August 30, 2011

"Clybourne Park" by Bruce Norris

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park, winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize in New York and Olivier Award in London, is the play I’ve been waiting for since the 1980s. Although Norris previously wrote six dramas for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Steppenwolf will finally stage his masterpiece beginning September 8th. 
It’s a bitterly funny two-act play set in the same two-bedroom house on Chicago’s Near Northwest Side in white-flight 1959 and then in gentrifying 2009. Norris is superb at writing dialogue in How We Talk Now. While most playwrights live for eloquent speechifying, Norris’s 2009 characters converse realistically in interrupting, overlapping, and apologizing snatches. Moreover, Clybourne Park is the first work I can recall to capture precisely what urbanites talk about most obsessively (real estate); how they converse (euphemistically); and why (the 3Ls of real estate are “location, location, and location,” which in Chicago means, above all else, race).
In my 18 years in Chicago, I was involved in innumerable conversations that included the phrase, “It just needs a little tuckpointing.” Yet how many famous plays or movies center around real estate? Real estate and race?

Read the whole thing there.

37 comments:

dufu said...

There's still a remnant of Cabrini in the area. Mostly a lot of newly built "townhouse" type units. Built on the fad from a few years ago that if you give them a unit that they can feel more like they "own" then they'll be better behaved.

For the most part it's not too bad around there. Other than the incongruous crowds at the nearby Dominick's on the day EBT's get refilled and the block that has a couple payday loan places, there's not much evidence of their presence.

I suspect the CHA watches them pretty closely and packs troublemakers off to the colonies at the drop of a hat. That was quite clever of them of make all of those savages someone else's problem.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903520204576480542593887906.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Thripshaw said...

He comes off as a liberal in this profile. Norris says “my primary exposure to anyone African-American up until I was 14 was our maid. There’s no way to escape the fact that I’m a racist...and I think that’s true for everyone.”

I still wanna see the play, though.

europeasant said...

"the denizens dispatched to the hinterlands clutching Section 8 vouchers"

Where exactly are those hinterlands?
According to Wikipedia "The hinterland is the land or district behind a coast or the shoreline of a river. Specifically, by the doctrine of the hinterland[clarification needed], the word is applied to the inland region lying behind a port, claimed by the state that owns the coast. The area from which products are delivered to a port for shipping elsewhere is that port's hinterland. The term is also used to refer to the area around a city or town."
My guess by hinterlands you mean areas where there is not enough diversity or vibrancy, like a neighborhood near us.
Who are the monetary winners and losers in these types of transactions?My guess,vibrancy wins.

James Kabala said...

I can't be the only person who had to look up "tuckpointing."

Anonymous said...

Justice Department Moves to Block Merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, News Reports Say.

I wonder if Steve Sailer will have a race angle on this news.

Carol said...

I know what you mean how realistic dialogue. Around my house conversation is mostly "what?" and "huh?"

Anonymous said...

Steve,
What were the characteristics of the whites that stayed in the Austin neighborhood vs the ones that fled the Austin neighborhood? I only ask because I have noticed sharp differences in the territorial instincts of different population groups.

Steve, I am not Scottish and thus have no axe to grind with regard to Scottsmen, however I believe that the Scottish people who are originally from North of Hadrian's wall essentially were selected for violent, prickly, highly tribal, honor-bound traits, Very hard to dislodge these Northern Scotts from a piece of territory. These are the people you want on your side in a violent fight - they will stick with you against all odds and fight with bravery and dedication. On the other hand, these Northern Scottsmen don't seem to do that well in a modern peaceful technological society. As has often been noted, Northern Scottsmen are the majority of the dysfunctional hillbilly types portrayed in "Winter's bone" Also Northern Scottsmen make up the core of the violent chav Glasgow culture. The Northern Scotts who live in Glasgow I believe have the highest rate of white dysfunction in the world. Overall, I believe these violent tribal Northen Scotts as a group do worse than the white median on every single social metric you can name.

