Leaving aside the worn and vulgar Internet meme, the video embedded above seems especially like a hurried, vain (and tediously boring) attempt to jump on an already crowded bandwagon. Perhaps that is the point. (Obviously, that is the point, right?) It is an ironic, art-as-art-type thing. My pop senses are obviously underdeveloped, as is clear by my referencing a nearly-20-year-old song in the title of this self-indulgent post. In any event, I don’t mean to pass judgment on the content; I don’t live in Omaha anymore, anyway.
What is notable is that, except for a handful of proper nouns, the filmed proceedings could have taken place anywhere that isn’t New York, Chicago or Portland. Here again, this is probably subtle, sophisticated ontological commentary that has gone over my head. But it seems to me that Omaha really is, as my dated Counting Crows reference would suggest, merely “somewhere” in middle America and not at a clearly defined “there.” A sort of dialect-less everyplace.
Let me stop here and emphasize that I love Omaha. It was a great place to grow up and a great place to live. It is blessed with an abundance of fine restaurants, diverting entertainment and yadda, yadda, yadda. What it does not have is an enduring sense of Omaha-y-ness.
Geographically, its location offered no obvious benefits other than proximity to an easy crossing of an occasionally unruly river; had there been a few more floods in the years preceding the first settlements, the Missouri River might have snaked in a different direction and Omaha might have been in a whole other place. Or not existed at all.
Politically, it is an amorphous bruise of bluish purple on an otherwise distended appendage of red, out of place but not exactly free from imperfection or pain.
Culturally, Omaha is perhaps better appreciated as the largest city in western Iowa rather than a part of Nebraska. Except that Nebraskans are inexplicably notorious for mocking Iowans (e.g. Idiots Out Wandering Around, etc.).
Other nearby, and not necessarily more pleasant, cities have much more vivid identities. Centrally-located Des Moines is suffused with state politics, the state fair and all things Iowa. Minneapolis is about water in the summertime and frozen water in the winter. Denver rests its ego on the shoulders of the Rockies, and Kansas City, well, Kansas City was (or perhaps still is) a magnet of shopping and culture, the urbane Plains city that Omaha is striving to become.
Omaha has borrowed from its neighbors, of course, but it hasn’t become like them. This is a fact that is brought home every time you try to tell someone where you are from.
Say that you are from Omaha, and people not from Nebraska or a bordering state will most likely have no idea what that means. They won’t know anything about Omaha, other than a few obvious cultural protuberances, e.g. College World Series, Henry Doorly Zoo, maybe Joslyn Art Museum. Maybe they are a music fan and will ask you if you have ever listened to Conor Oberst. Maybe they like college football and will ask you about the Huskers. You will have something to talk about, maybe, but these aren’t everyday Omaha things. These are extra things, the things that you look forward to most of the rest of the year, the things that take up parking spaces, and hotel rooms, and booths in ordinarily uncrowded restaurants. They aren’t Omaha things. Trying to understand Omaha, for instance, through the Saddle Creek record label is like trying to understand ancient Athens by reading the “Iliad.”
Say that you are from Nebraska and your interlocutor may not be any more informed, but they will make an assumption, i.e. that you are from a rural area. Should you really be from one, a bond is formed. Otherwise, you quickly sound like a fraud.
I was just talking to someone who lives in Wisconsin about fishing. I mentioned that I was from Nebraska, known to be a habitat for the fish in question, mostly so that he would know I had actually seen one in person. His first question to me was, Do you do much pheasant hunting? Ugh. Of course, I don’t, I should have said. I am not from Nebraska, I’m from Omaha. Which is to say, I am from somewhere.