Stockton is Frustrating, why attempts to rebrand Stockton are always doomed

In Opinion on October 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm

With CNN’s Morgan Spurlock in town to film his new show Inside Man everyone with a vested interest in Stockton has come out of the woodwork to try and bring their narrative to the forefront.

Groups attempting to speak for Stockton as a whole isn’t anything new, it’s been going on for the better part of a decade. At the City Council Meeting last night though, those groups all pretty much jumped the shark. It was pretty depressing to watch, and not just because Mayoral Candidate Anthony Silva basically turned the public comment portion into a 2-hour filibustering campaign speech.

It should be no surprise to people that Stockton’s going to garner attention from the national media. We’re the largest municipality to declare bankruptcy and the poster child for inept government spending. If you’re doing a piece on cities struggling in this economy we’re probably the first place people are going to take a look at. Looking at the problems this City has faced, is facing, and will face going forward isn’t a “hit piece.” It’s straight news. We are undeniably screwed for a large part of our foreseeable future. Trying to pretend otherwise just rings false.

This is why things like Stockton is Magnificent are predestined to be jokes. While well intentioned, stuff like this fails because there will always be negative things to outweigh their positivity. Aside from the fact that the whole point of the first Stockton is Magnificent event was to take a picture to show we weren’t afraid to go outside in one of the nicest parts of town, someone actually got mugged at the last event. Nothing says “Maybe you should dial back the superlatives” like a robbery at your booster event.

They shouldn’t rename the event Stockton is Ironic, but nobody’s buying magnificent. Granted, the campaign was spawned as a counter to the whole “Most Miserable City” thing so I think alliteration is to blame for the poor wording, but trying to describe Stockton in one word just isn’t going to word. We’re more nuanced than that. Problem is, nuance is hard to sell in a campaign.

The other thing that plagues these campaigns is that they’re usually run by people whose sole job is to present Stockton (or specific areas of Stockton) in a positive light. They’re paid to promote Stockton, essentially becoming professional Stocktonians. There are plenty of professional Stocktonians that are great at their jobs. Hell, I’m friends with a lot of professional Stocktonians. More often than not though, when you ask a professional Stocktonian to comment on Stockton stuff in an official capacity, you’re going to get a political answer. You can’t really blame them for that, it is their job after all, but their credibility on Stockton issues is limited because often their job is to downplay the negative in favor of the positive. It’s a necessity at times when there’s so much negativity going around these days, someone has to play counterweight, but it’s hard to balance out that much negativity.

The best display of this was at the City Council meeting. While obviously not planning to show up the day after the deadliest weekend on record, CNN has an obligation to cover that when in town for a piece on how bankruptcy has affected our town. In response, Stockton Forward drafted a letter inviting CNN and Spurlock to check out some of the nicer parts of town. I think the idea of Stockton Forward, a group created by local business leaders to provide a unified voice that represents their viewpoints, could be a good thing. But when your first major act (outside of linking to every positive story the Record’s written on their Facebook page) is to have someone draft a letter to the national media basically saying “Pay no attention to that murder-suicide, come check out UOP and El Concilio”, it doesn’t look good.

If these groups really want CNN and Morgan Spurlock to hear them out to ensure that they don’t just focus on all the negative stuff about Stockton, then just tell them the truth. Stockton isn’t magnificent, it’s frustrating as hell. You try and tell your family things will be OK and that they should feel safe and then some dumb kid accidentally fires a loaded weapon in a classroom. You try and have a discussion about what actions the City is taking to combat crime then some jackass wields a baseball bat and tries to out shout you. People spent hours last night complaining that the City isn’t doing anything to help out the police department and then left before the Council could get to the agenda item outlining the partnership with the CHP that will help out the police department. I love my hometown but that last one was so frustrating I almost threw the computer across the room.

Frustration personified is just one way to describe Stockton. We’re nuanced, remember? Stockton is a passionate town, even if we’re not entirely sure what we’re passionate about as evidenced last night. We all have our moments of apathy, but the people of Stockton can truly be a caring bunch. They might not care enough to sit and listen about the things they insist they care so much about, but just refer back to the whole frustrating thing for that.

Stockton is cultured. Not in the hoity-toity Brookside way, but brimming with countless different cultures. I spent all of this past weekend driving through random Nevada desert towns where the extent of the culinary options were McDonalds or Subway. The most ethnic option I saw was a Taco King. A single shopping center in Stockton has more diverse dining options than half that state. My brothers who live in Utah excitedly informed me that, after living there for three years, they finally found a taco cart in Salt Lake City. Stockton may not have a lot going for it in other areas, but in this one we’re downright spoiled.

Stockton is a party town. I’ve mentioned elsewhere how, despite past rebranding efforts, Stockton is really just a blue collar town. Going hand in hand with that is that once we punch out on that time clock we can really let loose. Stockton bars are often filled with friendly people trying to drink away the fact that they live in an infinitely frustrating town. Back when downtown Stockton had bars there was a time when those Pub Crawls would fire on all cylinders and the trolleys would be so packed a random drunk woman would just fall into your lap. Now, that could also happen any other day on the bus, but during Crawls the girl wasn’t homeless and you were also sauced so you forgot that if you were to step off the trolley at the next stop light you’d probably get mugged immediately. Even the Haggin Museum’s Charreria exhibit opened that place was rocking. I was only there for the last 45 mins but the Charros that were there to do a demonstration had finished their demo and made fast friends with the tequila station. By the time I arrived they had already bribed the harp player to stick around for an extra hour so they could sing random Mexican folk songs. It was a blast.

I could go on but you (hopefully) get the point. There are lots of things you could point at to celebrate Stockton (which is one of the better Stockton ad campaigns if only as a sarcastic response to someone telling you about a recent senseless crime), but if all you do is point out that good stuff about Stockton to balance out the bad stuff being said about it, then you’re basically the Fox News of Stockton. And nobody respects Fox News. The answer to combating all that extreme negativity isn’t to put out an equal amount of extreme positivity. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Where you acknowledge the problems Stockton has, outline how you’re trying to fix them, then get yelled at by people saying you’re not trying to fix anything. It’s not as easy as just saying Stockton’s magnificent or doing a slide show presentation on how you planted trees in the community  but if there are people there paying attention, then hopefully someone will get the point and feel a little better about living in Stockton. At least until the next random day-lit shooting occurs.

  1. […] was a vastly underrated series) and was looking forward to watching him wade through all of the interested parties and dig down deep into what caused the problems that have essentially defined Stockton for the past […]

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