Thursday, March 20, 1997
The View from Down Here
To see what is in front of one's nose, Orwell once remarked, needs a constant
struggle. It's as good a credo for the journalistic craft as has been stated
in the past sixty years, and concisely appropriate to our epoch's blighted
narrative. However redundant and obvious the suggestion, anyone engaged
in gathering the news should still recite a daily breviary of acknowledgement:
The governing classes and their assortment of persuaders have been dutiful
and proficient in seeing to it that it hasn't been easy for us.
The wonder is how an Orwell might fare at our weekly mayoral Press Availability
sessions. Given the old scribe's vitae, my guess is that he might find his
task somewhat disconcerting. At a glance, the difference between a caudillo
and a corporate neoliberal reveals the latter to be at least approachable,
though perhaps only nominally; and comparatively benign, if only abstractly.
While the former usually entrusts aides-de-camp with the dissemination of
policy details, the neoliberal is frequently prone to view his staff as
treacherous. Similarly comical grandiosity may be exhibited by both functionaries,
though on those occasions when the despot grants an audience, badgering
testiness would be uncharacteristic of him, as would any demand for financial
tribute in exchange for access, since those reporting on his utterances
would, by necessity, already be accomplices.
But why risk accusations of facileness when the actual facts about Mayor
Brown's stumbling political astigmatism will suffice. A tally of his guidance
since January, when a local poll's results revealed the public's misgivings
about his first-year performance, could stand as a primer for heedlessness.
Brown's sudden enchantment with the idea of bringing a Home Depot outlet
into the city further aggravated small business owners' fears of an erosion
of their customer base. He again evidenced his ardor for mega-stores which
purvey anti-unionism and labor penury by his oleaginous fandango at the
opening ceremony for the downtown Nike store. Brown's familiar mantra --
"I think big. Always." -- is the bellowing of the literalist,
and should have braced us to expect the edifice complex characteristic of
that breed. Our assuming that the globalist misinterpretation of the notion
of progress was something Brown himself might be immune to was delusory.
The changeover in his selection of friends in recent years ought to have
been a hint. In effusively championing the economic viability of Eddie DeBartolo's
stadium/mall chimera, Brown confirms his turnabout. His allegiances are
to the size-queen mindset of corporate/political morphology, and by now
it is foolhardy to believe otherwise. Despite (and, indeed, as a consequence
of) growing fiscal evidence to the contrary, his cabal will go hoarse in
heralding the 49ers proposal as exemplary of the city's solutions to its
most inveterate problems.
Brown increasingly finds himself stuck, as befits believers in the bottom
line. It's the hyperopia of the clear-cutting genus, preening about the
spoils and reproachful about reminders that there are no trees left standing.
Clearly this isn't the same Willie Brown who used to lead workshops in the
Fillmore in the 1960s with OEO community organizers like me. The community's
concerns at the time were basic: Do you concede your status as an inner-city
colony and gratefully accept the table scraps, the "services"
of the Great Society? Or do you instead organize for greater participation,
for power? Then as now, the gist of that choice is stark: Further isolation,
or real inclusion. These days Brown's answer has become expediently inverted
as he attempts to foist his retail apartheid package upon the residents
of Hunter's Point. More pertinently less Trojan horse than white elephant,
when the 49ers "upscale" mall revenue expectations fail because
Charlotte Maillard proteges and boomer households will continue shopping
elsewhere, the city's increased share of the stadium costs will be blamed
on those same Hunter's Point residents.
Increased marginalization ultimately yields Bantustans, not permanent jobs
and neighborhood sustainability. A substantive alternative to the blithe
neoliberal quick-fix would emphasize development of the Third Street corridor,
and utilize the aggregate of bio-tech firms which are planning to relocate
around the new UC Medical center in Mission Bay. Bayview-Hunter's Point
is well disposed to offer service industries to those medical/research facilities.
If DeBartolo can build malls, he could ostensibly build mini industrial
parks for that very purpose. It might be a bit of a stretch for this self-described
sportsman-public citizen, although his confederate, the Willie Brown the
city thought it knew by dint of his renown, was elected to be a peerless
prod in such circumstances.
Brown has proved loath to suffer messengers bearing ill tidings, as he
again reminded us with his gruesomely stupid demand for a $5,000 "participation
fee" from reporters accompanying him on his forthcoming trip to China
(our reportage about his Paris trip was terribly churlish, we're told).
That he truly hasn't borne up well under the stress of media scrutiny is
attested by his availing himself of the quality-of-life concerns of his
wealthy friends as a convenient nudge to remove unappealing free-standing
news racks from the streets (these are the same folks who intend to shop
in Hunter's Point?). Brown's proposal that the vending machines of the French
firm JCDecaux supplant individual racks is an effort to consolidate and
manipulate press access, and also presumably closes the fulsome "eyesore
issue" and ameliorates queasiness among local Francophile aesthetes.
Small publications dependent on street visibility are obviously threatened,
as are their advertisers. This publication long ago acquired news racks
and will purchase more, eventually incorporating advertising into its print
and Internet editions. It is heartening to know that the barrister class
is quick to slaver at the anticipation of a fight when First Amendment and
allied restraint-of-trade issues are palpably in peril.
You would be correct to assume that reporters who would accept imprisonment
rather than betray an anonymous source would stand up for their livelihoods
by chaining themselves to news racks as they're carted away. You could equally
count on seeing inexpensive carton-like cardboard "fanny pack"
news racks (manufactured by a number of companies) wrapped around trees,
phone poles and lampposts. Torn down, they can be replaced in the 10 seconds
it takes to assemble them. First principles in this trade fortunately engender
the rare collegiality, and the prospect of urban guerrilla media warfare
here would summon the circus of national coverage to which we've grown accustomed.
Chauvinism swells with the familiar foretaste of such spectacle: Brokaw,
after a night ogled and feted at Moose's, intones anchorishly, " Mayor
Willie Brown, considered something of an avatar for urban America ..."
One would hope Brown realizes he has enough problems as it is. Yet he appears
resolved on enjoining his fly posturing and fatmouth bromides with governance
by star-chamber (perhaps the mayor's people now prefer the phrase En
cachette). It doesn't require Orwellian powers of analysis to decode
this tendency. Silencing nemeses is a recipe for implosion, and this guy's
compaction will be grisly. Those consequences are perhaps better parsed
colloquially. Mr. Mayor, you're a football analyst of some note. Persist
in this effort and we'll be on you like a fumble.
Copyright John Hutchison 1997