Top menu

Archive | Story and design

Why Wheeling flipped out: Jealousy, love, and the importance of a good name

Backwoods Wheeling

The Upper Ohio Valley is really, really fired up about that “Criminal Minds” portrayal in its “Blood Relations” episode on April 2. My blog post about the TV show has been read by more than 26,000 people so far, crazy considering Wheeling’s population is not much more than that.

On the opposite side, you’ll find cynics turning a fire hose on the mob with two categories of dismissal:

  • “It’s just a stupid TV show.”
  • “It’s just a stupid city.”

So, those of you who are upset, let’s talk. The Rolling-the-Eyes Set is embarrassed that you care this much. And let’s face it: Have some of you let your anger take control of your faculties? Oh yeah, so maybe consider turning down the heat to a rolling seethe.

But I’ll tell you straight out: I’ll take overreaction and outrage over detachment and disdain any day.

Anger is better than apathy. Anger isn’t good, of course. A lot of people need to grab a PBR and calm down a notch. But your anger shows that you think something is at stake with the portrayal of Wheeling in such an inaccurate way.

Reputation matters:

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. Proverbs 22:1

So, when the city you love is hit with a double-layer crapcake of not only misinformation, but misinformation from an entirely different region, what is that feeling, rising in your soul?

It’s love.

Love is jealous, in that old definition way: “fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.” Everyone who has lived in Wheeling, or grew up there and now lives elsewhere, can list Wheeling as one of his possessions, as something to protect and be vigilant about.

Ah, you’re ignoring all the problems in Wheeling, say the naysayers.

For right now, yes. Love does that sometimes. But apathy never fixes anything. Apathy is too afraid to care too much, afraid to look ridiculous.

But love is ridiculous. It’s the ridiculousness of the fanboy.

Reject the “cool shaming.” Embrace your love for Wheeling.

Remember, though, that loving a city can be like loving an older brother with a gambling problem. Oh, how he can neglect his duties! He shuns offers of assistance. Sometimes, we have to distance ourselves, just to keep our sanity. But man, we always wish the best for him and cheer for every glimmer of hope.

Also, and very importantly, no one outside the family gets to take a shot at him.

So, writers of “Criminal Minds,” as you fly from coast to coast, I hope you can keep a lesson in mind. This jealous love for our city? This is how true blood relations work.

Photo of downtown Wheeling courtesy of Joseph A on Flickr

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

The Post and the Pendulum: When do the media apologize?


Although my recent post, “How the media cover outrage: The OOOOOPSI Model,” got a lot of favorable coverage, one recurring criticism was that I was actually too kind to American mainstream media. Where do I get the crazy idea that the pendulum swings back, and that the media actually grow introspective and apologize?

Aa a commenter called “Amazed_475” said:

I don’t think the media usually goes back to say they unfairly overstated on side of the debate. Did that happen with gun control, amnesty, the “shutdown” of the federal government? Did any of them apologize to Ted Cruz or Rand Paul for their portrayals of their filibusters?

Of course they didn’t. But since I am no longer a member of the media, I can afford to be introspective and admit that I left out an important caveat for the OOOOOPSI Model:

The media apologize only when the battle is won.

As long as the issue is still “live,” as long as the battle is still joined, the pendulum will not swing. There is too much cultural momentum from the forces of opposition (that’s the third “O”) for that to happen.

The pendulum swing of 1993

I know I’m showing my age here, but the first example that comes to mind is the Dan Quayle/Murphy Brown dustup of 1992.

In May 1992, Dan Quayle gave a speech in Calfornia, decrying the decay of the American family as a catalyst for the recent riots in Los Angeles. As an aside, he mentioned the popular TV show “Murphy Brown,” saying, “It doesn’t help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown – a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman – mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another ‘lifestyle choice.'”

