Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Garden State pride

A little blend of Jersey and personal history for you tonight:

Before Bruce Springsteen reached the crescendo of his fame and The Sopranos made the Meadowlands a landmark in popular culture, New Jersey had a bit of an image problem.

To the rest of the country, the state was most known for its Superfund sites, syringes on the shores of Sandy Hook, gritty refineries along the Turnpike and stupid 'Joisey' jokes.

There was no avenue to counter those images. Wedged between the New York and Philadelphia media markets, New Jersey existed as a media oddity. She possessed one of the countries largest populations within her borders, yet had no major media outlets of her own.

All of North Jersey congregated around the New York television channels. All of Southern Jersey aligned with Philly. The result? A full-blown identity crisis for the Garden State.

One microscopic exception to this media-created truism was the New Jersey Network.

The NJN was Jersey's branch of public television and radio. Fifteen years ago, when I used to watch the network, public television and radio did not have the geeky cache it has today, so the station's reach was miniscule and its stature pretty much irrelevant.

After airing its nightly lineup of eclectic programming, it closed its broadcast every night at midnight with the above video, a proud tribute to the underrated qualities of the state.

I'm not sure how we first latched onto this nightly farewell, but those of us who lived at 55 Duke Street during college made it part of our evening viewing. First, it was a curiosity. Then a habit. Then an all-out event.

Watching NJN's nightly sign-off was something that was not to be missed on Duke Street.

(What's that? And you wonder why we never had a date?)

At first, I think we were taken with the corny nature of the video. But then, we grew to actually like it. The joke was on us. I won't speak for others, but I can admit now that we actually enjoyed the video -- particularly the black woman wearing the yellow dress and over-sized glasses, who exudes nothing but sheer joy as she bends down to pick up her newspaper.

She got a rousing round of applause every night.

If nothing else, some of this Jersey celebration was pride. We had all attended our "safe" school, somehow failing to join the legions of others who fulfilled their teen-aged dreams of being sprung from cages on Highway 9 and pulling out of here to win. We didn't quite make it across the border.

So we had to rationalize our failures and grasped at the scant positives we could find.

But some of this also stemmed from Bill Gillette's excellent New Jersey history class, where we learned to appreciate the Jersey beyond the cliches -- the one portrayed in the video -- the one that conjoins the cranberry bogs of the Pine Barrens with the ivy-covered campuses of Rutgers College and Princeton.

The one that courageously hosted George Washington as he toppled the British in Trenton, and the one that provided the cliffs for the backdrop of the Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton duel. The Jersey of Sinatra and Springsteen.

The one that is the true home of the New York Giants and Jets, not to mention the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the one that welcomed immigrants to its textile mills more than a century ago and the one that welcomes them to Edison today.

This is the real Garden State.

So those of you who only know the industrial wasteland near Carteret or the murder rates of Camden, let's keep it that way. You keep making your snide remarks, and we'll keep New Jersey's finer qualities our little secret.

And you with the Joisey jokes?

As Tony Soprano might say, go fuck yourself.


(Kudos go to Army's most intrepid football reporter for unearthing this video in recent days and giving some of us 55 Duke Street veterans a good chuckle).

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At 7:27 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

I remember when I was young (circa 4th grade) I often would watch the opening song on the NJN that would start it's broadcasting for the morning. There was a song about NJ and different scenic shots of the state. The screen had colored stripes and then at the same time every morn the song would come on.
Another 4th grade NJ memory...remember Miss Dransfields NJ cookies?
Thanks for the NJN memories!

At 7:15 PM, Blogger Todd Cohen said...

Cat, that video definitely bring back memories.

I watch NJN only during Election Night. I'm not sure if my motive is to see my old professor Roger Bodman play up the GOP or whether that dude form The Trentonian would keel over....or just to check on the status of Michael Aron's oval head.

I can report, it is slowly close to a football shape with a point on the top of his head.

I was saddened to see this news item:


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