Sad, sad, sad. I'm a sad citizen, eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant in my sad city, when I receive a temporary reprieve. It arrives in the form of a fortune cookie, bearing the message: "The key to happiness is a bad memory."
Wait. What? Sad? Who's sad?
Oh, that's right. I am. Because I live in Tampa Bay.
As most residents hereabouts have heard by now, Men's Health magazine fired the sad-shot-heard-round-the-world last week. My home cities (yeah, I've got two of them, because I'm good like that and because they happen to be the twin cities of the South: St. Petersburg and Tampa — separated at birth by an amazing body of water, Tampa Bay) were dubbed the 1st and 3rd "saddest cities" in the U.S. in a story whimsically entitled "Frown Towns."
Ha! Almost instantly, area evangelists began mocking the article via social media — questioning the methodology of its pseudo-scientifically concocted and statistically bastardized version of a proxy scale for city sadness.
What a joke — and not the funny kind, which would make people laugh. This was intended to be serious, as I suspect many Men's Health employees regard their publication.
The work emanated from the desk of a staff "researcher" in Emmaus, PA., whose Facebook and marginal LinkedIn profile are publicly available on the Web. Now, I'm not claiming she's a bad writer; it's just that her story reeks of SEO-gaming (an accomplishment touted on her online resume during her 2010 stint as an "Editorial Intern" for www. FertilityAuthority.com).
Hm... let me get this straight, Men's Hell, you thought it was a good idea to toss a researcher one year removed from her post-graduation (Wilkes University) internship at FertilityAuthority.com into a situation where she would be responsible for determining a sadness quotient that tarnished the images of cities around country?
This error in judgment does not belong to the new hire. It's not her fault. Fault lies with her editorial board, who gave this the thumbs up (and likely had something to do with the original design). I bet they knew it would be a hot-button issue, and decided that their ad revenue would trump in importance the cities' reputations. This is bad taste and even worse judgment.
But let's look at this article in context. Take, for instance, where it was published: Emmaus, PA.
In the interest of remaining somewhat positive, allow me first to toss you a congratulatory bone, Emmaus, for doubling your population since 1940. You're now rocking the census with a grand total of 11,313 residents. Heaven would have a hard time competing with that recruitment figure.
I bet more freshmen show up to study at the University of South Florida annually than the population of your entire town.
And here's how the rankings were determined:
The researchers calculated suicide rates (courtesy of the CDC) and unemployment rates as of this past June from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They then queried the 2-year old GIS mapping software, SimplyMap, for the percentage of households in each city that report use of antidepressants, as well as the number of people who "report feeling the blues all or most of the time."
The number of rival plausible explanations within their research design is painful to think about.
Published without providing access to original data and void of a thoughtful analysis of results, this is the sort of stuff that makes legitimate scientists cringe.
But what else would you expect from a magazine that could charitably be nicknamed The Meatheads' Maxim?
I bought a copy before writing this article, and it hurt my head to read it, which is a good thing, I guess. If I liked it, that would mean bad things.
Again, back to the positive: I love how Men's Health has been able to find its demographic, and to successfully market their product.
Surely the woman-as-object, six-pack ab-aspiring, grill-mastering meatheads of the world needed a publication to rally behind, and Rodale Publishing — proliferators of arbitrary, ill-conceived, hurtful standards of beauty — well, they're here for you, baby.
Preying on those who believe their lives would be better if only for a washboard stomach, Men's Health, in fact, is the saddest magazine I've read lately. I don't know a single person who reads it (do you?), and I bet the majority of people in St. Pete or Tampa would prefer a wordless tree in one of their world-class parks over an issue of the diamond-encrusted, luxury timepiece-slinging rag.
And a few more words on that ranking:
I spent 23 of my formative years in Buffalo, New York — ranked #37 in the Men's Hell "Frown Town" list, 63 spots higher than St. Pete. I was a chicken wing-eating, snow-loving, igloo-building (with a little help from Bacardi 151), diehard Bills/Sabres fan — in other words, a pretty standard Buffalonian — and I can tell you, from the inside of my former Carhart-enveloped being, that Buffalo can be a very sad place during the wintertime.
It has a way of wearing you down — month after cold, dark month.
I remember how much I used to cherish the smell, the taste, the glow of the first day of spring so much, after that long sunless, piercingly cold winter, that I would celebrate it by standing in the sunshine, skin exposed, allowing the rays to charge my flesh with a warmth unfelt in four, five, six months... That first breath of spring air was sweeter than the sweetest breath of soft, spring air that you've got on file. It was amazing.
As it turns out, every day during the winter in the Tampa Bay region is like that.
The cover of the saddest city issue has a prominently positioned headline: "SEX SO GOOD... she'll think she's with two and a half men."
I'm good on the sex tips, thanks. How about writing a magazine that makes me feel like you've got two and a half editors?
For now, I'll take some satisfaction in knowing that I get to live, work and play in two badass cities that are anything but overrun with sad people, except, of course, for the dude who ended up with my steamed white rice (while I sit here enjoying his shrimp and seafood medley).
Sorry, bud. My advice goes for you and also the Men's Health crew in Emmaus, PA: Trust the cookie; happiness will find you soon.
And with a bit of luck, nice weather may even return to Emmaus in another four to five months!
The author is a university instructor, entrepreneur, researcher and citizen of anything-but-sad Tampa Bay.
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