions of changing a deeply rooted culture, but I hope in discussing it, we can help give non-natives a better understanding, or perhaps better incorporate them into this byzantine metropolis of ours. 

Just as you wouldn't wade into the murky waters of the Mississippi, you should always be aware there's much under the surface in this city, and it could pull you under. 


  1. Interesting perspective. As a native St. Louisan, I can completely agree.

  2. Actually, I heard many years ago that Chicago grew so big because the railroads decided that it was a better place to centralize because of the cattle market there. Sort of makes sense because the railroads were the best way to get cattle to other markets.