There is something universally offensive about reading what out-of-towners have to say about your city. It’s like having your portrait taken by a hack photographer at some department-store studio: The image they give you is seldom flattering, usually done on the cheap, and almost always untrue to life. So imagine what our Media Watchers thought when they found a section devoted to Missoula in the new book BOBOs in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (Simon & Schuster, cloth, $25). Judging by the book’s subtitle, you can probably guess.
BOBOs, it should be explained from the start, is shorthand for “bourgeois bohemians,” a new class of nouveau riche identified by author David Brooks, who may be most commonly recognized as one of the wry observer-reporters on PBS’s “The News Hour.” In BOBOs, Brooks argues that, in certain pockets of American society, the rich (i.e., “the bourgeoisie”) and the counterculture (e.g., “bohemians”) have merged, forming warrens of J. Crew-wearing, skim-latte-sipping elites, who set about trying to find spiritual peace, as well as a quick buck. Missoula, Brooks would have us believe, is just such a place.
Dubbing it home of “The Soul Rush,” the pundit explains that Missoula has “become one of those places Where Life Is Honest and True,” a sort of heaven on Earth. He is quick to note that Robin Williams came here to die in What Dreams May Come; he even outlines his own gag-inducing “mystical communion with nature,” which took place while sitting on a rock by the Blackfoot. But what Brooks fails to observe is that while some of us may be bohemian, few of us are bourgeois. In fact, Brooks studiously avoids mentioning Missoula’s wheezing economy, barrel-scraping wages and rackrent housing costs, deciding instead to just conclude: “Montanans seem to accept the trade-offs.”
To which our writers respond, “Mr. Brooks, can you spare a dime?”
Although generally known as a bastion of accuracy, the New York Times has had its own credulity undermined recently, by another article dredged up by our Media Watch division.
Turns out that there is “A Renaissance in Downtown Missoula,” according to the Times headline. In the Dec. 3 Real Estate section, one Jim Robbins—whose tenuous claim to have the skinny on Montana was sundered right after he located Butte “120 miles to the south [of Missoula]”—set forth on what he perceives to be an economic resurgence in downtown Missoula.
Even barring Mr. Robbins’ directional confusion, the article seems to be describing some other Missoula—although it is one that sure sounds good. “Like many small cities, the historic business district of Missoula, situated in the boreal forest of western Montana suffered as ‘big box’ retail stores took retail traffic to the south of town,” Robbins writes.
Note the use of the past tense, and the use of “boreal,” which is heinous in anything but a field guide. According to him, the battle for downtown against the big box stores was fought and won by the good guys sometime in the 1980s. Signs of economic progress include the “new [sic] building that houses the city’s daily newspaper, The Missoulian.”
Whatever Mr. Robbins was doing while he was in Missoula, he managed to miss the approximately nine prime storefronts for sale or rent within a single block of North Higgins Avenue. And he must have also steered clear of Reserve Street, where chains are popping up like mushrooms. But if the Times says it’s fit to print, it must be true, right?