The Hollywood-fueled backlash was intense. It matted not the content of Quayle’s speech, or his meaning, or even if he was in any way “correct.” He had criticized a beloved television show character, and he would be roundly ridiculed for doing so. Then, the coup de grâce from “Murphy Brown” itself:

“The 1992–93 (‘Murphy Brown’) season premiere, ‘You Say Potatoe, I Say Potato,’ … the television characters reacted to Quayle’s comments and produced a special episode of ‘FYI’ showcasing and celebrating the diversity of the modern American family. Because Quayle’s actual speech made little reference to Murphy Brown’s fictional nature (other than the use of the word ‘character’), the show was able to use actual footage from his speech to make it appear that, within the fictional world of the show, Quayle was referring to Murphy Brown personally, rather than to the fictional character. At the end, Brown helps organize a special edition of FYI focusing on different kinds of families then arranges a retaliatory prank in which a truckload of potatoes is dumped in front of Quayle’s residence.” via Wikipedia

Ha ha ha, of course. Confusing the person with the caricature is a great tactic if you can get away with it. And with a clueless entertainment-driven populace, you can get away with it, if Tina Fay’s imitation of Sarah Palin is any indication.

So, Bush/Quayle lost by a landslide in November, although let’s face it, they were toast for a number of other reasons, anyway.

Because of the momentum of the battle, the OOOOOPSI pendulum couldn’t swing until after the November 1992 election. The cynic would say that’s because the media was in the bag for the Clintons, but I would also say that the typical horse-race coverage of the national media prevents deep thought on the issues. Everything is shock and awe. Of course, maybe those are two sides of the same coin.

Regardless, months after the election, and months after it would have really mattered, The Atlantic finally completed the OOOOOPSI Model loop and published its famous “Dan Quayle Was Right” cover story.

Why did the national media need almost a full year to come to that conclusion, which only required someone to read the content of the actual speech?

Simple. The media apologize only when the battle is won.

How the Internet covered The OOOOOPSI model


Well, that was fun!

I thought I had timed the released of yesterday’s blog post well. Little did I know that it would be shared dozens of times on Twitter, gathering hundreds of views. Nor did I dream that would link to the post from its front page. That link alone brought more than 3,000 people over to my little blog.

And the hits just keep on coming. A couple of writers made reference to the OOOOOPSI model yesterday:

A follow-up post is in the works.

UPDATE: The OOOOOPSI Model was picked up by Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition.

How the media cover outrage: The OOOOOPSI Model


Honestly, I have no idea whether or not Arizona’s “religious freedom” bill — uniformly called the “anti-gay” bill in the media — would have actually protected religious freedom or not.

But it is an opportunity to trot out a theory of mine that would have been my dissertation, had I ever pursued that Master’s in Journalism degree.

I call it The OOOOOPSI Model of American Media Outrage Coverage. It’s just an unproven proposal, and may not apply to every situation, but maybe it’s a good enough template to post it now, while we’re in the middle of yet another cycle.

Here are the OOOOOPSI steps:

  • Opportunity: First, we need a hot-button event that is a proper catalyst for the cycle. Recent examples were supplied by Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, Susan G. Komen, and now, Arizona’s proposed law.
  • Outrage: Next, those on the opposite side of the culture wars make a lot of noise about “fairness” and “bigotry” and “tolerance.” Maybe they have a point, or maybe not, but it’s an important step in the news cycle.
  • Opposition: Then, the national media by and large adopts the definitions brought to them by the outraged. For example, in this week’s Arizona story, the media labeled the bill “anti-gay,” without the scare quotes. Such labeling was a tremendous victory for the outraged.
  • Oversimplification: As a part of its coverage, the media fails to add any nuance to the debate or closely examine the actual facts of what’s being argued, preferring to cover the horse race of two competing interests beating each other up.
  • Overreach: At some point, a mainline media outlet gets too cocky and goes a step too far in its boosterism. Other media momentarily shrink back in embarrassment.
  • Pendulum: Prompted by this misstep, a few media commentators rub their chins and publish thoughtful analysis pieces that ask if everyone is being a little too hard on the accused. The accused is still wrong, mind you, but we can be nicer about it.
  • Silence: After this, coverage ceases as the nation’s attention runs elsewhere.
  • Introspection: Finally, months later, on a Sunday news program, journalists will gather and ruminate about how they unfairly overstated one side of the debate. They pledge to do better next time.

