By Jason Menard
For some reason, London’s movers and shakers continue to sidestep the fact that London has a reputation issue – beyond one caused by banana throwers and wannabe thugs. Both within the city and without, it’s known as two things: old and white.
That reputation makes it hard to entice or retain young talent into the city. And despite best intentions, yesterday’s release of the new “official” theme song for the City ofLondon only served to solidify that old and white image.
Now, let’s just start by saying there’s nothing wrong with being old and white if that’s what you’re comfortable with your city being. However, if you’re going to try to market the city as progressive, diverse, and the potential hub for future industry growth in Southwestern Ontario, then you’ve got to move away from old and white.
I have nothing against Jim Chapman, personally. I don’t always agree with his positions and politics, but I respect his willingness to express his opinions and his ability to back them up. But it would seem that pegging Chapman, a part-time singer in a 50s and 60s pop-rock group, to sing the city’s anthem just reinforces the stereotypes.
And the song, City of Opportunity? It’s not as atrocious as everyone says. It’s a kindly, gentle sort of ditty. But that’s the problem – it’s a song for which the word ‘ditty’ perfectly applies.
It sticks in your head, true. But only in the way that a poorly produced television jingle or the soundtrack for one of those early 1980s educational videos used in public schools does.
I’m going to give Chapman and the rest of the song’s creators a pass. I’m going to hope they weren’t trying to be cool. They did what they were asked to do – create a song about the city that’s catchy, easy-to-learn, and non-offensive. Job done. But what was the point?
It’s not a song that’s going to resonate with the city’s youth or people outside of London. Well, that’s not true – it will resonate, but for all the wrong reasons. Expect the inevitable mash-ups, mockery, and parodies to come out. It’s not a song that has even a hint of modern in it. If you told the average Jill or Joe that City of Opportunitywas released as a backing track to a Tourism London video in 1968, 1978, or 1988 no one would bat an eye.
I strongly believe in London’s potential. I know there’s a growing group of talented, dynamic people in all walks of life who want to see the city grow and prosper. And I know that many of these people are frustrated with the “status quo” attitude for which this city is renowned.
For years I’ve described London as a medium-sized city, with big-city delusions and aspirations, held back by a small-town mentality. There are people who don’t understand why the City of London doesn’t have the respect they feel it deserves throughout the country. But these are also the same people who fought tooth and nail against things like strip club zoning rights. I’m not saying London needs a red-light district; but it’s hard to shake the old, white, backwards label when you’re only remembered for actions like banana throwing, picketing sex shows, and kicking out transgendered employees.
Image means more than it should. The great strides this city makes in terms of our educational and research programs (such as the AIDS vaccine trial at Western) get overshadowed by things that shouldn’t matter. But if you want to attract the future to London, you have to project an image that’s appealing.
That doesn’t mean City of Opportunity should have been performed by London’s version of Jay Z or LMFAO. But just as the song doesn’t need to be sung by someone who screams into the microphone, neither does it need to scream old and white.
But in the end, maybe the song – for all its faults – did exactly what it was supposed to. It’s safe, it’s standard, it’s boring — and maybe we have to admit that it perfectly represents what London is.