In defense of Regina Romero (yeah, you read that right): A couple of weeks back, I chided our loquacious, yet seldom-compelling member of the City Council for having used the term "creative class." In her defense, she did not make up that stupid-ass term; she obviously just heard it from someone else and was passing it along.
I got a bunch of e-mails from people aghast that I was unfamiliar with the term/social movement/absolute world-changing phenomenon. Like many people, I read Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class when it came out several years ago. But then, like most people with a freakin' brain, I dismissed it as shoddy scholarship and elitist nonsense, and I did so several years ago minus the exact amount of time it took to read the book. I'm a little bit stunned and a whole lot disappointed that it's still being taken seriously by anyone.
For those of you fortunate enough to have missed it, here's the gist of Florida's thesis:
• There's this really special group of people known as the Creative Class. (If you have to ask if you can be a part of it, you can't.)
• Inside this Creative Class is a subset of extra, extra cool people known as the Super-Creative Core. This Super-Creative Core is surrounded by a creamy nougat layer of (merely) Creative Professionals. Along with the assorted nuts known as Bohemians, they make up the candy bar that fuels both innovation and yuppie migration these days.
(Bohemians used to be known as Deadheads, but then Jerry Garcia died in 1995. Most of the former Deadheads have heard about his death by now, so they've stopped driving from city to city in Volkswagen buses and renamed themselves Bohemians.)
• Cities that actively cater to this Class of people will prosper as more Class-y people will move there, making those who are hip enough to be aware of this migration (Creative) Class Conscious.
• The cities most likely to attract these folks can be mathematically identified by using the author's Creativity Index, which uses in its formula four equally weighted criteria—the concentration of Creative Class people already living in the area; the concentration of high-tech industries in the area; the number of patent applications filed per capita (no, really!); and, finally, the concentration of same-sex couples living in the area.
He believes that gay people tend to live in places that are more accepting and open to their lifestyles. (He uses the term "tolerance.") He writes: "Places that score high on the Tolerance Index are very likely to have a culture of tolerance." Just like his true believers.
I give him credit for one thing: He has managed to turn his circular logic into a cottage industry. He rewrote the original book a couple more times under the titles Who's Your City? and The Flight of the Creative Class. He argues that people moving to Austin, Texas, proves his thesis, conveniently ignoring the facts that Texas aggressively courts business, and has great weather, relatively low unemployment and no personal state income tax.
He also talked his way into a gig as the head of the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank at the University of Toronto. He is apparently paid more than $340,000 a year to convince the people of Toronto that they're smart for living in Toronto.
A friend of mine suggested that since I'm relatively intelligent and educated, and I've written things for which people have paid actual American money, I, too, could be a part of this Creative Class. I didn't even have to tell him that I also have gay neighbors, of whom I am not only tolerant, but friendly enough to trade Bette Midler stuff back and forth.
My initial response is the Groucho Marx thing about not wanting to be a member of a club that would have me as a member, but it goes beyond that. I would say that the greatest thing about the where and when of my existence is that I'm free to be an individual. I don't want to be a part of any class; that's lame and self-serving.
However, it's easy to see why some people are willing to go that route. Lots of people want to be told that they're special, that they're valuable, and that they can do things that only a handful of people can do. It's also quite obvious that many of the people who have e-mailed me believe themselves to be a part of this Creative Class, and that their being a self-proclaimed artist will somehow make Tucson a better place to live. Maybe it will; maybe it won't. Most importantly, getting elected officials to buy into this Creative Class nonsense will buy a lot of clout for the lucky (ostensibly Super-Creative) few.
One more thing: I did not call Councilwoman Romero stupid. I said she says stupid things, which she does. A lot. The other day, she referred to graffiti as "aerosol art." Even some Creative Classers would agree that's stupid. People who do graffiti are not artists; they're vandals. They're not misunderstood; I understand them perfectly. They're knuckleheads who need a serious ass-whuppin'.
But as long as they don't spray-paint gay slurs on the wall, Florida would probably consider them part of his Creative Class.