Fort Wayne, Indiana, has been on the bad end of some press lately, from being named the fattest and dumbest city in the nation, to the most riddled with cholesterol. Ouch. This, along with the ever-present issue of brain drain, inspired a promotional campaign that pulled together the city’s hip-hop scene to make a video celebrating life in Fort Wayne.
Devon Haynie writes for The Atlantic that if “it sounds like a cheesy concept, it is.”
The tone is unabashedly optimistic and the rhymes occasionally groan-worthy (“I was born in Indiana, so listen when I say there’s more than corn to Indiana”). But there’s also something kind of … awesome about it. The video is filmed in iconic locations throughout the city and features back-up singing by Fort Wayne’s Voices of Unity, an award-winning children’s choir. The producers hoped the song—played on local airwaves—would instill pride in the city and encourage young people to stick around after college…
“The younger generation, they need to see people who are not much older coming together and taking pride in where they’re from,” says Dinero Moneybagz, a 25-year-old hip-hop artist who appears in the video. “When you’re in a smaller town, pride is everything. … You have to take responsibility for your own greatness.”
It’s a compelling idea, the notion that we must take responsibility for promoting ourselves — a notion, not incidentally, that inspired the creation of this site. It reminds me of many of the Community of Choice conversations that have been happening around town, conversations that challenge us to suss out what’s special about the Greater Lafayette area and what we can do to make sure that folks don’t just see us as a pit stop on their educational trajectory, or a literal pit stop between Indy and Chicago. Projects like this are a good reminder.
Admittedly the first thing I thought about while reading about the Fort Wayne project was Lazy Muncie, an answer to the viral SNL skit Lazy Sunday, that parodies stereotypes about Hoosiers and life in Indiana. This video debuted around 2006 during election season when many disparaging stereotypes about Midwesterners were abound, with widespread national commentary that there’s nothing to do here, that we have no style, that we’re dumb, naive, fatally wholesome, unsophisticated, easily snowed, you get the picture.
While the first video capitalizes on the grit of the hip hop scene and the innocence and hope of an award-winning local children’s choir, the second one relies on neutralizing the stereotypes with humor and irony, and yes, it even features a cameo from Garfield creator Jim Davis. Both methods have their benefits, both methods rely on different kinds of credibility to make the case that we can be cool, and prove that we do indeed have smart, creative elements among us.
But will it inspire the kind of pride that convinces young people to stay here and make lives here? I don’t know. What it might do is inspire some of us to get off the couch, turn off the TV, and seek out some of the people, places, and events that make our hometowns special. I’m okay with that.