Quote of the Day

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

sf, stereotypes and the myth of the modern san franciscan

What the eff, Mike Giant.

You may make some badass art, but I have to say, I just don't get this. Maybe it's because I'm a terribly old-fashioned San Franciscan generally in the habit of wearing underwear, but I honestly am not quite sure if this piece is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, outright farcical or dead serious. And even more perplexing, I can't seem to decide if it's sincerely meant to be an ode or rather an insult. I mean, I think that personally, I would be offended if I actually fit into this stereotype somehow.

As it is, however, I am just left feeling rather left out that as a non-Mission living, professionally employed, panty-owning woman sadly devoid of vintage frames (glasses and bike), I apparently don't belong in a modern San Francisco. And the fact that in his upcoming show (Is the "Frisco" in the title supposed to be ironic? And if so will the Italians get it? So many questions...) this overworked cliché is apparently going to be presented to a foreign nation as a representation of the archetypal San Francisco woman... well, I don't even know what to say about that.

Ok, well I will say, first of all: I'm not sure where the artist is getting his data but personally I kinda think he missed the mark. I believe I know a fairly diverse selection of females here and generally speaking, the “Modern San Franciscan Woman” I know can be described as intelligent, independent, open-minded, politically and socially active (because she cares about her city), environmentally conscious (but not obnoxiously self-righteous about it), quite likely more sexually enlightened than the rest of the country (but not slutty), perhaps often a leetle heavy-handed with the booze (but she can hold her liquor), and lives any-which-the-fuck-where she pleases in the city because she's not pretentious enough to think that you’re only cool if you live in a certain neighborhood (*cough*the Mission*cough*).

And most importantly, try as one might, the "Modern San Franciscan Woman" cannot be glibly pin-holed into a cleverly-drawn diagram because really there is no one cookie-cutter representation of her.

But what I found more interesting than the drawing itself was the discussion it incited in the comments section of the Mission Mission blog post. So right now I'm going to sidestep the whole feminist issue, for the sake of brevity, and focus on the larger picture I feel is in question here: what it means to be a citizen of San Francisco, male or female.

Now just to be clear, I do not have a problem with the Mission. I live very close to the Mission. I have friends who live there. I love Mission Dolores park, going out in the Mission,
thrifting in the mission, having brunch in the Mission, eating burritos in the Mission... you get the point.

What I do take issue with is people making arbitrary, personally-biased decisions about what makes one a San Franciscan; such as anyone trying to say that you're not a "true" SF-er if you don't ride a bike, if you don't have tattoos, don't smoke (
hella) weed, if you own a car or watch tv or live in the sunset or weren't born here. Just like it rubs me the wrong way when people automatically and derogatorily slap the hipster label on someone because they have a bike, tats and skinny jeans, or the prep/bro/marina ho tag if, God Forbid, they happen to rent an apartment in Pac Heights or Cow Hollow. It's the age old "book & cover" debaucle.

And I have an equal beef with overly-entitled SF natives who think they own the city and that everyone else should get the hell out as with the transplants who act suspiciously like the aforementioned entitled natives after living here for all of a year. And then there are those who would like to tell you that because they were born in San Francisco (nevermind their family moving away when they were 3 months old), this makes them more of a local than you. Yes, it's cool that you were born here and I'm sorry, that doesn't make you God. Or even a native.

I fully acknowledge the uniqueness and awesomeness of having been born & raised in SF (I would be proud to call myself a true native but can really only claim Native Norcal status). And alternatively I very much understand the pride transplants take in their adopted city and in having become a part of it.

What I think is stupid is the fact that we seem to feel the need to argue over who of us are more authentically San Franciscan, based on where we're from, what neighborhood we live in, what we wear/drive/ride/eat/drink, etc. What's this? Cliques? Pointless
catfights? When did this SF become one giant high school campus, anyway? Why can't we all just find common ground in our collective love and pride of our city and learn to accept (if not celebrate) the differences that make it so diverse and colorful?

In the end I have to think that anyone who seeks to define "the San Franciscan" is missing the point. Because to me, paradoxically, what it means to be San Franciscan is that we cannot be defined. Like this crazy city full of constant surprises, its residents are endlessly varied and beautifully unique. San Francisco is a place people come to be themselves, to find themselves, to see the world in 47 square miles; a place people stay because they just can't bare to leave (just how many hearts have been left in San Francisco, anyway?). It welcomes with an open heart and open mind, blind to the differences and quirks others may see as flaws. It cries:

Keep, red states, your parochial pomp! Give me your gay, your straight, Your glittered half-naked masses yearning to dance free, The unconventional refuse of your narrow-minded towns. Send these, the progressive, adventure-seeking to me, I lift my lava lamp beside the Golden Gate!*

And so I say that, if anything, what should define a true San Franciscan are these same qualities; an unwavering sense of tolerance and compassion, a refusal to stereotype, label or to look with hatred, fear and disgust upon those who are different. After all, isn't that the very spirit of San Francisco itself?

*plagiarized and bastardized from the sonnet "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty


  1. I've always thought of San Francisco as the last American "melting pot". Seems like people who don't quite fit into the culture they were brought up in find their way here and manage to either find a like-minded group or create their own place.

    Labels are annoying, but that's what we humans do. It's simply essential that we use those labels to help describe and not pigeon-hole.

    I think it's clear to say that Mr. Giant's piece should be called, "Modern Fad-obcessed San Franciscan Woman". He should also know better than to call SF "Frisco", even in jest.

  2. Bravo! Bravo! I aspire to live up to the "Let It Be" lifestyle most congruent with this city... let it be, let it ride, let it walk, let it do whatever the hell it wants. THAT is the true meaning of being a San Franciscan.

  3. "Let it be"... I like that! I think it should be the official motto of the city.

    Tom, would have though that ONE thing all San Franciscans could agree on would be that to call our fair town "Frisco" is a travesty.

    I do agree that people will inevitably label and stereotype. The insatiable need to categorize seems to be part human nature, maybe in order for us to "make sense" of things. But I think where the act of labeling gets dangerous is when people start to see others AS the label, and fail to recognize the complex individual behind it. That can only lead to misunderstanding, fear, hate and perhaps ultimately violence and tragedy.

  4. They want a stereotype? Here's one: we are freedom lovers! Stick some flowers in our hair! Give us some refugee children! I am OK with the North California coast being the last vestige of hippie-freedom in this country. I like flip flops.

  5. Maybe we can get Paul McCartney to be the official city mascot or something. (re: Let it be)

  6. Amen! Perhaps we could just have the mission hipsters and the marina stripeshirts fight it out in a roller derby battle royale. And as a bonus, there wouldn't be such a line at Bi-rite creamery.