Cleveland can be a defensive city, vehemently so.
Write a silly article calling the city “Most Miserable,” it will be the top news story for weeks. Blogs will be started. T-shirts will be printed. The visitor’s bureau will pay a communications firm to develop a video response.
Should a sports star decide to leave, the whole thing will begin again. He will be called a terrible person. Spoiled. Dead to all those who reside in the region, except as a source of derision and mocking. The disdain will be unanimous, universal, unquestioned.
The New York Times will put it gently calling Cleveland a “proud but sensitive city.” Gawker.com won’t be so measured: “People from Cleveland, one of the worst cities to live in, tend to get all butthurt when you, correctly, tell them it sucks.”
Any semblance of positive national attention, on the other hand, will be relished. Facebook will light up when Cleveland is chosen to host a conference. Or when a magazine praises urban gardening.
Adherence to this tacitly supported conspiracy will be assumed. Negative media attention will be written off as unfair, treasonous, elitist. A source of outrage. A call to arms. Positive media attention will make careers, validate strategies, legitimize our worth.
A new reality will emerge, one that is wildly different from the outside perspective. Not one but two professional blogs — whose funders have an express interest in seeing the city depicted in a rosy light — will be founded for the purpose of highlighting local success stories. Amateur bloggers will follow suit.
Individually they will all be great. HappyinCLE, UnmiserableCLE, Cool Cleveland, Fresh Water Cleveland. Taken together, they will present a distorted view.
When the news is announced that nearly one in five people have left the city over 10 years, greater Cleveland will barely blink. One obligatory story on the front page of the newspaper will announce it. Another obligatory editorial will condemn it. The city will move on.
Meanwhile, a new Sundae shop in the city will command headlines for weeks.
People with admirable intentions will feel it’s their duty to promote and defend the city. Their pride will be infectious. Their loyalty rewarded.
Those who cast a critical eye on the same landscape will be shouted down. “Negativity” will not be tolerated.
The cult of positivity will develop an almost religious devotion.
It’s Cleveland versus the world. You can call it romantic. Or you can call it sick.
But if you do call it sick, brace yourself.