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Have the Seahawks killed Seattle nice?

I hope so.
Hey, that's not nice.

Hey, that's not nice. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks, rather than an alien barbarian culture in a civilized city, reflect a new civic ideal. They exhibit confidence, toughness, intelligence and grace.

Football is barbaric — and that's a good thing. If you reconsider the image of barbarians. The old-school image of a hairy, ignorant horde was shaped by the images we have of the "fall" of Rome. But recent scholarship reveals that the barbarians were in fact underdogs, outsiders looking for respect. They were smart and educated and many of them considered themselves more Roman than the Romans. The Visigoths believed they were the true heirs to civilization, not its destroyers.

In football, the only sacking is of the quarterback.

The Seahawks have quickly become civic role models. What about a new police chief who's a team rebuilder, like Pete Carroll? What about citizens who excel in preparation and studiousness, like Russell Wilson? Perhaps Ed Murray could use a talent-spotter like John Schneider? Wouldn't it be great if we could replace Bertha with Marshawn Lynch? Perhaps we could learn to balance chest-beating rhetoric with the ability to back-up it up with talent, like Richard Sherman.

Seattle Nice is a recent invention, a community fiction developed as a way of breaking with certain corrupt practices in our past, and with the culture of contention that people found dysfunctional in the old cities "back east."

But Seattle was not built on nice. We were born as a city not only unafraid of competition, but one that embraced it. When denied a railroad by the robber barons, we set about building one ourselves. When a Gold Rush broke out, we seized the opportunity to fleece the Klondikers; we fanned their fever and used it as civic rocket fuel. When the chance came to fill the sky with state-of-the-art warplanes, we built an economy on it. Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing. They did not become what they are by being "nice."

And the list is long of Seattle civic crimes in which niceness was nowhere in sight: the Chinese exclusion riots, Pioneer Square lynchings, our horrific vice districts, the Japanese internments, the opposition to open housing, a tradition of bare-knuckle politics. Our police department is not under a federal decree to reform its penchant for excessive violence because we are too nice.

"Nice" was once a declaration of our break with the past. It was a way to declare urban maturity — a city of sober adults.

But now we can see a path forward for a post-nice Seattle. One that is more openly competitive. One that has the resources to solve its problems. One that can handle more rigorous debate and should be able to tackle its biggest problems like the Hawks handled the Broncos.

We should speak the truth without worrying about hurt feelings. We're a city where city council members can be held more closely accountable to the people via district elections, a city that doesn't constantly quest for respect, but takes it for granted — and respects itself.

Seattle is also a city built on youth and impatience, a do-it-now philosophy. Niceness is nice, but it shouldn't be primary. Energy is important too.

By any standard, Seattle will continue to be a nice town. But if we follow the Seahawks model, maybe we'll be a little less so, which is a relief.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Feb 3, 1:20 p.m. Inappropriate

I thought Seattle Nice was the passive aggression rampant here and not actual consideration. A Scandinavian coldness that has much in common with hipsterism. A fear of the "other" wrapped in a kind of polite political correctness which gets truly aggressive when challenged. So did Seattle Nice die with 45 professional athletes, none of whom are from here and whose job is not to be passively aggressive, but actively so? It's like when I cross a street like Wilson and one car wants to stop for me, when they'll pass me in .004 seconds, so they can be seen as being nice when there is not much at stake besides the .004 seconds. A town where common people have access and zero influence unless they are part of a protesting mob. What's buried under the regular fog, mist and grey skies?

Splabman

Posted Mon, Feb 3, 2:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Passive aggressive is not peculiar to Seattle. It's not bad here. We just got labeled that way. As West Coaster with farmer and logger roots, who's families eventually became urban but held onto our "just do the work" ethic, the "tough" east coast "jaded" attitude struck me as just a bunch of whining. They're not jaded. They're mostly just complaining about everything. I've found parts of California to be far more passive aggressive than Seattle. The truth is, none of this is right.

