The Importance of Miami Being Earnest

Today, Miami approaches a unique place in its 117 year history. We stand at a crossroads, blinded by the bright horizon of tomorrow, at the same time, distracted by a forlorn disfigured definition of our past. Do we move forward, in the name of progress, unity and culture? Or do we continue to feed into pre-conceived, stereotypical labels of our identity?

One must have context. The rest of the country does not take Miami seriously. We're still viewed as a disorganized, drug-fueled, celebrity-obsessed, vacation spot, akin to Ibiza or Las Vegas.

People think we're shallow, corrupt, filled with haters, Ed Hardy douchebags, and leftover cliché's from the '80s; a culture of transience, meaningless sex, House music and $16 drinks.

We're South Beach to 95 percent of the world.

Breaking News

Miami is not South Beach.

Ninety-five percent of the people who live in Miami do not live nor barely even go to South Beach. If it's not South Beach, we're viewed as a gateway into Latin America and its chaotic politics. Not many on the outside truly appreciate Miami's cultural renaissance, partly due to millions of dollars entering our bloodstream from art-based foundations and grants, partly due to real-estate visionaries, but mainly due to a maturing of our multi-cultural ways. We're growing.

Few are guiltier of trying to define Miami from the outside more than New York.

In article after article, the New York Times loves to define our neighborhoods and culture by themselves, for themselves (and these are not written by their local bureau correspondent).

Miami needs to push back against any definition from the outside.

We must re-define ourselves, for ourselves, by ourselves -- if not -- we allow ourselves to be defined by our past, our freaks and reprobates, and worst of all, to be defined by outsiders.

I have yet to read Back to Blood (its antiquated girth is currently being used to hold open my door from cross-ventilation on windy days), but we should categorically reject the very concept of an 81-year-old Tom Wolfe even attempting to shape, define or add any color to our city.

I'm not alone here.

There exists an army of youthful Miamians who feels like vomiting every time an article is composed by a laudable outsider trying to define our development and renaissance.

Brett Sokol, the arts editor at Ocean Drive and a longtime Miami scribbler, recently pushed back (at least against Tom Wolfe) in his own New York Times essay. What Sokol and others understand is we're not the old Miami -- au contraire -- a new Miami is here. And Miami is smarter than one may surmise from the outside. And "for those of us who actually live in Miami -- who don't merely parachute in to deliver glib verdicts -- that's reason enough to be hopeful."

The New Style?

Part of the problem we have when it comes to evolving out of a stale reputation is that we so often feed into it. It's such a trap, and so easy to avoid, yet we cultivate it. Rather than highlighting our cultural and intellectual aspects, we literally choose to shine a spotlight on our weirdness.

Take Dave Barry, for example. His cutting-edge, side-splitting satire -- which once earned him a Pulitzer -- has reflected and represented Miami for years. I used to aspire to be one-fifth as accurate or funny as Dave Barry; the amount of zingers he crams into a sentence astounds.

Yet, last week, Barry, 65, released a book, Insane City, in which he lampoons our landscape reminiscent of every old Miami cliché. Literally everything mentioned in this article, our evolution, renaissance -- is thrown out the window because one of our hometown heroes chooses to highlight our weirdness and idiocy rather than what's redeeming about our city. Why drink the warm, stale dredge of a keg from last week's bender when there's a cold, frosty beer right here?

Do you think nut jobs, freaks, rogues, frauds, rascals, bullies, bogus alms-seekers, counterfeiters, vagrants, and loons don't exist in New York? How about San Francisco? Chicago? Is Miami the only city in the country with woven tales of debauchery, sin, callousness and zany stupidity?

Maybe it's seeing the glass half-full vs. half-empty, but if we choose to highlight our accomplishments, as insiders of our own city, from an intellectual point-of-view, we will succeed in defining ourselves for ourselves. Or, we can continue to take the easy way out; we can choose to feed and amplify stereotypes and stay stuck in a twentieth-century clichéd view of Miami.