What steel drums at the airport in Tampa say about the Tampa Bay area
Steel drums? Somebody decided to greet delegates at the airport with STEEL DRUMS? Does anybody who lives in Tampa or knows anything about it think about this area and think of STEEL DRUMS? I think of steel drums, I think of the tropics, and Tampa's not the tropics. But this is interesting.
"People come to Florida thinking they already know what they're going to find," Casey Blanton, the editor in chief of the Journal of Florida Studies, told me when we talked for an essay that's running in Perspective in tomorrow's Tampa Bay Times. They go to places, she said, like the beach, like South Beach, like Disney and Universal, "that reconfirm their stereotypes or their constructs of Florida."
But we also help them do that. We "bring in plants that are tropical but not native to Florida -- stereotypical Florida, but not natural Florida," said Michael Flota, a sociology professor at Daytona State College. Tampa, and other cities in the state that aren't Miami or Orlando, tag along on those tropes because they understandably want to tap into the marketing machine that is the Sunshine State. Money is money and fantasy sells.
Tampa, though, is "fascinating," Blanton said, "incredibly mixed ethinically and financially" and "sort of industrial but funky." Awesome. Also not exactly steel drums.
"We can use this," mayor Bob Buckhorn told me in his office back in May, talking about the convention, "to tell Tampa's story."
"Diversity," he said. "We're a gateway to the world," he said. "USF," he said. "Moffitt," he said. "Byrd," he said. "MacDill," he said. "We're not just your typical white-bread American city," he said. "We're a paella of ethnicities," he said. The list goes on.
The city has trouble with its story. Part of that's because it tries to ignore things that it actually is. Another part of it is that added to the muddled message is the perpetually uncomfortable effort to pitch Tampa not as Tampa but as Tampa Bay. It's necessary, because it makes the area big enough to matter, but it makes marketing a challenge. Tampa is not St. Pete is not Clearwater is not Pasco is not Hernando is not Polk is certainly not Sarasota. We share a beautiful body of water. It's what defines us. It's also what divides us. What defines us is what divides us. So ... steel drums!