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
My Favorite Place: Carman Garden Skating Rink

My Favorite Place: Carman Garden Skating Rink

September 30, 2014  |  My Favorite Place

Take a peek inside Carmen Gardens, where we'll be celebrating the Hidden City Daily's third anniversary this Friday, October 3rd > more

Demolition of Fishtown’s St. Laurentius More And More Likely

Demolition of Fishtown’s St. Laurentius More And More Likely

September 30, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Chaput decertifies Polish church, how to connect The Circuit, residences coming to 36th & Market Science Center project, and City Council reportedly mulling PGW sale over > more

The Legend Of Midtown Village

The Legend Of Midtown Village

September 29, 2014  |  The Shadow Knows

Chemistry labs, karate, puppet theater, and a prostitution ring? The Shadow strikes again! This week we hear about the Guilded Age real estate mogul Felix Isman and his bay-windowed beauty at 13th and Sansom > more

A Councilman And An Army Of Volunteers Clean Up The Delaware Riverbank

A Councilman And An Army Of Volunteers Clean Up The Delaware Riverbank

September 29, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Over three tons removed from Delaware River, scaffolding goes up around Lit Bros., a petition for better development at Clark Park, and four new homes in Roxborough > more

National Liberty Museum Hopes To Inspire An Appreciation For Freedom

National Liberty Museum Hopes To Inspire An Appreciation For Freedom

September 26, 2014  |  Morning Blend

The National Liberty Museum updates its exhibitions, AAA claims vested rights for Pennsport project, Google to drop “Temple Town” designation, and some surprise storm water management work next to Dickinson Square Park > more

Brewing With Solidarity At Win Win Coffee Bar

Brewing With Solidarity At Win Win Coffee Bar

September 26, 2014  |  Walk the Walk

A cooperative-run coffee and cocktail bar on Spring Garden Street goes deep for the Win Win. Joseph Brin has this story of building a business with consensus > more