A Typical Back-Handed Compliment

Here’s a review of Communal, the wonderful restaurant in downtown Provo. The review is pretty positive about the food, but it’s also filled with stupid, sneering disdain for Utah County. For example, the second sentence begins “for a community swimming in franchises and chain restaurants….”

Here are a couple of other notable quotes:

“I waltzed in thinking ‘Who does brunch in Utah County?'”

“But, there was wine to sip (yes, wine in Utah County!) as we awaited…”

Now don’t get me wrong, I think the overall assessment of the restaurant is more than fair. I enjoy Communal, but if I were reviewing it I could find more to criticize than writer Ted Scheffer does here.

But when he’s not taking about the food, Scheffer follows the worn and idiotic narrative that many writers adopt when talking about cool things in Provo: I ventured out into the boonies and — who would have thought! — I actually discovered something amidst the rabble and ape-men that didn’t completely suck.

This story gets told again and again and again. I’ve probably seen a dozen or more posts describing Velour and Muse Music this way. Pizzeria 712 — which I personally think is better than any SLC pizzeria — also gets this treatment. Other things I’ve heard described this way: the Beehive Bazaar, Nicolitalia Pizzeria, Guru’s, Provo’s downtown, and (bafflingly) even the various canyons in Utah County. As the story goes, they’re all cool but so surprising! One of the first rules of being a writer is to read a lot, but the redundancy of this story makes it seem like those who write about Provo have never read a single on the city before in their lives.

Though it may be futile to say this, I wish SLC people would quit depicting Provo as a place filled with backward hicks. Whether they do it consciously or not, I think people depict Provo in this way because they feel it makes them look more urbane. SLC is perceived by many non-Utahns much the same way Provo is perceived by many SLC-ers, so finding a city that they feel is even less cool makes them feel better about themselves. It’s also worth noting that every single one of the quotes I highlighted above could be used by a visitor to describe SLC.

The worst part about this is that many of perceptions about Provo aren’t even true. Yes, there are chains here, but not really in downtown. Sure, not everyone goes to brunch, but a lot of people do and there are actually several options within walking distance of Communal (so take that, completely un-walkable SLC). The wine criticism is fair, I suppose, but Utah has serious image problems across the entire state when it comes to alcohol.

But I know that criticizing snotty, naive SLC writers who mistakenly depict their city as the pinnacle of cosmopolitan living is pointless. What isn’t pointless, however, is recognizing the way people think about Provo and determining if those perceptions help or hurt the city’s development and economy. Identifying perceptions involves reading between the lines, but as the review mentioned above shows, that isn’t very hard. In future posts I’ll be tackling perceptions of Provo, but for now I have this to say: suck it SLC people. Go stuff your gullets with chain pizza at Settebello while we continue to enjoy this.

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2 Comments

Filed under buy local, Development, Downtown, Food, Provo, restaurant, urban

2 responses to “A Typical Back-Handed Compliment

  1. It reminds me of the feeling I used to get from every SLUG review of a Provo band… “They actually weren’t THAT terrible, considering they’re from Provo”

  2. Pingback: Provo’s Reputation: Part 1 | (pro(vo)cation)

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