Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Remain Unafraid. Again.

I was thrilled recently to see a post by bitterandrew at Armagideon Time that not only seems to recall recent local SouthCoast events, but also brilliantly portrays the thing that most chafes my topsail here on The Beach. It features a souvenir page from TIME magazine, apparently an advertisement for "Fear."
There are some products that can be pitched quite effectively with the merest brief mention of the negative consequences of forgoing purchase. That brake job, for instance. Or contraceptives.
Your ThirdMate has always thought of the Guardian Angels as a colorful overt presence that surely deters a few punks from acting out and provides witness statements when they do. But they are part of the Fear Industry, a big bunch of fear maintenance workers and supporting cosplayers. I congratulate them, however, on celebrating their Thirtieth Anniversary Year. It's a shame that we just missed last week's Gala. Tough guys DO hold Galas. See?Wonder if I can still get in on that Underbelly TourAnd pretty expensive Galas, too. (Also reinvigorating the Nineteenth Century "slum tour" trade.)
Yep, even the Guardian Angels hold fundraisers to continue to remain a consistent red-topped reminder of the need to believe that your town, city, village, or neighborhood is a scary scary scary place, filled with creepy preverts and leather-jacketed truants and shifty no-goodniks from other countries and you're better off cowering at home paying to watch CSI:MyHomeTown and complaining to radio talk shows about "them" people (you know) while tapping away perfervidly and anonymously to your newspaper's online comments.
As luck would have it -- just in case the kids follow in your misanthropic heritage -- the Guardians also machinate a CyberAngel force, insinuating that children may be being bullied into online involvement in pronographing and/or identity theft. And viruses. And Rhodesian Lottery scams that force them into gang initiations where they drive around with their lights off until someone stops and plays a tape recording of a baby crying so that you end up stepping on a flaming bag of
Wait.
No doubt, there is legitimate scary in this world. Which requires officially-sanctioned, organized policing and diligence to safeguard our property and our persons. Our teevee entertainment and news shows give us enough of a spook to make sure that we don't inhibit budgets. And that usually means reinforcing a culture of disenfranchisement and distrust that insists on prisons rather than schools. We do not need a bunch of well-meaning attendants walking around, puffing themselves up and tilting at the boogeyman of the week. Particularly with the widespread blessing of a big worldwide non-profit that has done some nice things in some "bad places."
Whether those "bad places" want it or not.
The Guardian Angels' originator, McDonald's night manager Curtis Sliwa, visited the not-so-bad city of New Bedford recently to further becloud the town's ability to catch a public relations break. And who better to help out the city's image problem than

Henry Bousquet, who previously ran for City Council,and Jerry Pinto, who recently directed Operation Clean Sweep in the city, contacted the Guardian Angels to visit New Bedford.
"I would love to be part of forming the first [sic] chapter in New Bedford," Pinto said. "I would like to see the Guardian Angels working with the city and getting them involved with the community-oriented groups."
Bousquet said the Angels are needed in New Bedford.
"The folks in my neighborhood are scared," said Bousquet, who lives in the area around Mount Pleasant Street.
"They're frustrated. They don't know what to do."(Standard-Times)
Draw your own conclusions about the effectiveness of the efforts of concerned busy-bodies with the best interests of would-be voters in mind. In the middle of the Summer, to publicly point out an irrational fear that is endemic to a portion of your community and to suggest a glorified neighborhood watch? Some might even suggest that it borders on slander, this little backhand suggestion that the city needs better law enforcement. I'm sure the Southeastern Massachusetts Convention & Vistors Bureau, the Greater New Bedford Chamber of Commerce, the New Bedford Office of Tourism, the New Bedford Economic Development Council, and DowntownNewBedford Inc. all just LOoOOoVE you now. I can't say that an afternoon with the self-promoting boss of a populist vigilante club is the most auspicious happenstance for a mayor whose major support seems to be people who don't show up on anybody's radar.
One citizen in this NECN video is cringing and lashing out with extraordinary passion (extraordinary for the SouthCoast, anyway) at all the wrong things. Of course, her neighbors have been anecdotally cornered and unmanned by small-time hoods who are further encouraged by the citizenry's apprehensiveness. The criminals are fortified by the very people who are being sought in order to contain them.
Of course, they're not the cowards who infest the local "conservative blogs," forums, and talk radio -- the BFFs that self-styled vigilantes lurv in their PR battle against a strong and healthy community. Conversely, the Mayor seems to want to invest in the bravery of each citizen, not in the bravado of a misdirected few. (I had to laugh when I read a woman's comment to Henry, saying that Lang appeared to be "an ass" while he, in his two quotes in the vid, actually urges her to do something for herself and not rely on Guardian Angels. But I'm guessing that she's one of those "only one set of footprints on the beach" types.)
Stop frightening old ladies with halfwit campfire stories and breathless portrayals of police scanner calls.
Lighten up.
And, at the risk of sounding like a prideful dismissor of well-intentioned extralocal succor: New Bedford isn't like other towns.
The Guardian Angels work best in places that present crowded commuter train platforms, raucous tourist congregation areas, busy subway stations (of which New Bedford has none), or on the meandering cramped walkways of spooky city parks where bad kids congregate. Parks in New Bedford seem like pretty safe open spaces.
It's the thoroughfares that are truly frightening.
If the Guardian Angels have a bunch of red-bereted Crown Vics that can cruise around to discourage left-hand turns from right-hand lanes and poor operation of four-way stops, then I say, "Welcome to the Whaling City!"

