Reviews | When art goes global, it loses something


In journalism, the only space that receives sustained local-style coverage is Twitter. If you think of Twitter as a place with its own myopic preoccupations, dialect, and set of nefarious characters that only matter there and nowhere else, it exemplifies most of the characteristics of a small town. Coverage of what’s happening on Twitter, which sometimes feels like about a quarter of the words in every magazine, website or newspaper, generally ignores the long, explanatory way we tend to write about. almost everything. other.

This situation also affects other aspects of the industry. I know many more “Twitter” colleagues than I do, say, from a local journalists’ den for the simple fact that, like many journalists under 50, I have never worked for a local newspaper.

This is where I’m supposed to say it’s all good and that’s the way things are now. But I hope you’ll allow me a little fussiness because I think there’s been something lost in the transference between Royko’s localism and Twitter’s parochialism, just as the music has suffered from broadcasting and then rearranging scenes from physical locations to online.

For years when I was a teenager, my hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina was supposed to be “the next Seattle.” Bands like Superchunk, Polvo and the Archers of Loaf all played in a venue called Cat’s Cradle and produced a sound that seemed to represent a type of slacker Southern intellectualism and counterculture that was ingrained in everything from local barbecue to the downtown anarchist bookshop. That lazy spirit is still in me; my identification with Chapel Hill is based on this music, which I didn’t particularly like at the time, but which I understood to be part of my origins.

Art is simply better when it comes out of these lived contexts. It matters, for example, that Mavis Staples, Lou Rawls, and Sam Cooke all went to the same elementary school on the South Side of Chicago, and that many of their classmates came from families that brought musical traditions from the South to the north during the Great Migration. It also matters that they grew up in the shadow of Mahalia Jackson, whom they may have seen perform at a nearby church.

When things are so specific and need little or no introduction, they feel alive and relevant in a way that transcends the local contexts in which they were created. I don’t know anything about Chicago neighborhoods, nor do I have much nostalgia for the 1970s and 1980s where Royko worked. But when I read his old columns, I feel a strange and probably misplaced intimacy with him, the writer and his city. I care because he cared enough not to try to answer and optimize every word to the biggest audience possible.


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