Since the release of the “reality” TV show Salvage City on the Discovery Channel there has been a lot of local chatter. The show has picked up a lot of local fans while also a lot of detractors. Some of these detractors I feel add little to the conversation while others like my friend Michael Allen offer smart and nuanced commentary and disagreement. I will look at Salvage City from eight angles and start-off in full-disclosure by saying I am a fan of the show and a friend of Same Coffey.
St. Louis Proud
First of all I am proud to see any local show get on television. It is harder to get to that level in the Midwest and the South than anywhere else. Even having Salvage City on the air is a sign that the coastal monopoly over TV programming is breaking down. If you watch scripted television you would be left with the impression America is over 90% white, 90% of the people are either living in New York or LA, are overwhelmingly middle to upper class, are young fit, nobody is religious, and fathers are just dumbasses kept around for jokes. On Salvage City you see real people in a real city. Just like Welcome to Sweetie Pies. I might mention that as a local cab driver I often pick up people from the Megabus and Amtrak who come to St. Louis from Chicago and other cities just to eat at Sweetie Pies and get a selfie standing in front.
The Discussion is Good
If you are talking about it then you watched it. If you didn’t watch it then shut the fuck up. That would be like me reviewing a book I haven’t read. Discussion is a good thing for creative people. It helps you get better and the mere fact you have created something that has people talking is a sign of success.
But…Still a “City of Haterz”
Horace L. Williams made the City of Haters documentary a couple of years ago about haters in St. Louis. There is a big “crab in the barrel” syndrome in St. Louis. Artists don’t respect one another and think the only way they can succeed is by bringing others down. People think “well they only gonna put one or two artists on from St. Louis so if it isn’t me I’m gonna hate”. Hating is fueled either by self-hatred or jealousy-fueled ambition. A more positive attitude would be to support other locals and if you feel you are better show it through your work.
St. Louis IS A Dangerous City: Stop the North Korean Style Propaganda
One of my pet-peeves is hearing from St. Louis promoters (the kind you might see with a “City” bumper sticker) St. Louis is not a dangerous city. “Oh it’s just the way they do the statistics and does not include the county”, “There is only a perception of crime”, “It is isolated”, “it’s not bad here anymore” or some other bullshit. St. Louis is a dangerous city. Not because of the studies and I don’t give a damn about any crime-stat other than murder because every other stat they can play with . St. Louis is dangerous because it just us. Pick up the Evening-Whirl and see what happens here every week (and read my STL Stranger column while you at it). Most of those who say St. Louis isn’t dangerous live carefully constructed existences in the city in order to avoid unsafe areas (and we know shit can happen anywhere). I do not have the luxury of spewing some bullshit about St. Louis being safe. I have had too many friends murdered shot and stabbed in St. Louis City and County. You want to talk to my mother about St. Louis being safe? Whose ex was blown away on a city street while they were out for a walk. Or how about you talk to the widows of cabbies who have been killed while just trying to earn a living? Or you can talk to my passengers who take 5,3, or even 2 block cab rides from their homes because they have been raped or robbed while walking in their own neighborhoods? Or how about the Knockout King victims on Chippewa and Texas I interviewed in 2005 years before the police acknowledged the existence of the game? Or do you wanna just look at all of the barricades set up all over the city like we are living in Aleppo, Hebron or Kabul? I will agree that there are many other places as dangerous as St. Louis: Detroit, Flint, New Orleans, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Philly, Camden, Baltimore, certain NYC neighborhoods, Memphis, Houston, Dallas, LA, Oakland and maybe more. That does not make St. Louis safe.
The St. Louis Image Problem
There are a lot of people for whom living in St. Louis is difficult. No, not those in neighborhoods under siege by gangs, children in poverty, old folks routinely robbed of their checks, or the homeless. Most of those people represent St. Louis to the fullest. It is difficult to live in St. Louis for a certain pretentious crowd, many transplants and former West County folk. For the pretentious crowd and some transplants saying you live in St. Louis does not carry enough weight at a cocktail party. “Eww St. Louis. Like, do people have guns there? Are they Republicans? Oh you are so far from the coasts. You guys are just getting an Ikea!” So, living in St. Louis puts these people in a vulnerable position. It’s not Brooklyn, Austin or San Francisco. Why would anyone want to live in the land of the mortals? Do your neighbors even get the jokes on Colbert? To counter this vulnerability they have to over-hype St. Louis and often go over the top. Any criticism of St. Louis or something that gives negative-attention to the city sends them in PR mode. The former West County folk have another problem- trying to convince their parents they’re not crazy for living in the city and they will not be murdered.
Commercial TV versus Pay TV/ Entertainment V. Eggheads
Reality TV is not PBS. For starters people actually watch it. There is money in reality TV. In order to get people to watch it and make money you have to entertain people. How do you entertain people? Good characters, good stories, visuals, humor, action, drama and sex. I may watch a documentary about bricks in St. Louis or the Pruitt-Igoe Myth (which somehow managed to omit Fat Woods) because I am interested in St. Louis history and I love documentaries. However, statistically there are very few people like me and very few people that would want to watch a Bill Streeter documentary. In St. Louis most of them probably know one another or are in some way connected. Reality TV by definition is for the masses. You can sneak some artistic stuff in here and there but it is what it is.
Sam Coffey has done more for St. Louis than 90% of the people online talking shit. Coffey and others from Salvage City are involved in two things that are great for St. Louis. First Sam though the Fortune Teller Bar and other projects is at the lead of turning Cherokee Street from a place known for a good place to buy crack and cheap-pussy from heroin-addicts to a thriving business and entertainment center. Second, Sam and the production companies are part of an effort to make St. Louis a major hub for filmmaking. In addition to just being cool making films here provides jobs and much needed tax-revenue.
Look for More
Salvage City is a part of a wave. Look for more. And oh yeah if you are hating on Salvage City for highlighting negative shit in St. Louis take your blood-pressure medication before watching what is to come.