No sad parting for the people of Pennsylvania

April 22, 2008|By Samantha Bennett

PITTSBURGH - Another day, another crowd of suits loitering beside police cars and SUVs in front of the Post-Gazette building. Another candidate is going to grace us with his or her presence and entourage. In the days before the primary, there has been such an invasion of candidates, pundits and press that the population of Western Pennsylvania has doubled.

Now I know how Iowans and New Hampshire ... New Hampshirites? New Hampshireans? New Hampshirelles? ... feel when all these yahoos from the big cities parachute in and try to go all native on the locals. I can't remember a time when anybody paid any attention to what Pennsylvanians do or think, including me, and I grew up here.

Not here here, exactly; my youth was misspent at the other end of the state in the Greater (than what?) Philadelphia area, where Stephen Colbert kicked off a week of special Pennsylvania Primary Colbert Report broadcasts last Monday.

No, he's not coming to Pittsburgh. I know how these things work. They were in a meeting in New York, and somebody said, "Hey, let's do a week of shows from Pennsylvania right before the primary."

"Yeah! Great idea. We'll go to Philadelphia. I've got an aunt there."

"Cool. Philadelphia's, like, the state capital. It's the heart of Pennsylvania. We can make lots of cheesesteak and Ben Franklin jokes!"

And sure enough, Mr. Colbert had a Ben Franklin impersonator on the show. I've seen him before, at a convention I attended in Philly last year. Funny how you never see a Frank Rizzo impersonator representing the Big Scrapple.

Mr. Colbert also had a big map of Pennsylvania behind him, with pictures on it representing Pennsylvania regions. This was clearly designed back in New York; the picture of the Amish farmer watching a flat-panel TV is pasted on up around Bradford, where you can't grow anything but icicles.

Somewhere closer to Delaware than Harrisburg, there's a picture of Three Mile Island with a radiation zombie, and Gettysburg is represented by a picture of Civil War re-enactors being attacked by more Three Mile Island zombies.

Which is just silly, because I don't think even the mutant cows made it as far as Adams County.

Still, at least Mr. Colbert was willing to cross the Delaware to make stereotype jokes. I was a little surprised to hear the smack Jon Stewart was talking on The Daily Show. In response to the kerfuffle about Barack Obama's description of Pennsylvanians as "bitter," Mr. Stewart narrowed the focus to Western Pennsylvania and piled on. And he's from Jersey.

"These people do not turn to God and guns and mistrust of foreigners because of a downturn in the economy. Those are the very foundations these towns are built on, sir."

Well, anyone who's seen our letters page or my e-mail wouldn't leap out of a chair to challenge that, but it's the next part I found puzzling:

"I've been to Western Pennsylvania; 'bitter' doesn't even begin to describe what it's like out there. You know those movies where the main character wants to get desperately out of where he's from, and it always starts with him and his best friend working at some type of factory, and then his friend falls into a vat of molten steel? That's Western Pennsylvania."

No it isn't.

All the factories with vats of molten steel and young men working and falling in them closed 20 years ago.

You know what I think? I think that if he was in Western Pennsylvania, he must have been visiting some unhappy castaway from New York. Because the natives here aren't bitter at all, jobs or no jobs, as long as the Steelers are doing well.

Let me tell you this, Jon Stewart: Even the young people don't want to leave Western Pennsylvania. They want to buy a house for $60,000 to $80,000 two doors down from their parents' house and stay forever. Those who did have to leave here to find work in Atlanta or New York gather in black-and-gold bars and dream of the day they can afford the 50 percent pay cut to come back.

Why do these guys have to rely on stereotypes and misinformation when there are so many legitimate targets in this state? People wear Steelers jerseys to weddings and funerals - their own! We can't buy beer and wine in the same place! There's a mine fire that's been burning under Centralia since 1961!

And it'll still be burning next week. Only the suits will go out.

Samantha Bennett is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Her e-mail is sbennett@post-gazette.com.

Copyright, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2008, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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