Boston tribalism isn’t the solution
After news of the bombing at the Boston Marathon hit, I shook in fear as details emerged, suppressing the urge to break down into tears as I anticipated news of friends being caught in the blast and learned more about the strangers who had.
But as the day wore on, I began to revert to my instinctual means of processing the news: skepticism at extravagant shows of sentimentality. Watching Boston assert itself as “Boston,” I felt a comforting sense of solidarity transform into an uncomfortable sense of embarrassment.
No one can quibble with the celebration of the heroes who emerge from an event like this. But soon thereafter the coverage of the tragedy took on a stranger tone, as if this was first and foremost an opportunity to champion the flinty New England spirit.
Nearly every official who spoke, including President Obama, Gov. Deval Patrick, and Mayor Tom Menino, asserted Boston’s status as – in the president’s words – “a tough and resilient town.” I’m proud that I grew up in Boston, but these expressions of Boston’s exceptionalism quickly went from inspirational to sometimes cringe-worthy. Sure Boston is tough and resilient, but is there any city that we wouldn’t say as much about in the wake of something like this? “Naturally, Topeka is a city of wimps, so . . .”
Nowhere was this more awe-inspiringly daft than in the sports-mascot meme that began to spread throughout local social media. “You f---ed with the wrong city,” read the text, imposed over the Red Sox’s, Patriots’, Bruins’ and Celtics’ fictional avatars. Which would have been the right city, then?
This line of thinking cropped up more and more frequently as Monday night wore on. This is Boston! Now we’re about to show you what we’re made of. What does that mean? Are we sending a team of our most drunken, sports-crazed townies over to – where exactly? – to find the people responsible? Are we going to settle this terrorist attack with a fistfight outside The Fours?
Elsewhere, Today trotted out Boston prop Mike Barnicle to explain how owah tragedies ahh moar powerful than yowahs.
Some of the support from outside the city was even worse. One particularly parasitic example came from page-view profiteers BuzzFeed, whose list of 29 Reasons to Love Boston (subhead: “Wicked awesome”; sample entry: the Citgo sign) explained to the world that we’re a city that has things to do and look at. Thanks for the reminder. One of those things we’re known for here is Dunkin’ Donuts, which, somehow, inexplicably, showed up in numerous expressions of defiant pride. What does a fast-food and coffee chain have to do with how Boston specifically reacts to a terrorist attack?
All of this is just about showing a sense of togetherness, many of my friends have countered when I brought up these misgivings. But tribalism isn’t the solution (and sometimes, it’s the problem). How about we stop focusing on how we’re all Bostonians today and remember that we’re all humans.