What exactly does Miami need to do to confirm it's a culturally competent city? It seems as if the Big Orange is always going above and beyond to prove itself, yet it's never enough.
Pamela Druckerman, a Miami native who moved away after high school to do things like collect Ivy League degrees and write books extolling the virtues of French parenting, took to the New York Times this weekend to announce that Miami isn't quite there yet. Why? Well, simply because the Magic City wasn't providing her with "enough surprising interactions and ideas."
Yes, apparently the bar for cultural relevance is now set at making sure blond ladies who went to Columbia University have pleasant chitchat while they're staying here.
Druckerman's essay is stunningly inept, if not downright classist. She asks questions she never bothers to answer, like wondering if Miami has a soul or if maybe the problem isn't so much Miami but her. (Though the answer to that one seems pretty clear.)
She spends most of the essay prattling on about how she didn't quite find the Miami of her youth compatible with the "life of the mind" she so wanted.
"The upper-class Cubans who became Miami's new aristocracy had little trouble adapting to the city's materialistic ethos," she writes. "After all, they had been forced to leave all their stuff in Cuba. Soon there were two dominant modes of conversation in Miami: discussions about where to get your hair done, and anti-Castro rants."
The complaint comes off as if she's almost saying, "Yes, yes, I'm sorry a brutal communist dictator took over your country and you were forced to leave everything you've ever known and loved behind to start over in a foreign country, but doesn't anyone want to discuss the influence of French New Wave cinema on Hollywood movies of the '70s?"
Now married with three kids and living in Paris, Druckerman finds herself visiting Miami in the summertime every year to catch up with family and, as she repeatedly points out, enjoy the Miami weather (which as we all know is not particularly pleasant in the summer, but whatever). This leads her to a series of asinine thoughts.
Perhaps this one is the worst:
Most locals also don't seem bothered that Miami is one of America's most unequal cities, with lots of very poor people living close to rich ones. Miami's have-nots are easy to ignore, since -- if they're not cleaning your house or parking your car -- you just drive past them.
Well, Pamela, statistically "most locals" are the victims of that inequality, and yes, we do seem quite bothered. We wonder why local leaders allow the building of luxury high-rises -- where no one actually intends to live -- that displace actual locals and drive up housing prices throughout the county. We're baffled as to why the county can find money to give corporate welfare to sports teams but can't seem to keep our libraries open. We want jobs with livable salaries, good schools for our children, and reliable public transportation. Miamians are very much bothered by the city's inequality every single day of our lives.
Yet Druckerman really shows her ignorance with her "if they're not cleaning your house" line. She seems completely unaware that perhaps people who can't afford regular cleaning service and valet parking would read her little what-I-vaguely-thought-about-my-summer-vacation report, let alone the people who actually clean those homes and park those cars.
She comes across like those idiots on ESPN who demonize all Miami Heat fans simply because the rich few who can afford courtside seats during the playoffs don't show up to the game on time. She bases her impression of the city on those who either have money or abuse credit cards to pretend they do and live shallow, charmed little lives. No one is denying that type of person is prevalent in Miami, but it's certainly not all the Magic City has to offer. Yet Druckerman seems unaware, because, well, she just drove right past them.
And while there are some thinkers scattered around town, Miami is overrun with lawyers, jewelry designers, and personal trainers, all trying to sell services to one another.
Wow, she means to tell us there are people in this city who possess skills to offer services that are in demand and actively try to get others to pay for those services? Do people not do that in Paris? Is New York not overrun with investment bankers, image consultants, and professional pet psychics? And who says lawyers, jewelry designers, and personal trainers are distinct from "thinkers" anyway?
What's odd is that Druckerman never actually spells out what she did with her time in Miami aside from swimming laps and returning her rental car. Did she simply sit by a pool all day, or did she bother to do things like catch an independent film at O Cinema, Miami Beach Cinematheque, Coral Gables Art Cinema, Cosford Cinema, or Tower Theater? Did she check out any Wynwood galleries or one of the several art museums? (How many do we even have at the moment, actually?) Did she attend a reading at Books & Books? Drop by the Arsht Center? She seems vaguely aware there are "thinkers scattered around town," but did she even try to find them? It's like visiting New York, spending most of your time in Times Square, and concluding that the Big Apple has no intellectual heft.
I struggled to have conversations that weren't about real estate or consumption. There was a lot of pleasure in Miami, but not enough surprising interactions and ideas. Miami may one day be the city for normal-looking people with semi-intellectual aspirations and a mild social conscience. But it's not there yet.
Those "normal-looking people with semi-intellectual aspirations and a mild social conscience" exist in droves in Miami. We're also smart enough to know how this city works and that the vast majority of tourists who visit are looking to have a good time and not to exchange observations about Foucault and have conversations peppered with bons mots. Most tourists only really care to ask us where the best restaurants, clubs, and blow are, so excuse us for not greeting everyone like they've arrived at a Parisian salon.
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Miami's cultural and intellectual capital is growing (to list all the festivals, programs, and institutions that have popped up in the past decade at this point almost seems insulting). Look at the other major American cities that only really established themselves as such after World War II (think Las Vegas and Orlando); then look at where Miami is.
Miamians are having important discussions about our future and our economy. We're exchanging surprising ideas and interactions. But we're doing it for ourselves, not snooty people who visit for two weeks a year and don't even consider housekeepers worthy of interaction.