It’s Not Just Hollywood

Joe Queenan's "Closing Time"

Embittered East Falls native Joe Queenan, who writes occasionally for London’s Guardian, has it in for the film Contagion, and not only because of the implausible plot. What rubs Joe so wrong? The grammatical misuse of scene location names:

Lately, I have noticed the comma between the city and country or city and state has been dropped. Thus, in Contagion, the action is identified as taking place in “Minneapolis Minnesota” or “Chicago Illinois” or “Geneva Switzerland”. That looks a bit stupid, suggesting the graphics person has either not yet finished school, or never seen a high-class movie. But even more worrying is how confusing all this might be to callow, impressionable youths. Children growing up in rural Florida could easily get the idea that “Geneva Switzerland” is the name of one of the characters in the film and not the name of a famous European city. The same goes for “Paris France” and “Florence Italy” and even “London England.” Paris and Florence are first names for girls, and London is the name of a character in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

But, to Queenan, Contagion’s bigger sin is the blurring of lines between “city” and “metropolitan region.”

Early in the film, right after Gwyneth Paltrow develops a nasty cough that will ultimately wipe out 3.5m people, a graphic superimposed on the screen apprises us that “Minneapolis Minnesota” has a population of 3.3m. No, it doesn’t. According to the latest US census, the population of Minneapolis is a paltry 382,578. What the moviemakers are apparently referring to is the total metropolitan area of the city. Which would be fine, if they applied the same standard throughout the film.

This is, of course, a vexing issue for all of us who wish to compare cities. How many people live in Istanbul or Tokyo or Barcelona? Do suburbs count? Are there 6 million in Philadelphia or 1.5?

Is a city a political entity, a physical place, or a state of mind?

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is also senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine.



Comments are closed.

Recent Posts
Haunting Holmesburg Prison

Haunting Holmesburg Prison

October 31, 2014  |  Last Light

It's Halloween and we've rounded up the work of seven photographers for a super-sized photo essay on creepy Holmesburg Prison. Enjoy! > more

Temple’s Next 15 Years

Temple’s Next 15 Years

October 31, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Temple releases latest plan, Bartram’s Mile fully funded, Penn Museum official talks up Philly as World Heritage City material, and senior living center in Roxborough opens > more

Bid Process Reveals Uncertain Future For Delaware Power Station

Bid Process Reveals Uncertain Future For Delaware Power Station

October 30, 2014  |  Developing Challenges, News

Bids for purchase and redevelopment of the Delaware Power Station are due Monday at 5PM. What will they tell us about the monumental building's future? Ryan Briggs talks to some experts and considers the future of this part of the Delaware waterfront > more

The Case For Logan Square

The Case For Logan Square

October 30, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Why the current thinking about the Parkway’s transformation needs to be more ambitious, development anxiety in Powelton Village, Brickstone’s latest acquistions in Midtown, and Councilwoman gets her district office > more

Saying Goodbye To Stokes House

Saying Goodbye To Stokes House

October 29, 2014  |  News

The end is near for the Stokes house of Holme Circle. Despite efforts by a local civic association to save the 19th century stone farmhouse at 2976 Welsh Road, it will be razed any day now for new residential development. Hidden City co-editor Michael Bixler took a trip out to Holmesburg to bid the building a fond farewell > more

Getting A Pedestrian-Driven Main Street Right In Center City

Getting A Pedestrian-Driven Main Street Right In Center City

October 29, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Chestnut Walk as a new kind of Center City street, the multiplying effects of pop-up gardens, Penn to break ground on South Bank, and angry parents unleash on Walter Palmer > more