9 comments:

Andrew Weiss said...

Weirdly enough, that very same issue of Time featured a glowing article on the Guardian Angels.

If New Bedfordians desire a self-appointed police force, perhaps they ought to see if there's a Green Lantern without portfolio available.

ThirdMate said...

The oddest synchronicities occur when Eighties icons reappear.

I don't know if it's the kind of local joke that travels well, but from that era : "New Bedford has a squad of Guardian Angels, but Fall River could only afford one guy, the Greenhorn Lantern." (Or "Greenhorn Hornet," depending on the age of the perpetrator.)

Anonymous said...

The city is full of scaremongers, you're right, PJ.

I read the comments in the Stranded Time site and all these jerks think that there are gunshots downtown all the time. T^he gunchots are in the white trach neighborhoods, not downtown. The Guardian Angels would be popular high school athletes and a few WBSM listeners who have to proof they still have balls. And they'll all just hang around downtown shops like Calico to try to impress the girls. You watch.

Carol said...

I'm not convinced that the type of violence problem we have in the city is well addressed by the Guardian Angels BUT: Those of us who live here, live here. The agendas of NBEDC, the NB Office of Tourism, etc. (actual agendas: stay employed) are really not the highest priority in a city that first is a community of living and breathing people who want to stay that way. NB's pursuit of its white whale--a resurgence or Seattle or something---isn't deserved unless it is a stable setting that's welcoming. It's not.
And anyway, our mayor is an autocratic micro-manager and would never concede "power" to another group.

ThirdMate said...

Anonymous: Calico has some cute retro outfits. Those guys you mention will need to have them let out, though.

Carol: Between the petty animosities, incompetencies, and conspicuous jealousies in that alphabet soup, the only thing that seems to be capable of doing what it sets out to do, involving a majority of downtown stakeholders, is AHA!

10 years and 1000 attendees each month. And still people poo-poo it, claim they've never heard of it, insist that it's tax-funded and thus inconsequential.

AHA! is a marketing partnership for downtown museums, shops, services, and restaurants. The Guardian Angels are a marketing partnership for the Fear Industry -- talkshows (Sliwa has his own radio show), popular newsmedia, and -- ultimately -- private security firms and prisons.

I'll take the face-painting and walking tours.

Carol said...

Yes, but you are thinking that the goal is to present a face to the outside world. Guardian Angels is about stabilizing a community for those who are here. (Its effectiveness or fit for NB is another issue.) AHA has other goals, although it might help a bit with that. The downtown entrepreneurs who create Green Bean (and the landlord who cut them a break) and similar establishments, where people can meet, communicate, and be seen are the more effective stabilizers and attractors in my book. People come to town and see a variety of types of people talking and being unafraid in our city. At the same time, our city needs to have a more robust civic volunteer scene (catching up to the rest of Mass.) and less dependence on grants and the closed-door nonprofit-industrial complex set up to collect them in NB. The economy might take care of some of that. AHA is neat, for sure, but meeting my coffee klatch at Green Bean, buying massive loaves of bread at Carmen's (south end), getting my expensive heirloom watch fixed for $10 at Folco, watching families set up picnic compounds at Fort Taber, having a pack of teens help me change a tire across from the United Front projects---all of that is the real thing. (All that said, I hope there is an outcry if the mayor tries to make AHA an NBEDC project as predicted. The tourism director has already set up shop there.)

steve said...

PJ, Fall River already has a superhero for greenhorns and other residents of that fair city on the Rhode Island state line: the Green Hornet.

ThirdMate said...

Steve: Like I said.

Carol: At the risk of sounding like Richard Florida, New Bedford's amenities are unique and enough reason to stay and protect the town and its public face. The subtext to my lengthy post is that New Bedford needs to show THAT face and stop the distrust and dissent.

You mention several ways that NB is indeed healthy and that's what New Bedford needs to cultivate.

Today's article in the S-T is discouraging because it makes rational people sound like nuts while frightened losers spout farcical anecdotes that are only supported by constant repetition of notoriously unamended grumblings on talkradio or barstools.

(The last S-T article claimed a call for a vaguely city-wide Guardian Angel presence, and now, it's just the North End. Any bets that next week's article insists it's just one particular loudmouth's neighborhood?)

Carol said...

The S-T has been showcasing NB's drug and violence issues way too prominently for all the time I've lived here. It misses local feature stories routinely.... I've tried twice to join the editorial board.