Starting a few years back, I began to add a quote from a book or film to my email signature, especially if the quote had a touch of irony to it, or wry humor, or was just something I felt deeply about. A bit kitschy, yes, but I get a kick out of it.
Lately, it’s been the very last line spoken in “Chinatown,” the 1974 film: “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
If you haven’t seen the film, Jack Nicholson plays a private detective in 1930s Los Angeles who attempts to unravel a conspiracy involving land and water rights. Nicholson’s character was once a cop in Chinatown, and in the film that section of Los Angeles becomes a touchstone of corruption, but of a corruption that nothing can be done about. And if one tries to do something, one often causes more harm than good. In short, just shrug, sigh or snort, and leave it be.
After not having seen “Chinatown” in decades, I was rediscovering the film in its DVD release back in July. As I was watching it, I started to get an eerie feeling, something that I quite couldn’t put my finger on. When one of Nicholson’s partners utters that last line, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown,” I heard a distant gong in the back of my head. Satori.
For the past year or so, I have been fretting over the placement of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, and what that might mean for the taxpayers, regarding not only the “add-ons” that have been made public, but also regarding the fundamental issue at the heart of that project: the turning over of a considerable section of public land to the control of a private concern. (And then there’s the fate of Wooded Island.)
It was as if the character in the film, through some warping of time, space and imagery, had turned to look at me instead, but what he said was, “Forget it, John, it’s Chicago.”
Sadly, that’s how I have come to view the whole situation with the Obama Center (or as Lynn Sweet of the Sun-Times termed it a few months back, Obamaland). It’s a done deal and has been for some time (perhaps even while the so-called competition between the other potential sites was going on?), and the now-rising demand for information on the part of community groups and the Sun-Times is just a lot of shrugging, sighing and snorting.
As for the more recent news about the Obama Foundation offering to pay for the building of an above-ground parking garage on city land on Midway Plaisance, will the Foundation pay the city for that land, and if so, at what price? Or, is this another example of a public land giveaway, and are more such giveaways on the horizon?
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was more than happy to hand over all that land to Obama and his Foundation, perhaps with the hope that this would bolster his position in the African-American community, but I don’t think that has happened, or will.
I also have doubts that the project will generate the kind and amount of economic development that many claim it will. Too many people, from the outset, have talked about the economic benefits to come as if they were already here, as if the whole project had sprung forth, fully formed, from the forehead of Zeus, and that the benefits were there to be seen! Hopes are not promises, and promises often don’t materialize.
Yes, I know that’s cynical, but then I was born and raised in the 10th Ward.
It’s all a done deal, and one that really stinks, although recently, it also has been the source of unintended humor. The Foundation calling a roof-top garden on the proposed parking garage “park land” was a real hoot!
If anyone out there thinks that they can alter this seemingly unstoppable project, or place the city and the Foundation in a position to answer any and all questions, all I can say is, “Forget it, folks, it’s Chicago.”
John Vukmirovich is a Chicago-area writer, researcher and book reviewer.