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7/14/2005

Culture > Feature

COUNTERPOINT: NO, IT ISN'T

 

I was really hoping that the whole point-counterpoint format would result in an opportunity for me to put a smackdown to this "Orlando is boring" mantra that people insist on chanting. But the eloquent Ms. de Armas has succinctly and clearly made the point that I wanted to hammer home. That point?

If you think Orlando is boring, you're stupid.

Sorry, but that's the way it is. Granted, I've only been here for three years, so perhaps my Pollyanna attitude is headed for a soul-crushing dose of reality. But since I've been here, all I've heard is how plastic, unadventurous, uncreative, mindless and boring this city is. How nobody "gets it." How there's never anything to do.

Meanwhile, I've got a calendar on my iBook that's pretty much constantly filled with concerts, parties, fund-raisers, bar openings, restaurant openings, theater performances, out-of-the-mainstream movies, art shows and plenty of other things to keep my time occupied. So, I have to wonder, what paper are you people reading? The Polk County Pennysaver?

"Well," nay the naysayers, "there's stuff, but there's soooo much more going on in Miami/Atlanta/New Orleans/New York/Chicago/ Seattle. After all, we're just a bunch of theme-park hicks surrounded by strip malls."

Oh, well, in that case, I guess you're right. There's no way that our podunk metropolitan area of some two million people could have burped up any intelligent or creative people. That place that rents obscure art films, serves up coffee and microbrews and hosts avant-garde art and music shows must not really be in Orlando, because there's nobody here smart enough to do that.

Likewise for the art gallery/martini bar/music space. Or the indie CD store that's been so successful they've grown out of their original location. Or the indie rock club downtown that has put Orlando square in the sights of most national booking agents. Or the big concert venue down at Disney that is the second-most-busy club in America. Or the Fringe Festival. Or the Florida Film Festival. Or the South Asian Film Festival. Or the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra/Orlando Ballet/Orlando Opera/Orlando Museum of Art.

Oh, and let's not forget Will's Pub, Hard Rock Live, the ultra-lounges downtown and beyond, the Morse Museum, all the cool shops, restaurants and galleries at Ivanhoe Row/Park Avenue South/Thornton Park/the ViMi, the two theaters at which you can watch out-of-the-mainstream movies, a huge area of Vietnamese restaurants and shops, multiple theater companies, dozens of world-class restaurants, lots of great parks, endless opportunities for outdoor activities ….

Jesus, people. Are you kidding me? You can tell me you've been-there-done-that for all of these things? Somehow I doubt it. So why the complaining?

Allow me.

My theory about this constant bitching is twofold. On one hand, there's the received knowledge that Florida sucks and Orlando sucks harder. The state – and particularly this city – is an easy punchline and convenient shorthand for "middlebrow, uncultured, suburban." And, when you consider the vast, theme-park-oriented "Orlando" that exists south of Conroy, it's an easy conclusion to come to. After all, that's the only "Orlando" that most visitors see and it's not much to be proud of.

Screw that. That's not Orlando, any more than Six Flags is Atlanta or Bourbon Street is New Orleans. The constant focus the city's leaders place on appeasing tourists and families plays into this myth-conception as well; if the true attractions of the city – the real city – were emphasized (or at least acknowledged officially), that would be a tremendous boost to our lagging self-esteem. Seeing Patty Sheehan at a Fringe show meant a lot to me, because it means that at least someone on City Council enjoys the interesting corners of the town. Seeing Buddy Dyer bloviate about how the Magic, baseball and high-priced condos will legitimize Orlando makes me want to puke. Orlando's already legitimate.

The second part of my theory lines up with something that Ms. de Armas mentions: People love to complain. It's easier to wonder why "nothing's going on" than it is to be proactive. Just speaking from a musical standpoint, I've seen artists and club owners involved in "the scene" who simply refuse to acknowledge that a little effort will go a long way in Orlando and therefore just throw up their hands and cater to the lowest common denominator. More inspiringly, I've also seen artists, club owners, etc. who refuse to accept that they're alone and plow ahead, booking unconventional shows, organizing artist networks, starting record labels and showing enormous faith in the ability of Orlando to absorb challenging art. And it's paying off. Not huge, mind you – because some people just won't get over their propensity for complaining – but it's paying off in inspiration, giving other musicians with weird ideas the encouragement to think that they won't be alone when they strike out with their bizarre visions.

And that's just music. One of the most fascinating things I saw in this last year was Billy Manes' campaign for interim mayor. A lot of people – including myself – thought it was a joke at first. I think Billy thought it was a joke at first. But in time, it began to make a lot more sense. Billy – and his campaign manager, this newspaper and all the people who showed up to support him – is representative of a strong and determined sea change in Orlando. In that campaign, I saw people like myself who refuse to give up their city to corporate bankers, shiny shirts, suburban housewives, boring daily newspapers, fundamentalist nut jobs, Olive Garden and Mickey Mouse.

In other words, those are the people who have stopped complaining. More importantly, those are the people who will define this city over the next decade or so. So keep whining, Orlando, about there being "nothing to do." It's awfully quaint.

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