Today I’m going to write about Oprah. I know I know, no one wants to hear more about Oprah, but there’s something important about her departure.
I, like everyone else, grew up watching Oprah. I have varying degrees of thoughts about her: She’s a strong, African-American woman who succeeded against great odds. She got more people reading, even if they were sheep just doing what Oprah told them. One of my favorite blogs Living Oprah (wherein local artist and performer Robyn Okrant follows Oprah’s advice for one year) would have never existed without Oprah. I also know she’s given dangerous advice and might be a touch of a megalomaniac. So be it.
Her impact on Chicago though is huge. See, the thing is, Oprah was the last of the Chicago Boosters. Now granted, we have people in Chicago who support our city and work hard to make it the best that it can be, but no one with the clout and power that the boosters of old had.
What is a booster? According to Friday Night Lights (where I learn everything important I need to know) and Buddy Garrity:
You can’t fake boosterism Eric, it comes from the heart. That’s the beauty of it.
I also think a booster has:
D. An ability to sell people on places or things they don’t necessarily need
Boosters are essential to Chicago history. Without these men and women and their love for Chicago (and their money, also essential to successful boostering), we would never be here. Boosters are such an inherent part of our history, our greatest nickname – the Windy City – comes from all their blustering.
William Butler Ogden, our first mayor (and one of my historical boyfriends) was one of our earliest boosters. During hard times, he secured loans for the city using his own money. He was a huge supporter of the Illinois Michigan Canal and forced the issue of railroads when everyone told him he was crazy for wanting them. He went to the farmers and had them invest in the first railroads, making Chicago one of the great transportation cities of the world.
Daniel Burnham was probably our most influential booster. He worked his ass off getting the Columbian Exposition, created our first city plan and even raised enough funds from the people to start our first symphony.
Don’t you know everyone told Burnham and Chicago they were crazy for wanting the World’s Fair 20 years after we had a fire that devastated our city? Don’t you know everyone laughed at Ogden and his silly railroad idea? Of course they did, that’s the beauty of the Chicago booster. Anything amazing that happened in Chicago happened because someone had a laughable idea.
People laughed at Oprah, she was completely mocked for wanting to do her season premiere on Michigan & Wacker. But honestly, did you ever see what the world saw that day? Trust me, just check this out and see if your little Chicago heart doesn’t swell with pride at the perfection of our city. Oprah’s been accused of not being “Chicago” enough, for not being more local, but hell, the woman employs over 600 people and helped revamp a neighborhood.
And as a tour guide, I can promise you her place of residence is usually the first question I get from tourists.
Soon we will lose the last of our truly influential, rich and passionate boosters. I don’t believe this is an insult to Chicago or any such mumbojumbo, but it doesn’t help us, that’s for sure. We’ll just have to wait another twenty years until I get some influence, some green cash money and some power to fill her spot. Okay, okay, maybe fifteen years.