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 senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

 

Recent Posts
A Moving Monument

A Moving Monument

December 5, 2016  |  News

Nearly four years after Hidden City proposed relocating the forlorn Newkirk Viaduct Monument from the side of the train tracks to the forthcoming Bartram's Mile segment of the Schuylkill River Trail system... that has happened. Brad Maule has the story of the 177-year-old monument's relocation > more

Inside SEPTA's Unused Underground Concourse, To Be Restored

Inside SEPTA’s Unused Underground Concourse, To Be Restored

December 2, 2016  |  Last Light

The Center City Concourse, a network of underground pedestrian walkways, has sat empty and largely unused for decades. But big plans are in the works to reopen and reanimate the dead space. Samantha Smyth and Chandra Lampreich takes us into the abandoned tunnels with this photo essay > more

Location Is Everything: Confessions Of A PhillyHistory User

Location Is Everything: Confessions Of A PhillyHistory User

November 30, 2016  |  Vantage

Volunteer PhillyHistory.org geotagger Louis Lescas is an urban historian, map wiz, and human GPS system all wrapped up in one. In this personal essay he shares his love and obsession with hunting locations of old photos for the Philadelphia City Archive > more

Triumph And Tragedy Under The El

Triumph And Tragedy Under The El

November 28, 2016  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow takes us to Front and Dauphin where the tragic downfall of a prosperous women's apparel merchant is entombed in sneakers and stucco > more

My Favorite Place: Rare Book Department At FLP

My Favorite Place: Rare Book Department At FLP

November 23, 2016  |  My Favorite Place

Join Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, and Grip the raven inside the Rare Book Department of the Free Library in the newest installment of My Favorite Place > more

Marked Potential: Fidelity Trust Company

Marked Potential: Fidelity Trust Company

November 22, 2016  |  Marked Potential

For this month's Marked Potential Shila Griffith is North Philly bound to convert an old bank on Lehigh Avenue into a market cafe and community co-working space > more