“Again and again, Hollywood has used the city of Baltimore as a punching bag,” Joe Queenan wrote in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. His evidence? The new John Cusack/Edgar Allan Poe movie, in which the streets of Baltimore play host to elaborately macabre murders. And, of course, The Wire. And in Twelve Monkeys, the virus that almost destroys the world comes from Baltimore. And did you know that Hannibal Lecter started out as a psychiatrist in — you guessed it — Baltimore?
“Does everything about Baltimore have to be negative?,” Queenan begs. “Does every single TV show have to spit on this struggling but vibrant metropolis? Do movies set there always have to be about crooked house-siding guys and serial killers and deadly viruses and murderous drug dealers and demented Edgar Allan Poe fans?”
But if you’re looking for negativity, it’s no surprise you see it everywhere. Sure, The Wire showed Baltimore’s seedy side, but it hardly portrays the city as “an open sewer,” as Queenan claims. If anything, the show belies a deep affection for Baltimore’s quirks and characters. Movies like Madonna’s W.E., a Wallis Simpson biopic, hardly harm the city’s reputation, even if Simpson was (as Queenan describes her) a “perceived Nazi sympathizer.” And I very much doubt anyone walks away from Silence of the Lambs thinking, “Man, I’d better cross Baltimore off my to-visit list!”
Those of us who love Baltimore treasure it for its complexities, its potent mix of refined history and twenty-first century collapse. This is not a simple city, and the stories that get made about it — the best ones, at least — revel in those layers. Queenan suggests that the city deserves more upbeat Baltimore films like — wait for it — Step Up 2. Step Up 2! Maybe it had an uplifting ending — I can’t remember; I think I fell asleep — but I guarantee that The Wire has brought more nuanced, thoughtful attention to our city than that movie ever did. Sometimes a little negativity — or should we call it honesty? — is the best gift of all.