'Poor Chicago' Critique Touches Raw Nerve In The Windy City

"Poor Chicago." That's how a piece in the New York Times Sunday Book Review begins. The essay goes on to criticize the Windy City for everything from political corruption and violent crime to the weather and the Cubs never winning. Most of all, the author attacks Chicago's boosterism and swagger in spite of it's problems, and predictably, it's touched a nerve in the Second City.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. "Poor Chicago," so begins an essay in The New York Times Sunday Book Review. The author uses her review of three books about Chicago to criticize everything from the city's political corruption and murder rate to its cold winters. Most of all, the reviewer calls out the Windy City for its swagger in the midst of all that is wrong. Needless to say, the piece has touched a nerve in Chicago, where NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: DePaul University theater professor and writer Rachel Shteir is quoting a friend from a recent conversation when beginning her review with the words: Poor Chicago. She then adds: Given the number of urban apocalypses here, I couldn't tell which problem she was referring to. Ouch. Shteir then lists many of those problems, including violent crime, racial segregation, corruption, parking meter rates, the abominable weather and, oh, yeah, the Cubs never winning. And yet, Chicago never ceases to boast about itself, Shteir writes. The swagger has bugged me since I've moved here from New York 13 years ago.

JACK D'AMATO: I think she's stayed here 13 years too long.

SCHAPER: Jack D'Amato is one of many lifelong Chicagoans riled up by Shteir's piece.

D'AMATO: If that's the way she feels, she should move back to New York.

SCHAPER: D'Amato says Shteir just doesn't seem to get Chicago.

D'AMATO: She's missing the people. Our people here are a lot more kinder, more generous people than New York. We're not as rude.

SCHAPER: And it's not just regular Chicagoans taking issue with Shteir's essay. A testy mayor, Rahm Emanuel, urges residents to not even bother reading it.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: You know, it didn't note that the city of Chicago has the most Nobel Prize winners of any city in America. And they think we shouldn't be proud of ourselves? I'm quite proud of the city of Chicago, and I would recommend that writer, while they've been here in the city of Chicago, go see our city, meet the people, meet our neighborhoods.

SCHAPER: Newspaper columnists, talk radio hosts, bloggers and others are sounding off too. Many call Shteir's piece pretentious, arrogant and condescending. I caught up with Shteir at a cafe near the DePaul University campus, and she says she doesn't hate the city.

RACHEL SHTEIR: I feel a great deal of affection toward Chicago, but I also feel sadness about Chicago.

SCHAPER: And Shteir doesn't apologize for her sometimes harsh words in describing the city's problems.

SHTEIR: These are things that seem stuck to Chicago, so I think that they're apocalypses. I mean, it's a provocative piece.

SCHAPER: Provocative indeed, even at Chicago's comedic institution The Second City.

CARISSA BARECKA: Yes.

ROSS BRYANT: She could have been more scathing.

BARECKA: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHAPER: Ross Bryant and Carissa Barecka are cast members at The Second City.

BRYANT: I don't think she went far enough.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHAPER: Barecka and Bryant say Shteir isn't wrong about Chicago's problems.

BARECKA: I think the difference between what she's doing and what we do on stage, we put it from a place of love, and she's literally just tearing Chicago down brick by beautiful brick.

BRYANT: The tone of the article seems to be it's like I live here, but I'm not one of those people.

BARECKA: Yeah.

SCHAPER: I asked Barecka and Bryant to tell me their favorite jokes or skits about Chicago. They told me I'd have to buy a ticket for the show.

BRYANT: It's the Chicago way.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHAPER: Indeed, it is. Although I wonder if my alderman can clout me in for free. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Tomorrow, Scott Simon speaks with Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan about an astonishing case: Prosecutors say inmates at the Baltimore Detention Center were working with prison guards to run a drug and cellphone smuggling operation. That's tomorrow on WEEKEND EDITION.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: