Monday, May 03, 2004

Just when I convince myself that Chicago isn't the cultural backwater that people say it is, the Sunday Trib comes along and knocks my block off. This can usually be accomplished through just a glance at the front page of the Perspective section (I can't usually bring myself to look further than that), which has recently featured such gems as a slew of defenses of "traditional marriage"; this week there was a self-congratulatory editorial about how the victory of African American state senator Barack Obama in the Democratic primary shows how Illinoisans have all gotten "beyond race", which seems to mean that white Illinoisans no longer hate blacks so much that white voters would automatically oppose a black candidate. (This in contrast to the "bad" old days of the '80s and Chicago's first black mayor, Harold Washington, when the City Council divided essentially along racial lines--old-guard white Democrats against black Democrats and a handful of white "lakefront liberals" who backed Washington.)

That's pretty indicative of how the Chicago press has responded to Obama; even though both the Trib and the Sun-Times endorsed him, the Sun-Times felt obligated to declare that its endorsement was not "a gratuitous nod to [Obama's] race"--as if the assumption would be that an endorsement of a black candidate could only be motivated by political correctness, and that any such candidate would be presumed underqualified. Thus the papers get to score points by praising the "right" kind of African American candidate (Harvard education, university professor), while still holding him at arm's length, and then get to use it as a club against other African American leaders. I'm sure that the Trib's colorblindness won't prevent it from endorsing Obama's lightweight (white) Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, in the general election, or from unleashing nasty attacks on Obama in the months to come.

This Sunday, though, the evidence was in a cover story trumpeting the Chicago man's rejection of the fashion-conscious, well-groomed "metrosexual" in favor of the "retrosexual" , with the latter being the guy who is "clean but not coifed, 'put together' but not cutting-edge. He spends weekends at sports bars, avoids malls, is in shape but not ready for the cover of Men's Health. He watches sports, not E! channel red-carpet coverage of the Oscars."

The real kicker was the illustration; the "retrosexual" was a blond-haired white guy wearing a blue button-down shirt and khakis, while the "metrosexual" was a guy in a colorful striped shirt and nice slacks--who just happened to be Asian. (That somebody on the Trib must have worried about racism was clear from the photo on an inside page that showed a "retro" Asian guy dressed just like the white guy on the cover.)

Trust Chicago to take embattled white hetero masculinity (and homophobia, and racial stereotype) and turn it into some kind of fashion statement.

And the Asian guy's stripey shirt looks familiar. Oh, damn. I think it's hanging in my closet.

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