I think the pendulum will swing back soon, especially now that the bill has been vetoed and all momentum has been lost.

I haven’t tested the theory with any rigor, but I’ve seen this kind of media cycle run several times. Let me know if you think I’m making sense — or not. I don’t want to start an OOOOOPSI cycle of my own.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out my follow-up post, “The Post and the Pendulum: When do the media apologize?”

Photo found on Flickr and courtesy State Library and Archives of Florida

Challenge accepted: Read 26 books in 2014

books-for-2014Well, some guy at The Indianapolis Star has challenged his readers to read 26 books in 2014. So obviously, it’s time for Fort Wayne to rise up and meet such a challenge from our capital city.

The #read26indy idea was spread around the Fort Wayne twittersphere by Dr. Ken Bugajski at Saint Francis. I needed some impetus, so I’m joining in. If you’re on Twitter, follow the hashtag #read26FW. But of course, even if you’re not on Twitter, you’re invited to read.

Below are the first 18 books to put on my list. As I read through them, I realize I may be setting myself up for disaster since it’s tilted so much toward nonfiction. I will remedy this by throwing a bunch of P.G Wodehouse on the pile.

  • “The Coming Jobs War.” This infamous book by Jim Clifton is making the rounds of economic development groups, which is why I bought it last year. I suspect I’ll find half of it brilliant and half of it blinded by statist assumptions.
  • “The Four Loves.” I think it’s the only C.S. Lewis book I own that I’ve never quite gotten through.
  • “The Nine Tales.” This is one of the books Mary and I bought years ago when an shuttered Catholic school sold off its library.
  • “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture.” It’s T.S. Eliot on culture. Every time I see the title, I feel guilty for not having read it.
  • “Pride and Prejudice.” For being such a fan of the movies, I’ve never actually cracked open a Jane Austen novel.
  • “Blink.” Malcolm Gladwell
  •  “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” Lynne Truss. Now that it’s been returned to me, I should read it myself!
  • “Career Renegade.” Jonathan Fields. Seeing as how I’m actually living it, I might as well read about it.
  • “The Great Good Place.” Ray Oldenburg
  • “The School Revolution.” Ron Paul
  • “The Design of Everyday Things.” Donald A. Norman
  • “The Go-Getter.” Peter B. Kyne
  • “The Little Red Book of Selling.” Jeffrey Gitomer
  • “How Capitalism Saved America.” Thomas DiLorenzo
  • “Start.” Jon Acuff
  • “Father Hunger.” Douglas Wilson
  • “Death by Living.” N.D. Wilson
  • “God’s Wisdom in Proverbs.” Dan Phillips

My brain feels smarter already!

Free desktop wallpaper and Facebook cover

2 Cor. 5:17

That good guy Tim Challies offers beautifully designed desktop wallpaper every month, so I thought I’d get into the spirit.

The photo is by my friend Keturah Young, who lives in a ridiculously postcard-worthy section of Colorado.

For the new year, I agree with Tim Challies that  2 Cor. 5:17 is an excellent verse for meditation.

As Challies notes: Your desktop or laptop may take any of the sizes, depending on your monitor size and a host of other considerations. You can click here to see what your resolution is. Generally you set one of these are your wallpaper by clicking on the link to the image, then right-clicking on the image (once it’s open) and selecting “Set as Background,” “Set as Desktop Background,” or something similar.

If you have any troubles, just let me know!

Downloads: Facebook cover / 1024×768 / 1280×1040 / 1680×1050 / 1920×1200 / 2560×1440

Enjoy, and pass them along.


Good fantasy makes you wish you lived in a world filled with magic. Great fantasy makes you realize you already do.

Jon Swerens