It’s also very easy to give someone a compliment. Saying something like “You look nice today” is ambiguous enough that another person can simply choose the one trait of which he or she feels most confident. Maybe your friend got a new haircut or has been doing mass pushups lately — you’ll make him or her feel attractive and accomplished, even if you think this person looks as ugly or weak as always.
This brings up one of the more complicated aspects of compliments — it’s never easy to tell when someone is being sincere. For the more self-conscious, compliments can seem super backhanded. When someone yells “Nice sweatpants!” out the window of a moving car, it’s difficult to tell whether you’re being mocked or the individual could tell at 35 mph that your workout clothes are from American Apparel.
That’s kind of what it was like to read The Enquirer’s July 18 opinion piece by Tom Hankinson, a guy with a name that sounds fake who apparently lived in Chicago for nine years before moving to Hyde Park in 2011. In his essay, titled “Cincinnati, please don’t apologize,” Hankinson compared Cincinnati favorably to Chicago in such criteria as public markets and parks, random people in the job market, schools, affordable houses and commutes. Hankinson said he wasn’t trying to hate on Chicago at all, just attempting to demonstrate that we in Cincinnati have a lot for which to be thankful.
People shared Hankinson’s story on Facebook faster than they could earn a free gift card for giving Starbucks permission to call their friends at home. If there’s a compliment about you or some shit for free, Facebook will deliver it to you with a quickness.
That’s not to say any of my Facebook friends who love Cincinnati and clicked the “Like” button are any less intelligent — they simply appreciated the bevy of compliments Hankinson offered about their hometown and its potential for long-term relevance.
Most non-self-hating people would react the same way.
Which brings me to my own personal reaction: “Who the hell is Tom Hankinson and what does he want from me?”
This paranoia first led me to read the entire article (even those of us who work in journalism know that no one actually does that). And I found what I was looking for at the very end, where you normally find the least important information (damn you inverted pyramid!).
Just after admitting in the second-to-last paragraph that he was probably glossing over the city and region’s actual problems, Hankinson offered a promotion for a web project called “See Cincinnati,” which he described as “an ongoing treasure hunt that will celebrate stories and histories of local people and places, with opportunities for you to participate.”
One point-and-click later and Hankinson’s personal essay became an endorsement of C-Change, some kind of freaky leadership program run by the regional Chamber of Commerce. The program is affiliated with a YP butt-slapping program called HYPE — Harnessing Young Professional Energy — which is also run by the Chamber. HYPE calls itself “a movement to establish Cincinnati USA as a top destination for young people to live and work.”
Which is all well and good — Cincinnati is a great place to live and work. But it’s not because Findlay Market sells “more delicious and cheaper goods” than whatever unspecified Chicago market where Hankinson used to shop. (Plus, no one writes or speaks like that except for PR people.)
The point is that organizations like the Chamber of Commerce don’t really care about you or Cincinnati, at least not in the way you do. The Chamber in 2011 graded City Council candidates higher if they supported a repeal of the city’s environmental justice ordinance (green means money, not environmental friendliness). The Enquirer, which is expected to offer full disclosure when it is blatantly promoting a bunch of weird shit hosted on its own website, is a publicly traded, for-profit media entity fronting like an impartial First Amendment freedom fighter (Publisher Margaret Buchanan’s July 22 column, “Enquirer’s new media format is innovation with purpose,” was funny, too).
This wasn’t a letter to the editor involving some big city dude coming to Cincinnati, falling in love with its hidden treasures and validating the lives of the rest of us. It was a misleading guest column no doubt written in part by an Enquirer editor or Chamber PR person attempting to disguise itself as the latest in an increasing number of out-of-towners giving Cincinnati props.
Props are good. Phony compliments from the newspaper that endorsed John Kasich are not.
I couldn’t help it, so I searched for Tom Hankinson on Facebook — if he wasn’t real then I was going to question whether or not I was actually alive, on this earth, at that very moment. I found him in about two seconds, which was enough time to verify that he is, in fact, a lawyer who used to live in Chicago. (We actually have a mutual Facebook friend.)
None of this is to say that Hankinson was being disingenuous when he wrote whatever the original draft of his essay looked like. But the blatant lack of disclosure has left me to wonder how much The Enquirer/See Cincinnati/C-Change/HYPE had to do with this letter glowingly praising what is essentially their product.
Maybe someone told him they liked his Bears jersey.
CONTACT DANNY CROSS: email@example.com