At the same time, Scotts from south of Hadrian's wall were pacified by the Roman occupation. The Romans bred out of these Southern Scotts most of their instincts towards honor, courage, loyalty to tribe. Southern Scotts have dramatically lower T than Northern Scotts. Southern Scotts are thus notably more passive, more able to follow orders, much more successful at inventing things, conceptualizing, working in a modern technological economy. More adept at the politics of climbing the corporate ladder.

Again, the experience of selective breeding under occupation made Southern Scotts much much different than Northern Scotts. How does this impact propensity to hold on to a piece of land vs abandon it for greener pastures?

Anonymous said...

Blacks who wholeheartedly accept section 8 have absolutely no ground to stand on to complain against gentrification. Either from the moral fairness point of view, or from the basic fact that without section 8 gentrification would not be possible.

Anonymous said...

"The Near North Side land that Cabrini-Green sat upon was too convenient for black welfare mothers to hold for long..."

This logic has not worked in NYC. No single housing project has been demolished or relocated here. And some of them are close to very expensive neighborhoods.

Kylie said...

"I can't be the only person who had to look up 'tuckpointing'."

I wonder if in this context Steve didn't really mean "repointing".

SFG said...

"Again, the experience of selective breeding under occupation made Southern Scotts much much different than Northern Scotts. How does this impact propensity to hold on to a piece of land vs abandon it for greener pastures"

Aren't the Northern Scots the ones who became the Scotch-Irish and later settled the American South?

I also recall David Hackett Fisher actually distinguishing *two* Southern cultures, Borderlands Scots (who became 'hillbillies') and Cavaliers and their servants in Virginia. I wonder if any of the Southerners here could comment...?

Anonymous said...

"Where exactly are those hinterlands?"

Mostly working class and middle class white neighborhoods in the city and the suburbs. So, affluent white people dump racial problems on less fortunate whites--who worked, saved, and moved from blackening areas for good reasons--, all the while wagging their fingers in "don't be a nasty racist" way.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of theater and dialogue, I would love to hear Steve's take on the first Whit Stillman movie Metropolitan. No, it's not a play, but it could easily be staged that way. The film didn't deal with race but it is there; as is the Jew. Though the film is mainly concerned with the position of the NY WASP culture of the indistinctly dated 60s/70s.

Anonymous said...

"He comes off as a liberal in this profile."

No shit. It's Theatre after all. The most we can hope from from Drama is a more-honest-liberal than one that sticks only to PC.
An honest liberal at least addresses real issues even though his conclusions and proposals may be different.
Sidney Lumet was a liberal, but PRINCE OF THE CITY was an honest film about police corruption.

Whiskey said...

Borders vs. Northern Scots were generally more violent, and also did not hold territory, that being fairly impossible given the pressures of various invaders. Thus borderer houses were pretty insubstantial, being built to be abandoned.

Rather, it was places like Edinburgh and Glasgow that the Scottish Enlightenment blossomed, not the borderer region which basically emigrated en-masse to the Americas (later Australia).

Resistance to "block-busting" was probably higher among Eastern European populations (Poles, Hungarians, etc) than the Scots-Irish borderer folks who just moved. Like they always did.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Clybourne Park the new housing development the black characters in "Raisin in the Sun" were attempting to move to?

Anonymous said...

There was THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER. Now, there's THE BATTLE HUMP OF THE PUSSY HO.

James Kabala said...

I'm just musing out loud here - I'm not trying to be faux-naif or ostentatiously PC - but I have a question. What if, when the first middle-class black family or two had moved into Austin, NO ONE had panicked and sold. Wouldn't that have kept the neighborhood safe? An underclass family can't buy a house if the house isn't for sale! It seems as if the neighbors Steve commends as more practical/realistic/conservative were actually selling out the neighborhood both literally and metaphorically. If they had stayed put, there would have been no houses for anyone (white or black, middle-class or underclass, law-abiding or criminal) to buy, and the original families could have lived there indefinitely.

Matt said...

The masterpiece on real estate is David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Every line is quotable. It's worth a rent, and I'd go see it live if it came to my town.

