Deserving a Second Look

You may recall that I used to work for the City of Tracy. Used to live there, too. Working at the City was actually one of my favorite jobs, but the opportunities there didn’t match my longer term goals so after three years I needed to move on.

The thing about City work is that it has a unique atmosphere. It’s kind of like working in a temporal vortex where things move at a particularly languid pace and everything is essentially five to eight years behind “modern.” For the most part it’s just a curiosity but for an IT worker it’s actually fairly dangerous to one’s marketability when you’re advertising in 2004 that you have “recent experience with Windows NT 4.”

But what I really miss about working there are the constant internal improvement efforts. Well I guess I should clarify that I miss the friends I made while I worked there, and I miss the way we used to get a particular joy out of finding the absurdities in all these self-important projects, speeches and meetings. At least when I worked there, mockery was kind of a collective hobby in IT.

Fortunately my buddy Ryan is still holding down the fort and occasionally provides me little tidbits that reassure me the silliness persists and I get a chuckle out of his stories. Today he sent me something so priceless I have to share.

To place this in context, each Tuesday there is a City Council meeting. These meetings are aggressively dull and yet they constitute a huge amount of the weekly effort throughout the City’s office-based departments in preparation, co-ordination and post-meeting organization. IT is no exception: The minutes and schedules in particular have to be disseminated by City Ordinance and part of that effort is focused on the official website, which I was once responsible for and I left in Ryan’s capable hands when I departed.

Last night they had a presentation that was given during the Council meeting discussing brand strategies as pertains to the City. It was, as presentations are required by Federal law to be, accompanied by a Power Point slide show. After several introductory slides describing what branding is, how it can be defined, what the City’s core values are and how they should be projected through the brand, the talk turns to character voices.

And that’s when things get weird.

Slide from City of Tracy Presentation

Let me walk you through this. Some well-meaning person decided it was a good idea to use an “urban” voice as an example to explain character voice pertaining to branding. Yet it becomes instantly clear that this person is as far removed from urban culture as you can possibly get without actually living on another planet. They start with some clip art depicting a 90s-era urban youth who appears to be sitting on a toilet only the toilet has been replaced with a pile of poop. On one hand, it’s clip art so you always, always, always get what you pay for with clip art. On the other hand, someone looked at this desecration of “Thinking Man” and thought, “Yeah, that sums up ‘Hip Hop’ culture perfectly.”

But picking bad clip art is hardly worthy of note when it comes to Power Point presentations. What really sets this slide apart from the pack is the text. For the sake of completeness, it is reprinted here:

HIP HOP / first person

Parks & Community Services Summer Program – Marketing Introduction

Come lay cool with Tracy’s summer program. It’s loud and proud. Kids of all ages can blow the summer away. Do arts, do crafts, do games and do music—all for the li’l guys. Tweens can throw on their kicks and do adventures and ‘hoops. They can also do swimmin’, do mad science, do LEGOs, do gaming. Do more!

Note the awkward phrasing that sounds exactly like a 40ish white woman doing her best to impersonate an urban youth. I actually have no idea who wrote the copy, so I’m not revealing anything here. And I certainly don’t claim any authority to urban slag. But “Lay cool?” “Do (noun)?” “Throw on their kicks?” It’s priceless. And it’s just the beginning.

Economic Development – Marketing Introduction

T-town shops boom. We hit Top 20 in Cali. We can’t stop showin’ and growin’. We are the destination for this shoppin’ nation. Plant your jive on 205. We’ve got your beaners… your beamers…your bling bling. Don’t be wack. Get down with Tracy! T-town’s where it’s at.

Apparently hip hop, to the author of the slide, is all about interjecting arbitrary rhymes into casual daily conversation. Even if it is incredibly forced or practically nonsensical. Also, hip hop youths have absconded all their “G”s to use in their greetings with each other and therefore none are left to complete present participles, requiring judicious use of apostrophes. Note also the use of slang that is ten years out of phase like “wack” and “bling bling,” now relegated solely to ironic (intentional or not) use by decidedly un-cool people too old to use them sincerely. The forced inclusion (twice, for reinforcement) of the completely idiotic nickname “T-town” also warrants a mention.

But nothing can compete with the clueless use of the derogatory slur “beaners.” Used to describe illegal Mexican immigrants, it is probably meant here more as a reference to Tracy’s annual summer shindig “The Dry Bean Festival” or possibly some sort of agricultural citation; the fact that Tracy has a large hispanic population is likely completely lost on the author. I imagine this slide being shown in a conference room full of lily-white middle aged cube dwellers daydreaming about their next caffeine infusion and nodding along. The image is juxtaposed with the mixed-company audience at the City Council meeting where the slide appears and a nervous flutter ripples and those same city workers look at each other with confusion.

“What? Don’t people call it ‘Cali’ any more?”

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