Kiss off, Kate
We’ll gladly make our own fun
by Matt Edens
I suppose you’ve heard by now of Knoxville’s brief brush with infamy thanks to the Oscar-nominated actress Kate Hudson’s appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman .
In her interview, when the banter turned to the backwaters Hudson had visited while touring with her husband’s band the Black Crowes, it seems Kate characterized Knoxville as a strange place where one has to make his or her own fun. That translates, apparently, into the sad fact that Kate spent most of her brief visit bumming around her hotel room in the downtown Hilton, bored out of her skull.
By an odd coincidence, that mimics a memorable scene in Almost Famous , the film that made her famous (and earned her that Oscar nomination). A thinly disguised autobiography of director and screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s life as a teenage journalist covering an early ’70s rock band, the film follows the band and its accompanying groupies on a cross-country tour that takes them to, among other places, “Greenville, Tennessee.”
Now, whether Crowe was confusing Greeneville with its larger cousin, absent the third “e,” in South Carolina, or perhaps channeling a hazy memory of Knoxville circa 1973, the scene opens with one of the groupies (played by Anna Paquin) stifling a yawn and announcing: “Greenville, I’m bored.”
Then, to pass the time, two of the groupies decide to deflower the young journalist. Which, to me, sounds like a fine example of making your own fun.
That brings me to my second movie quote. The line is from State and Main , a charming film about a movie production running amok in a small New England town. The lead, a struggling playwright turned screenwriter played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who, coincidentally, was also in Almost Famous ) has just echoed Hudson’s remark about small towns and making one’s own fun, to which his love interest, a local bookstore owner answers: “Everybody makes their own fun. If you don’t make it yourself, it isn’t fun. It’s entertainment.”
The difference between the two, fun and entertainment, is the very essence of creativity. And it actually bodes well for a “backwater” town like Knoxville. Much was made a few years ago about the elusive “creative class,” the designers, programmers, artists, scientists and such at the heart of the information economy. Luring members of this class, the supposed backbone of future economic development, to town was seen as dependent upon, among other things, the sort of entertainment opportunities one associates with centers such as Seattle and San Francisco: punk bands and art galleries, coffee houses and independent bookstores. In other words, the infrastructure of America’s neo-bohemian upper-middle class that Hudson apparently found lacking in Knoxville.
Despite all the attention the economic gurus lavished on their employees’ supposedly bohemian lifestyle, information-based industries have proven to be as accountable to bottom-line considerations as any other business. The result, of course, has been off shoring. And despite all the ink spilled over job losses to India, off shoring has been as much a move away from the coasts as it has been overseas.
As urban and business writer Joel Kotkin observed in a recent American Enterprise article: “Since 2001, San Jose (Silicon Valley) has experienced a 23 percent drop in information jobs—the loss of some 200,000 positions. Boston’s information sector has shrunk by 22 percent, San Francisco’s by 17 percent, Austin’s by 13 percent.” But, as Kotkin observes, relatively podunk places such as Boise, Idaho, or even Fargo, N.D., have emerged as major IT centers. Closer to home, I wonder if a Hollywood player such as Hudson has the faintest idea of the amount of television programming produced in Knoxville.
The primary reason that what were once one-horse towns have gone high-tech is the simple cost of doing business, not to mention the cost of living (in the Bay Area, a household income of $125,000 is considered the bare minimum to buying an actual house). But as the urbanites relocate, these former frontier towns eventually become even more attractive, as they add such urban amenities as, well, punk bands and art galleries, coffee houses and independent bookstores.
There’s a gradual increase in the hipness of the hinterlands that is playing out all across America, including Knoxville, as more and more people—artists and entrepreneurs, aspiring musicians and aspiring multi-media moguls—move to the backwoods and begin making their own fun.