Last week, hundreds of Minnesotans came across a “Judgmental Map” of Minneapolis on a website — and passed judgment on it.
Talk about living up to your name.
The map, intended to be satirical, characterized neighborhoods with stereotypes, including “NIMBYs” in Bryn Mawr, “Gay renters” in the Loring Park area and “People who think they live in Nantucket” near Lake Harriet. But the labeling of north Minneapolis as “Too scary to investigate” and “Compton of the North” unleashed a brouhaha in the site’s comments section.
Trent Gillaspie, a Denver comedian, started the website judgmentalmaps.com earlier this year, after posting a humorous map of his own hometown.
“I moved around a lot, and when people asked where I lived, I was able to tell the name of the neighborhood or what kind of neighborhood it was,” he said. “But then I got to saying, ‘We live in taco cart headquarters,’ and people would say, ‘Oh, yeah, I know exactly where that is.’ It was not something racial or cultural, more of an identifier. It was meant to be lighthearted, satirical, joking. So if you make fun of everyone, you don’t get any flak.”
Gillaspie’s map drew just one negative comment, despite including such phrases as “Little Africa,” “King Jewpers and “Gay-pleton” (part of suburban Stapleton).
He encouraged others to create their own Judgemental Maps, and DIY “mapmakers” in Chicago, Phoenix and New York took up the challenge. When the Minneapolis map went up, it quickly got thousands of Facebook posts — and the ensuing kerfuffle. The creator of the Minneapolis map ended up removing her name from the site after the postings got a little too personal.
The diatribe-laden dialogue was a stark contrast to the tepid reaction the maps of other cities got at the same website, calling into question Minnesotans’ sensitivity about barbed humor.
“Minnesota is a tough place to be an ‘edgy’ comedian,” said Scott Hansen, a locally based edgy comedian. “When it comes to racial or ethnic humor, Minnesotans love to take offense for someone else.”
The local mapmaker said in a phone interview that her intent was not to offend, but to show how people stereotype unfamiliar neighborhoods. So the University Avenue area near Interstate 35W is “drunk college students” and the ’hood to the north “poor college students.” Uptown is “24-year-olds who work for Target and rent luxury apartments” and the area between Lakes Calhoun and Harriet “skinny women pushing strollers in designer jeans.”
Playing into stereotypes
Sean Bartz of Minneapolis was one of the thousands who commented on the map on various websites. In a phone interview, he said he enjoyed the map, but he maintained that “the idea that the north is too violent to go there is a damaging stereotype.”
Bartz, who lives in Corcoran (which the Judgmental Map labeled “real hippies”) and coaches youth basketball in north Minneapolis, acknowledged that other city maps on the site using ethnic terms drew less flak. The characterizations in the Minneapolis map, he said, convey “a privileged position, because whites don’t deal with racism as part of their daily lives.”
He also expressed concern that some of the kids he coaches might be “negatively affected” by the labels, adding that “I didn’t feel like that was reflective of the mapmaker. I think she was reflecting the stereotypes of what a lot of people feel about north Minneapolis.”
Still, examining stereotypes is what judgmentalmaps.com was designed to do.
“The important thing is that we need to understand there are stereotypes that exist,” Gillaspie said.
What’s so funny?
Most comedy pushes buttons, and that means walking a tightrope on many fronts. Even Gillaspie, who does stand-up in Denver, was so concerned about the gibes in his map that he originally posted it without attribution, until he got “very positive” feedback.
The Minneapolis map, like the others, included some profanity. Ironically, the local mapmaker said she had received more praise for identifying “that f---ing Kmart” on Lake Street than she did complaints about the north Minneapolis comments.
She should have anticipated some brickbats, said local comedian Rox Tarrant.
“The late [comedian] Wild Bill Bauer once told me if you don’t offend at least one person in the audience, you haven’t done your job,” she said. “I do think Minnesotans, from a regional perspective, are overly concerned about saying something that may offend.”
Which can happen even for those with the best of intentions, as Hansen recounted.
“I once had a woman tell me after a show that she was bothered by my self-deprecating jokes about my own weight,” he said. “She then added that I didn’t need to make fun of myself because ‘You are very smart for your size.’ ”
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643