August 2008 Archives
The neon Pegasus has been a traditional symbol for Dallas because it graces the top of the Magnolia Building, at one time the tallest skyscraper in town, and could be seen for miles. If it looks familiar, that's because it became a trademark of Mobil Oil. Mobil Oil started as the Magnolia Oil Company. This means that a favorite symbol for Dallas is an oil company corporate logo. Image from www.3baylor.edu.
Harvey Graff's new book, The Dallas Myth: The Making and Unmaking of an American City, is a thorough and devastating examination of how Dallas developed its larger-than-life image, its aggressive business culture, its ambitions, its conformity and fearfulness - and, especially, its malign neglect of the past.
A history and English professor at Ohio State University, Graff lived here for more than 20 years, teaching at the University of Texas at Dallas and eventually teaching a class on Dallas' history. In doing so, he discovered how ignorant his students were about Big D. The bus tour of the city that his class would take often was the first time many of his mostly suburban students had ever visited downtown.
Why should they? And why should anyone care about Dallas' past? As many newcomers to Dallas eventually learn (especially if they've asked to see any building older than 30 years), this is the city without history. It's a popular idea about Dallas' origins: This is the city with no reason to exist here -- there are no natural attractions, no mountains, no real lakes, and the Trinity River is not navigable to the Gulf of Mexico, ergo, it's not good for trade.
Actually, there were perfectly practical reasons to build a city here in the 19th century. Dallas stood on trade routes and was surrounded by great land for cattle, wheat and cotton (and later, oil). That's how the city first sold itself to people headed west. It was only when hard times hit in the '20s and '30s and the Dallas labor market began turning to unions that the city began inventing the myths about our lack of history and natural resources.Why? Because if there was nothing here, then our city leaders and businessmen must have been true visionaries, building all this from scratch. We peasants owe them everything. And if there's no historical significance to anything, everything is up for grabs: Anything can be bought, bulldozed and redeveloped. Dallas is constantly reinventing itself like this in the hopes that the next big project will change everything (while fearing that it won't). Simultaneously, it's constantly trying to bury the past - such as its history of political extremism and racial violence.
Put on your cape and fly over to book/daddy's other worksite, Art&Seek! There you will find a feature about superheroes -- they seem to be rather a big deal right now, don't they? I've heard something about one or two this summer -- and specifically you'll read about the new anthology of superhero short stories, Who Can Save Us Now?
But this story also features:
- a real-live audio clip of book/daddy! Hear him speak -- intelligibly!
- interviews with real authors, a purported editor and an actual professor
- intelligent discussions of superhero-dom
- PLUS, best of all. book/daddy's successful attempt to get Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" played on an NPR station!
Image from Somethingawful.com