Anonymous said...

Do Scottish people in Scotland, Scottish people in America, Scottish people in Australia generally know if their families are from North of Hadrian's wall or South of Hadrian's wall?

Obviously there are two types of Scotts. The violent and dysfunctional types you find in West Virginia and in Glasgow and the productive and functional ones.

Could an ethnographer interview both types of Scotts and validate the thesis that almost all the violent and dysfunctional ones are from North of Hadrian's wall and almost all of the productive and functional ones are from South of the wall?

If not, how could one prove or dis prove this thesis ?

Z said...

"What were the characteristics of the whites that stayed in the Austin neighborhood vs the ones that fled the Austin neighborhood?"

I don't know about this one in particular, but many areas in Chicago went from 98%+ white to 98%+ black. In other words, no whites at all stayed.

My experience in other cities where whites stay above 10% is they are nearly all elderly with a smattering of single childless people on permanent disability who inherited property.

It such neighborhoods, you'll find the schools are 99% black, but the elderly population is half and half.

Anonymous said...

"He comes off as a liberal in this profile. Norris says “my primary exposure to anyone African-American up until I was 14 was our maid. There’s no way to escape the fact that I’m a racist...and I think that’s true for everyone.”"

Does he think "everyone" include blacks, Hispanics, and Jews?

Robert Hume

Anonymous said...

"As has often been noted, Northern Scottsmen are the majority of the dysfunctional hillbilly types portrayed in "Winter's bone" "

People in the Appalachians and Ozarks are typically of Scotch-Irish (Ulster Protestant) descent, not directly from Scotland.

Anonymous said...

Hinterlands - I thought that most people took it to mean something other than its purely geographical meaning.

Anonymous said...

Justice Department Moves to Block Merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, News Reports Say.

"I wonder if Steve Sailer will have a race angle on this news."

Nope, I cant see a race angle, are you obsessed or something?

TGGP said...

I hadn't heard of the distinction between Northern vs Southern scotsmen before (I thought all Scotland was north of hadrian's wall), though I have heard of contrasts between highland & lowland scots.

Steve Sailer said...

"Wasn't Clybourne Park the new housing development the black characters in "Raisin in the Sun" were attempting to move to?"

Right -- Norris's use of the interplay of the fictitious "Clybourne Park" in "Raisin in the Sun" and the real-life Clybourn Avenue where his Steppenwolf Theatre parking lot is, and which runs through what used to be Cabrini Green before Steppenwolf moved to the neighborhood, is brillian.

Steve Sailer said...

Hinterland -- Cabrini Green was on the edge of Chicago's Gold Coast, so dispatching Cabrini-Greeners downstate to small cities like Champaign-Urbana fulfills your definition of "hinterland" nicely.

Steve Sailer said...

I had no idea what "tuckpointing" meant the first few dozen times I used it in gentrification discussions, and nobody ever noticed I didn't know what I was talking about.

Tuckpointing (at least in Chicago) means to patch up the mortar in old brickwork.

Anonymous said...

"The masterpiece on real estate is David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Every line is quotable. It's worth a rent, and I'd go see it live if it came to my town."

It is actually not really about real estate but about power and ego. Real estate is just a pretext for what happens among sharks, weasels, and sheep in the game of outwitting, outmanuevering, and outplaying others. The subject could have been anything involving the rules of the confidence game. In fact, we learn very little about real estate per se. The real lesson involves the psychology of power. It's less about properties than territoriality. The salesmen want to claim and own the board. They love money and the stuff it can buy but what really turns them on is the thrill of winning and coming out on top.

Anonymous said...

The distinction is usually between highland Scots and lowland Scots. The lowlanders would look down on the highlanders as layabouts and hoodlums, and the highlanders would regard the lowlanders as a bunch of English poofters. Hadrian's Wall was entirely in modern England, from Newcastle west to the Irish Sea, albeit in the modern English border counties.

I doubt there is much of a genetic gradient between the two areas. Genetic research has shown more Viking genes in some areas--up to 40% in places in the Hebrides, for example--but a lot of the genetic material in population the region dates from the Neolithic era.

