Award Date

8-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History

Department

History

First Committee Member

David M. Wrobel, Chair

Second Committee Member

Eugene Moehring

Third Committee Member

Thomas Wright

Graduate Faculty Representative

John Tuman

Number of Pages

415

Abstract

This dissertation examines how historical events and representation of those events relative to the wider historical context have allowed the media, opinion setters, and the ordinary public to use the names of San Francisco, California, Birmingham, Alabama and Las Vegas, Nevada as denigrating adjectives and the effect of this usage on those cities. Exploration of Birmingham’s image as a racist city, San Francisco’s as a gay Mecca, and Las Vegas, Nevada’s as an adult playground or sinful city serves this purpose. These case studies support a central argument that the nature of place-based stigmatization’s influence depends upon ever-shifting cultural values and historical context.

Ultimately, this dissertation contends that ideas rival roads, master plans, and political organizations in importance with respect to their impact on urban areas. When considering the perceptions of Birmingham, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, one can see links between ideas and actions, mentalities and physical structures. In the case of Birmingham, local concerns over national perceptions of the place have resulted in a devastating level of anxiety as the city’s identity rapidly changed on the national scene from overwhelmingly positive to irredeemably deviant. In Las Vegas, the city’s reputation lacks the dramatic break found in Birmingham’s and has long played a direct role in its survival and prosperity. Yet while the city has prospered from being a place where one can do what is not acceptable elsewhere, “sin city” marketing has increasingly caused problems as the city has grown into a major metropolis complete with families and more mainstream aspirations. San Franciscans have tended to be more accepting of their mental placement as a Gay Mecca. Here, a long and continuous history of detachment from the American “norm” in popular portrayals, has created more of a laissez faire attitude. The idea of a gay-friendly city has directly impacted the city in recent years as its population has embraced the gay tourism industry and emerged as a pacesetter in regard to gay rights.

Keywords

Alabama--Birmingham; California--San Francisco; Mass media and public opinion; Nevada--Las Vegas; Stigmatization

Disciplines

Immune System Diseases | Mass Communication | Social History | United States History | Virus Diseases

Language

English