But labels tend to stick because we see what we're told to see. We're told the East is "jaded," Seattle is "passive aggressive," Southern California is "shallow," etc. Look at San Francisco, at the center of much of the technological innovation now driving our world. They're still a hippie town according to many. All of these are mostly wrong.

We're not nice. We're trying to be, but we're not. We turn out companies and institutions and now a football team that says "this is happening now, get out of the way." We should embrace it. Seattle nice has sapped our appetite for the bare knuckle reality of life. It's gone too far.

nullbull

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 1:52 p.m. Inappropriate

I've never thought Seattlites were passive aggressive, but I do believe some newcomers to the mix have filled that niche, all too well.

Seattle has always been polite, and mind their own business, but when the chips need to fall, they stand up and do the work that must be done. Or at least that's what used to happen.

I love "this is happening now, get out of the way" as lead by the Seattle Seahawks. Do it well, be role models, and you'll have followers. Do it like the Seattle Police Department has been doing for the last several years, and you'll see heads finally rolling.

We are nice. And those who are vapid whiners need to get over their fear and learn how to be nice, and have some fun in the process..

Posted Mon, Feb 3, 5:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute, have some backbone and learn to speak for yourself. Correct me if I am slow and miss your attempt at a Woody Allen mockumentary, e.g. Zelig. You were not here when Seattle missed out on the RR terminal. Neither was Annie Dillard so she wrote a novel about it in the third person—The LIving. Good book, BTW.

afreeman

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 9:30 a.m. Inappropriate

I believe the Seahawks made the Seattle area and surrounding cities, towns, etc. into a real cohesive community called the "12th Man". Everyone, with the exception of a few, wore their badges on their houses, cars, clothes, faces, etc. to show they were part of that rolling thunder. I was not a football fan, but became a fan of the Seattle Seahawks and the outstanding men who make up that team. I am all of a sudden proud to be from the Seattle area and am proud of the Seahawks. I watched Quarterback Wilson on the Letterman Show last evening - if you missed it, find it and watch it. Letterman started out being semi-snotty and by the end, became a Wilson fan - you could see it, it jumped right out at you. Wilson is an educated, well spoken young man who can really play a great game of Football. Thanks to Pete Carroll who chose this young man.

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 11:38 a.m. Inappropriate

This is the actual heart of the matter. Improbable as it may seem, the Hawks forged a powerful community bond. They brought people together who otherwise would have continued to walk past one another in their self-absorbed shells without experiencing any connection. Perhaps the key is this -- in these fractious, individualistic and opinionated times, only something as neutral and unthreatening as mindless gladiator worship could create a safe common ground on which to meet. Beneath all the egoistic chaos, an urge to unity truly exists. And it just popped out in the most unlikely way.

woofer

Posted Thu, Feb 6, 11:23 a.m. Inappropriate

This team is not comprised of "mindless gladiators".

Posted Sun, Feb 9, 1:40 p.m. Inappropriate

The gladiators may not be mindless but the worshippers are. As gladiators go, the Hawks are surely a cut above the average.

woofer

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 1:47 p.m. Inappropriate

For a long term Seattlite, Knute, you've sure missed the boat on "Seattle Nice".

Seattle has never been nasty as you've described it. You've pretty well offended every hardworking, nice Scandinavian and our other early immigrant families who came from many parts of the world to live in and help build Seattle.

"Robber barons" describing our NW heritage of lumber and railroads, fishing, families and love of the outdoors ... ridic, Knute, ridic.

Seattle Nice is the heart and soul of old Seattle - where neighbors helped each other, people minded their own beeswax, and everyone knew their leaders by sight and name at the grocery store. Scandinavian Nice has always been a major Seattle mannerism.

Sure, Seattle, just like every growing city, has had history that isn't always perfect. But it certainly isn't as dirty as you want to make it.

Boo,hiss, thumbs-down to you Knute.

The Seattle Seahawks represent both Seattle fantastic and Seattle nice, very very well. This team is admirable, and strong. I remember as a kid having playing cards clipped to my bike spokes, and a wooden hydroplane tied to the back of my bike, so I could vroom vroom vroom just like the iconic hydroplanes that we so loved in the 1960's.

