Surfing the yinzernet: Exploring the complexities of place branding in post-industrial Pittsburgh
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Recent years have seen a proliferation of independent urban representations in the media. From hipster sketch shows such as ‘Portlandia’ to place ‘demarketing’ Websites poking fun at low-profile cities, these portrayals often combine parody and pride in their representation of local quirks. This trend can be seen as a form of do it yourself (‘DIY’), place branding, which both reflects and reacts against the growth of urban branding in recent decades. This article investigates this trend through an examination of two online webseries that parody and celebrate the perceived eccentricities of Pittsburgh’s yinzer (working-class) culture. Adopting an interdisciplinary lens, we consider a range of cultural phenomena related to these online representations, including place character, nostalgia and diaspora. Pittsburgh has undergone a significant economic transition over the past half-century, with a decline in heavy industry and growth in ‘post-industrial’ sectors such as education, technology and health. Accompanying this economic transition has been a social shift, as white-collar workers supplement the traditional working-class base, and an image shift, as officials rebrand the city to highlight new clean, green, high tech and high-culture developments. In this context, we argue that online representations of yinzer culture – the ‘yinzernet’ – function as both DIY urban branding and as a reflection of local reactions to Pittsburgh’s economic, social and brand transition.
KeywordsPittsburgh post-industrial place branding culture DIY place character
The authors would like to thank Matthew Cazessus, Simon Pinnegar, Alison McLetchie, Carrie Phillips, and Nick Dempsey for their comments on this research. A version of this project was presented at the 2012 Spaces and Flows conference, and the authors thank attendees for their comments. Laura acknowledges the opportunities provided to her as the 2012 NSW Fulbright scholar and visiting researcher at the University of Michigan, which enabled her to visit Pittsburgh and attend the Spaces and Flows conference. C. King and L. Crommelin contributed equally to this work
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