Monday, May 04, 2009

“It’s Just A Movie”

When I would get too caught up in a story or a movie plot, my late Father would always look a bit disgusted and say “it’s just a movie.” He was a pretty straight forward Idaho rancher dude, just a few years back from seeing the destruction of WW II and Dachau Concentration Camp so I can understand him for not being romantic by nature.

Dad was probably always a little worried that as a boy with my friends, we often played soldiers using the gear they brought back from the War. So I can see his point now. He didn’t want me to romanticize it or believe fictional accounts.

DCVB, as many destination marketing organizations are around the country, is Durham’s film office, so I’ve had reason many times to reflect on that comment when I hear people fret that a movie filmed here might not reflect reality.

People were very worried about Bull Durham 20 years ago. But when it turned into what is ranked as one of the best sports movie of all time, that concern quickly dissipated. It captured and exaggerated some aspects into caricatures…but they are still a part of Durham at some level.

Kiss the Girls concerned people because it involved two mass murderers. The author of the book upon which the movie was based, James Patterson, was quoted as saying that he picked Durham as the location after visiting here to attend a convention. He explained Durham was perfect, because no one would ever think something like that would happen here.

Now there is some concern about Main Street, because it purportedly portrays a community down on its luck. I’ve read the script and it isn’t anything like reality. But it is a good story…uplifting really. Durham in fact has never been quite that down on its luck in that sense but it wouldn’t be a good movie if Hollywood didn’t amp things up a bit.

(It does capture something subtly and that’s the condescension Raleigh folks often blurt out about Durham and that is all too real.)

Durham, in fact, has had at least four fairly rapid economic transformations and I guess some people could qualify transition as depressed….from primal forest to Native American game land and then farmland, to Scots Ulster grist mills and some plantations by mostly English from down east, to post-Civil War industrial powerhouse, to one of the leading communities in research, education, healthcare, biotech, etc.

My job is to protect the community’s identity. I’m not worried about movies though. After surviving the media frenzy over the Lacrosse case and looking at public opinion data before, during and after…I realize that a community’s image is resilient…at least Durham’s is.

The fact is, image is not determined by movies or TV shows or even the news. It is driven by deceits and stigmatizations that don’t have anything to do with reality, and it takes years to create those stigmas.

More on that later.

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