"They call it 'Bull City,' though, with the exception of a downtown statue, there are no bulls and there's no evidence that there ever were."
That sentence begins Sunday's generally pointless Guardian piece by Michael Keenan Gutierrez, a UNC writing instructor who lives in Chapel Hill, titled "A Postcard from Durham: Keeping It Dirty in North Carolina." And, yes, our eyes are rolling, too.
Right off the bat, Gutierrez refers to the story of how two Durham tobacco partners copped the bull logo from a jar of British mustard. That little bite of intellectual property became Bull Durham Tobacco. As time went on, the brand name stuck to the whole city, just like the scent of flue-cured tobacco stuck to residents' clothes for many decades hence. According to Gutierrez, Bull Durham—both the tobacco and the 1988 movie—provide neat metaphors for the rapidly gentrifying Durham of today, "where myth and reality cross the street to avoid an awkward conversation."
Gutierrez writes about attending a Bulls game with his wife and struggling to avoid thinking about the movie, with clips being played on the big screen and spectators calling out lines from it. Note to the author: you'd be hard-pressed to find any longtime Durhamites who recognize the city in that movie from anything but some of the locations. (The bar scenes were filmed at Mitch's Tavern in Raleigh.)
So don't over-read that movie thing. Whether we're the highfalutin Northern transplants Gutierrez didn't seem to notice in the crowd or the lily-white mustachioed dudes with the Southern drawls whom he did, we've just always thought it was cool a movie called Bull Durham about the Durham Bulls got made.
And no, Mikey—can we call you Mikey?—Durham has never been reducible to the "rundown, backwater southern town of no repute," as Gutierrez describes the film's depiction. At times, in fact, the picture Gutierrez paints reminds us of the 2006 Duke lacrosse rape-accusation fiasco, when out-of-town media hacks told the world that Durham is just a rich white university surrounded by crime-ridden black neighborhoods.
It wasn't quite that simple then, and it sure as shit isn't now.
Gutierrez doesn't realize it, but he provides his own rejoinder at the end. The scene takes place at American Tobacco Campus, where the writer is strolling leisurely with his wife after the game. They encounter an irritated man walking hand-in-hand with a screaming little boy.
He writes: "My wife and I—trying our best at southern hospitality—smiled at the man, showing empathy with our eyes. The man stopped and said: 'The fuck you looking at?'"
Our thoughts exactly.