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Mixed signals


Kurt Hochenauer May 15th, 2008

Doesn't everything happening in the metro seem bifurcated these days? Bifurcated is a word that fits. It simply means divided into two camps. In terms of Oklahoma City, it means recent events here " ...

Doesn't everything happening in the metro seem bifurcated these days?

Bifurcated is a word that fits. It simply means divided into two camps. In terms of Oklahoma City, it means recent events here " good or bad, depending on your point of view " are sending mixed signals.

There are wonderful developments in the metropolitan area. It is fair to say that in recent months OKC has increased its recognition of the creative community. An alley in Bricktown is now named after the world-famous, OKC-based band The Flaming Lips, but less well-known artists and musicians feel a different vibe here, too. Bricktown continues to thrive. The Oklahoma River area is attracting events and visitors. The Paseo Arts District attracts businesses and provides mental and physical space for artists.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who is articulate if nothing else, has presented a positive image of the city as he appears on television shows and in advertisements promoting the citywide weight-loss program, and " oh, yeah " the NBA is coming permanently to town. The city seems to have escaped some of the major economic distress faced in other areas of the country. Forbes magazine has even labeled Oklahoma City the most recession-proof city in the nation.

Things seems hunky-dory. But wait a second. State Rep. Sally Kern's recent over-the-top rant about gay people wound up on videos-gone-viral and made national news. The Oklahoma City Republican legislator is entitled to her own views, but when a national television talk show host " Ellen DeGeneres in this case " makes fun of a local official, it's never a good thing for the city's image.

Another local representative, Randy Terrill, a Republican from Moore, has given the city the most draconian anti-illegal immigration laws in the country.

Obviously, many Oklahoma City residents agree with Terrill and Kern, but both have produced mostly negative publicity for the city. As a capital in a relatively small state in terms of population, Oklahoma City is vulnerable to image issues when it comes to actions of state politicians " especially when they're from the metro area.

In other not-so-good-news recently, Catherine Price on Broadsheet at Salon.com ran a piece criticizing Oklahoma's new anti-abortion law requiring ultrasounds of women before the procedure is performed; and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, based in Oklahoma City, faces a lawsuit over its child-welfare programs. Askmen.com listed Oklahoma City as No. 5 in its top 10 "Hells on Earth" because of dangerous weather.

So, is Oklahoma City on the rise, celebrating its liberal, creative community as its entertainment and artistic districts flourish and the local economy remains strong? Or is it just the same right-wing stew of old-fashioned intolerance spiced up with tornadoes, ice storms and wildfires?

Here are three ways to look at it:

Creative, open-minded people are engaging in a "Sims"-type reality if they think Oklahoma City has become a tolerant, cool place to live. In other words, it's virtual, not real, and always will be. The bifurcation reflects the ongoing partisan ideological divide here and elsewhere. From this divide and social tension there may emerge a new reality, but it is years away. "The times they are a-changin'," according to Bob Dylan.

Hochenauer is an English professor at the University Central Oklahoma and author of the progressive blog "Okie Funk: Notes From the Outback," www.okiefunk.com.

 
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