This blog, as explained in our About, takes its name from Studs Terkel’s Division Street: America.
“Division Street is both an homage to the Studs Terkel book about the divisions in American politics as well as a metaphoric nod to the real street in Chicago that stretches from the infamous Rush Street entertainment district through the gentrifying arts district of Wicker Park and largely Hispanic and African American neighborhoods on the West Side to the suburbs. In this way, Division Street encapsulates the dynamism and divisions of the city, and we hope this blog does that too.”
I have occasionally posted “Division Dispatches” here that illustrate the divisions and dynamisms of the real Division Street as a way to hopefully illuminate the nation’s Division Street, as envisioned by Studs.
And it is to Division Street: America that I turn first in a brief round-up of Studs encomiums from the weekend.
“On undertaking this assignment, I immediately called Dr. Philip Hauser, former chairman of the University of Chicago’s Sociology Department, one of the country’s best informed demographers,” Studs wrote – in 1967 – in the book’s Prefatory Notes. “Is there a street in Chicago today where all manner of ethnic, racial, and income groups live? His reply – though a blow – was not unexpected. There is none. As late as twenty-five years ago, Halsted Street may have encompassed all these peoples. There is a quarter-mile radius on the Near North Side of the city that might fit these specifications; upper-middle-income high-rise complexes have sprung up with startling suddenness in the rooming-house heartland. They are adjacent to one another, at this moment. Still the area I was seeking was a matter of conjecture, even here. The nomadic, transient nature of contemporary life has made diffusion the order – or disorder – of the city. The bulldozer and the wrecking ball have played their roles.”
“Although detractors derided him as a sentimentalist populist whose views were simplistic and occasionally maudlin, Mr. Terkel was widely credited with transforming oral history into a popular literary form,” the New York Times wrote in its obituary. “Division Street consisted of transcripts of 70 conversations Mr. Terkel had with people of every sort in and around Chicago. Peter Lyon, reviewing it in The New York Times Book Review, said it was ‘a modern morality play, a drama with as many conflicts as life itself’.”
Did you know that John McCain refused to look Barack Obama in the eye during Friday night’s debate? According to Roger Ebert today, everybody knows that. Ebert builds a column today around that “fact” as well as a rumination about McCain’s body language and concludes that McCain was being rude and he is offended. “Obama is my guy,” Ebert writes. “And if you are rude to him, you are rude to me.”
Let’s set aside for now the fact that Ebert has no problem being rude to McCain and, even more so, to Sarah Palin, to whom he was also sexist and condescending. No, let’s just stick with the facts about McCain’s eyes.
As Bob Somerby – an Obama supporter who nonetheless has a brain and can’t stand the false narratives of the American political system – shows at his invaluable Daily Howler, nobody seemed to notice McCain’s problems looking Obama in the eye until Obama string-puller David Axelrod mentioned it in the post-debate spin room.
Somerby goes on to show how the post-debate punditry was oblivious to the alleged problem with McCain’s body language in their immediate reports but after a day of reading each other and letting the spin memes set in, suddenly discovered how horrid it was. (His arms looked mighty stiff at the lectern! I bet he can’t even use a computer!)
Of course, this is patently silly from the get-go. Does anyone really believe John McCain is afraid or unwilling to look Barack Obama in the eye?
Dear Roger: You are still one of the best of the best when it comes to movies, but your political analysis isn’t even worthy of straight-to-video.
In Studs Terkel’s Division Street: America, Division Street is a metaphor. But here in Chicago, Division Street is a living, breathing metaphor, and from time to time on this blog, I like to check in with it to see what it says about our city, our lives, our nation. Consider:
* “Division Street: Two Americas.” Straining to be rich and hip.
* “Do Division Street Fest & Sidewalk Sale 2008.” Pabst Blue Ribbon will be served based on its popularity in the ‘hood.
* “This life-work began with the best-seller Division Street: America, in which he talked to politicians and protestors, firemen and cops, actors and salesmen, saints and thieves.” From “Roger Ebert’s Journal: How Studs Helps Me Lead My Life.”
* Division Dispatch #1: “You don’t have to worry about getting mugged on Division near Damen at 10 on Friday night like you did 10 years ago. And as folks who live there will tell you, the main drag isn’t a hooker depot anymore.”
* Division Dispatch #2: “A three-block section of [Chicago neighborhood] Wicker Park that once accommodated eight families, two vintage clothing stores, a French cleaners, and a gourmet bakery has been completely razed to make way for a private livery stable and carriage house.”
* Division Dispatch #3: “Division Street separates Wicker Park from East Village (east of Damen) and Ukrainian Village (west of Damen). In last week’s Reader, Ben Joravsky described how ‘Dan Rostenkowski kept the villages under his thumb even after he’d gone off to Congress – and jail.'”