Note the Borderers (from the lowlander counties on the English/Scottish borders) were the primary source of the Scots-Irish Ulstermen, who would go on to be such notable troublemakers around the world as they moved on from Northern Ireland.

Camlost said...

Blacks who wholeheartedly accept section 8 have absolutely no ground to stand on to complain against gentrification.

LOL, don't hold your breath on that one. Blacks generally complain the most about those things provided to them for free.

S.Anonyia said...

"I also recall David Hackett Fisher actually distinguishing *two* Southern cultures, Borderlands Scots (who became 'hillbillies') and Cavaliers and their servants in Virginia. I wonder if any of the Southerners here could comment...?"

Yeah, it's basically upland vs. lowland South. "Hillbillies" in the upland, "cavaliers" in the lowland. Of course amongst the hillbillies there are large percentages of Germans and "regular" Irish who sort of integrated into their culture. And the cavaliers tend to have a lot of French Huguenot ancestry thrown in too. Cavaliers derived from Southwest England, hillbillies from mostly lowland Scotland and Northwest England (not Northern Scotland as the other poster alleges, though I'm sure there were some).

Anonymous said...

Do Scottish people in Scotland, Scottish people in America, Scottish people in Australia generally know if their families are from North of Hadrian's wall or South of Hadrian's wall?

Hadrian's Wall runs across northern England, well south of the Scottish border.

Cennbeorc

Laban said...

What's interesting is that the (true-ish) stereotypes of Lowlander and Highlander have been reversed in the 170-odd years between today and the early Victorian era.

Then - lowlanders honest, thrifty, sober, hardworking, religious. John Buchan's Dickson McCunn, retired grocer, an archetype. Highlanders touchy, aggressive drinkers, quick to draw the blade (although also loyal and brave) - considered uncivilised by the Lowlanders.

Now - Lowlanders benefit and alcohol-dependent, violent, touchy, aggressive, quick to draw the blade. Irvine Welsh's fictional neds an archetype.

Highlanders are now hardworking, thrifty etc. A very safe place for the kids holidays - in contrast to the lowlands.

elvisd said...

"Yeah, it's basically upland vs. lowland South. "Hillbillies" in the upland, "cavaliers" in the lowland. Of course amongst the hillbillies there are large percentages of Germans and "regular" Irish who sort of integrated into their culture. And the cavaliers tend to have a lot of French Huguenot ancestry thrown in too. Cavaliers derived from Southwest England, hillbillies from mostly lowland Scotland and Northwest England (not Northern Scotland as the other poster alleges, though I'm sure there were some)."

That's pretty much the legend. There's some truth to it. Surnames alone between the two regions lend a bit of credence to it.
Most of the Scots who settled the South were indeed lowlanders, though there's room there. It seems that the Highlands began depopulating in the 16th century, so many people who headed to America from Glasgow, Dumfries, and Perth, may have had parents or grandparents who had been highlanders.
The Ulster aspect is a whole other factor. Many lowland, border, and N. English people seem to have participated in the Ulster Plantation for 2-4 generations, and then headed to America. When you consider that these people's descendents did much to settle the west, they appear to be a restless bunch indeed, having moved from Scotland to Ulster to Va, than into the interior, all in less than a century and a half.
Also of note are the Hugenots who made Ulster and England a waystation for a couple of generations before moving on across the ocean, too, particularly to S.C.

Kylie said...

"Blacks who wholeheartedly accept section 8 have absolutely no ground to stand on to complain against gentrification. Either from the moral fairness point of view, or from the basic fact that without section 8 gentrification would not be possible."

You have got to be kidding.

Blacks don't argue from the moral high ground or from any sense of fairness. It's always all about the white oppression, institutional racism, the legacy of colonialism, etc. In other words, their argument is always that they are owed whatever it is they demanding as compensation for suffering white racism.

And just in case you were wondering, reason and logic don't figure in their arguments any more than morality and fairness do.