Keohane: The Place Where Nobody Knows Your Name

1219254285Logan’s always a fascinating place. This is mainly because the vast majority of people who work there have perfected the ability to lather up the absolute maximum contempt for humanity, without it ever spilling over into physical violence. They’ve elevated it to an art form, really.

Recently flying back to Boston from New Orleans, I was shocked at how friendly the people at the airport were. I kept thinking, “Isn’t this the point were you should be obstructing me in some trivial, but exceptionally irritating way?” Even when they had to pull a feeble old man aside for some close-up TSA-mandated search action, they were polite, even apologetic.

This morning at Logan, a tiny, withered old woman in a wheelchair got no such treatment. She was roughly ordered to stand up and strip off her windbreaker before passing through security, in tones that suggested a failure to comply would result in a series of beatings, each one worse than the last, until she finally confessed to a fondness for both Islam and shoe-based incendiary devices.But this isn’t about the banality of evil (pardon the false lead, airports make it impossible for me to stop bitching), it’s about the banality of branding. Sitting in Terminal B, waiting for my flight to board, an announcement came over the PA system:

“Welcome to Boston,” it said, in a voice as sanitized as the carpet. “New England’s biggest city! Famous for the Boston Tea Party, Harvard, and Cheers. Boston is a walking city.”

Now, this form of boosterism is embarrassing wherever you go, because people who are inclined toward boosterism tend to have bad taste. If you had never come to town before, and came in via Logan, you would start out with the notion that we think being the biggest city in New England is a singular accomplishment, and that the defining characteristics of Boston are a college that isn’t in Boston, and a long dead TV show. (The Tea Party I’ll accept, because it contains the seeds of what became the prevailing mentality of Bostonians for centuries to come).

The Cheers stuff especially galls me. I can see some town in the middle of some no-count state in flyover country managing for decades to maintain enthusiasm for having been the setting for a long-gone TV show, just like I can understand why having a huge ball of twine is a big deal when you’re in a cultural wasteland. You take what you can get.

But there’s no explaining our devotion to this show. Did it capture Boston in some indelible way? No. It did feature talk of the Sox, and some accents, but they were far surpassed in quality and insight by Good Will Hunting and The Departed. And if we’re trying to trade on the supposed friendliness referenced in the theme song, it’s false advertising. If you come to town expecting everybody to know your name, and be glad you came, you’re going to be sorely, sorely disappointed.

Cheers was an at-times reasonably good, but now largely forgotten, sitcom. Yet we’re still slathering it all over our promotional materials. Boston is often a small town that goes out of its way to seem even smaller. The fealty to Cheers is a good example of this hidden Podunk impulse. It’s a mystery to me why we keep coming back to it, but it may have something to do with an unconscious desire to get back to the old days, when seeing someone say “Boston” on TV was a really big deal.

A valid bit of nostalgic longing, I guess, but that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing. It’s time to cut the cord on this one.

Joe Keohane filed his column from an airport in Phoenix, where the security people were presumably kind, and the featured attractions include the Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse.