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Dear incompetent ‘Criminal Minds’ writers: Allow me to introduce you to Wheeling, W.Va.

Above: West Virginia documentary viewed by “Criminal Minds” script writers

Has a TV show or movie ever used your hometown as a setting? Did it seem the writers never even bothered to look up your town on Wikipedia?

So. The April 2 episode of “Criminal Minds,” called “Blood Relations,” supposedly took place in the city across the Ohio River from my hometown. The writers of the show called this town “Wheeling, W.Va.,” and called the time period “now,” but it seemed to have been set in a CBS backlot last used for “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Here’s the TV Guide synopsis:

Two murder victims are found in a West Virginia backwoods community. The investigation reveals that the homicides may be linked to a long-simmering feud between two families.

OK, two West Virginia cliches so far. Let’s continue:

  • We hear lots of funny cornpone southern accents.
  • The families started feuding over moonshine, but recently graduated to meth (a cliche two-fer).
  • A main criminal goes by the name “Mountain Man.”
  • The names of the characters include Cissy, Magdalena, Malachi, and Miles (cue banjo).
  • And, of course… incest!

All in all, a fun trip through Almost Heaven.

As this USA Today critic said:

Because of course, in Hollywood, when you think of West Virginia or Kentucky or the entire Appalachians, all your tiny mind can think of is the Hatfields and McCoys.

But there’s a much deeper level of writer incompetence: Wheeling is not a southern city.

Hollywood's "backwoods community"

This “backwoods community” is a blue-collar, Rust Belt, predominantly Catholic (but see comment), gritty northern town of 28,000. It’s “southern” in the way Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis are southern — Wheeling is due east from those cities, right on Interstate 70. Also, having a major interstate cut through your city is a clue that it’s not necessary “backwoods.”

Wheeling is even north of the Mason-Dixon line. Thus, Wheeling residents don’t talk southern. They sound similar to Pittsburgh residents, because Wheeling is barely an hour from that steel city. The closest southern accent is two hundred miles to the south.

No criminal hiding in the woods would call himself “Mountain Man.” Wheeling is not in the mountains. It’s in a river valley among the foothills of the Appalachians. The mountains, like the accents, are hours away.

And the people there are given annoyingly normal Midwestern names. (“Cissy”? Really? You have got to be kidding me.)

If you Hollywood writers want to beat this city with cliches, listen to Billy Joel’s “Allentown.” Although that city is on the other side of Pennsylvania, Joel’s song reflects the culture and challenges of Wheeling a lot better than the banjos of deepest Appalachia. Union thugs, cigar-chomping steel barons, factory whistles, hard hats, greasy-spoon cafes filled with geezers wearing trucker caps — those are the cliches that we who know Wheeling would at least recognize, even if they are of course just cliches.

Those who defend such creative liberties because it’s just a TV show have a shallow understanding of fiction. The purpose of placing a story into a different setting is to add authenticity, not to subtract from it. A little research on the part of the writers of “Criminal Minds” would have helped write a stronger (maybe even less cliched) story, based on the actual interesting little city that is Wheeling. Placing a horrific fictional crime in our city would have been rather thrilling, and would have gained thousands of fans for the show. 

So, TV writers, as Mark Twain said, “Write what you know.” And if you don’t know, find someone who does. We out here in the backwoods would thank ye kindly.

UPDATE: Related post from years gone by: “The X-Files: I Want To Believe the Rocky Mountains Can Stand in for West Virginia.”

UPDATE 2: If the show didn’t want to bother with researching the city that its fake team was going to fake visit, then why not invent a fake town? I recommend Hooten Holler, down south in Podunk County, just past Petticoat Junction.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

In Defense of Fake Authenticity

Note: Just tonight, I realized that an essay that was first published elsewhere was no longer online. After some searching through the Wayback Machine, I found it again and post it here for posterity’s sake.

This essay is a response of sorts to a post on Scott Greider’s blog in which he criticizes a local Uno’s Pizzaria for looking like an old urban building but actually being a new suburban building. I agreed with Scott’s concerns, but offered a different perspective. The Uno’s in question has since closed.

My friend Scott is frustrated with a pizza place.

He enjoyed the food, he liked the prices, and he thought the service was acceptable.

But he still feels like he’s been lied to — by the building itself.

“What made this place so cool — primarily its atmosphere — was … well … inauthentic!” Scott said on his blog after his visit to Uno’s Chicago Grill in Fort Wayne.

“You see, this was a brand new building out in the sprawling suburbs on a lot surrounded by parking spaces that was intentionally trying to look and feel a hundred years old.”

He’s right, especially when he compares the Fort Wayne restaurant to the original Uno’s in Chicago.

My family and I ate at the original Uno’s last year, and while we ate deep-dish authentic Chicago pizza elbow-to-elbow around a table a bit too big for the tiny dining room, even the youngest of us knew we weren’t just taking in a pizza. We were taking in history.

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Newsweek’s story on gay marriage in 12 easy sentences

If you don’t have time to read Newsweek’s cover story on how a reporter discovered that the Bible actually supports gay marriage when you squint really hard, here are the main points:

  • The Bible’s examples of marriage are horrendous polygamous slave-owners.
  • The Bible “offers inspiration and warning on the subjects of love, marriage, family and community.”
  • The Bible doesn’t explicitly say marriage is between one man and one woman.
  • The Bible doesn’t say David and Jonathan were homosexual lovers, but it’s fun to imagine they were.
  • The Apostle Paul was tough on homosexuality.
  • One guy the reporter knows says Paul was actually talking about something else. Violent people, maybe.
  • The Bible “provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites.”
  • Thankfully, newsmagazines have no similar problems mishandling Biblical texts.
  • Despite what Newsweek thinks, almost all churches say that gay marriage is sinful.
  • Newsweek does not own a phone book, and thus cannot call any of these churches for comment.
  • When the Bible says something you want to do is wrong, then the Bible is outdated.
  • When the Bible says something you want to do is right, then the Bible is beautiful.

Hope that helps.

The geography of happiness

A post from The Good City:

How much is your happiness dependent on what country you live in?

That’s tough to say, but by and large, Americans are pretty happy; in fact, we’re ranked 16th in the world. From Science Daily:

Denmark tops the list of surveyed nations, along with Puerto Rico and Colombia. A dozen other countries, including Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada and Sweden also rank above the United States, which maintains about the same relative position as it did in WVS’s 2000 survey.

“Though by no means the happiest country in the world, from a global perspective the U.S. looks pretty good,” says Ronald Inglehart, a political scientist at the university, who directs the study. “The country is not only prosperous; it ranks relatively high in gender equality, tolerance of ethnic and social diversity and has high levels of political freedom.”

And Richard Florida correctly points out the money quote, by Inglehart: “Ultimately, the most important determinant of happiness is the extent to which people have free choice in how to live their lives.”

Read the article here. HT: Richard Florida