Today, the Seahawks give us something to identify with, and cheer for. Congratulations to everyone involved with the Seahawks, you are all admirable.

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 3:58 p.m. Inappropriate

commonsense - Your take on the term "robber barons" causes me to think you weren't always paying attention in your U.S. History class... and Knute was.

s_calvert

Posted Thu, Feb 6, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

That's because I do not believe the growth of Seattle was generated by any "robber barons".

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 10:11 p.m. Inappropriate

"Seattle nice" is the guy who stops dead in 35 mph traffic for a pedestrian who might have been thinking about jaywalking, and then refuses to make eye contact when standing next to you in line for a latte. It's a weird blend of self-righteousness and social inhibition. Given the growth of this town in just the 30 years I've been here, I don't know that the trait has much to do with history, and I fervently hope that it is vanquished by new waves of living, breathing people who don't behave like cardboard cutouts of progressives. But in a way I think Knute (and woofer... great comment!) got it right--the Seahawks are post-nice, they're real, and they brought this place out of its navel-gazing, tech-teat-sucking, craft-distillery, faux-lumberjack-plaid-shirt hipster/hippie reverie and into a feeling of real community, if only for a few glorious February days.

Jen27

Posted Thu, Feb 6, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Now, now Jen. The person who stops dead in 35 mph traffic for a pedestrian is my grandma. And if she catches someone willing to make eye contact in the latte line, on the bus, in the grocery store, she's thrilled to take a few moments to have a friendly smile or conversation.

The ones who won't make eye-contact are generally absorbed in their phones and wouldn't even notice a friendly little grandma next to them.

This team of Seahawks are not only excellent football players, but they also have demonstrated they are excellent community leaders. Leadership in a very fun way. I think Pete Carroll has one an amazing job with his selection of the best mix of people in the football world.
The entire NW region is better for it too.

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 11:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Now come on, I love the Hawks as much as anybody, but do we really have to throw hippies in with all those other bad Seattle-nice people? We have a full spectrum here, kind of like Russell, Marshawn, and Sherm. Go Hawks!

Posted Wed, Feb 5, 2:15 a.m. Inappropriate

LOL! Well said.

s_calvert

Posted Fri, Feb 7, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

"Seattle Nice" has been an oxymoron for years...it is not a "nice" city at all. I was born in Seattle and raised in the area, but you couldn't pay me enough money to live there now and I avoid it at all costs. I won't even take Sound Transit to Mariners games this year.

Cheer up, Knute. Your dream of Seattle Incivility is much more alive than you dare think.

Posted Sun, Feb 9, 12:25 p.m. Inappropriate

I think Knute got this pretty much wrong. I think it's hard to truly understand what's "wrong" with Seattle until you leave it.

From the article:
"The Seahawks, rather than an alien barbarian culture in a civilized city, reflect a new civic ideal. They exhibit confidence, toughness, intelligence and grace."

Seattle has always exhibited confidence, toughness and intelligence. Look at the A-List companies that were founded in the region. Boeing, Costco, Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft, and all sorts of spin off companies.

What's missing is the 'grace' part. The culture seems to lack a sense of warmth and grace that many Seattlites flocked to last week during the Super Bowl. I met a young couple on the train from Seattle and we both agreed there is something wrong with how people interact with each other, or rather don't interact. One of my observations is that Seattle can be described as "whine" country, which definitely gets old. Whether you're whining about the car culture, Starbucks, Progressives of Sound Transit, it all gets so old and stale after a while.

I talked to so many people from Seattle who loved the warmth and energy of New Yorkers, they couldn't stop talking about it. You can just feel the energy of the people in this city even though it's expensive and competitive.

I always felt that people in Seattle are really not nice in a very nice , polite sort of way. And it's not due to one thing. It's just a lingering sort of isolation that everyone knows exists and no one seems to know how to change it. If the Seattle Seahawks winning the Superbowl is able to change that, so much the better. But don't hold your breath.

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