Back in 2008, a strange video surfaced online called “This Is My Milwaukee.” The 11-minute clip was an upbeat tourism video touting the many benefits of the Brew City, hosted by an agreeably accented man named Terry Nanny. Culture, jobs, dining, and the city’s appeal to young professionals were all highlighted. “There’s always something cooking in Milwaukee!” proclaimed the video over footage of smiling people adorned in business casual. “Milwaukee: Come for the weekend, stay for life!”
There was only one problem: “This Is My Milwaukee” had absolutely nothing to do with Milwaukee. It wasn’t shot here, and it wasn’t meant to promote the city. (If Milwaukee really has an elevated train or a “canning district,” please let me know.) In fact, it wasn’t a real tourism video at all. It was part of an elaborate “alternate reality game” created by an online art collective called Synydyne—the same group responsible for that Horse_ebooks thing from a few years ago. But there was still something charming about it: Alternate reality games aside, the video expertly spoofed the kind of empty, clueless, pleasantly generic booster videos that tourism groups across America churn out on a daily basis. It was awful, but it was hilariously awful.
Which brings us to the part where VISIT Milwaukee—the “chief image and tourism marketing organization of the greater Milwaukee area”—churned out an empty, clueless, pleasantly generic booster video last month. It’s called “You Gotta Be Here,” and it’s either “gotta be” a brilliant parody of the “This Is My Milwaukee” video, or it’s “gotta be” the worst thing you’ll see all year. Let’s roll the tape!
Oof. Where do I begin? The deep, overwhelming corniness? The awful slogan? The hilariously vague boasts? (“You gotta be here for the culture!”) The hilariously vague boasts that aren’t true? (“You gotta be here for the great places to hold your conventions!”) The generic “Rock w/ heavy guitar” stock music? The inclusion of the same 12 people you always see in these kind of videos? (The Jeff Sherman Civic Booster Bot 2.0 seems especially worked up in this one.) The part where everyone starts pointing and yelling at you? The alarming number of young professionals wearing suit jackets over t-shirts? The fact that it is so, so, so bad? Where?
Yeah, it’s a tough one. I’ve been mulling this video over for a few weeks now, trying to crack its Crappiness Code (it’s like the Da Vinci Code, only crappier) and tear it to shreds. But I can’t. There’s something so fundamentally shitty about this video, something so cosmically dreadful, that it’s impervious to criticism. It’s the tourism-video equivalent of not screening a movie for critics: Why bother when you know that the popcorn-swilling masses will lap it up no matter what?
Still, I’d like to point out the video’s biggest flaw: it’s not about Milwaukee. Sure, it was shot here, it involves a lot of great people who live and work here, and it’s meant to promote the city (I think?), but aside from a Harley shout-out and, um, the marlin in the Public Market, it could be used to promote virtually any city in the U.S. Fine dining! Hospitality! Culture! People smiling! Milwaukee! Or Cleveland! Or Des Moines! Or wherever!
VISIT Milwaukee has always been strangely clueless when it comes to marketing this city (remember the “Chicago’s Upper, Upper North Side” campaign from a few years ago?), and this is just another embarrassment from a group that should know better. Why not take a cue from TravelWisconsin and create a campaign with a little personality? Say what you will about having Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Hays rattle off some out-of-context, 30-year-old Airplane! quotes, and say what you will about asking Jordy Nelson to act, but those recent campaigns from the state’s tourism board have generated a ton of press, both inside and outside of Wisconsin. Can you imagine “You Gotta Be Here” getting (positive) attention from anyone, anywhere? (Also: How about doing something with actual, honest-to-goodness local bands?)
And that’s the thing that really baffles me: What’s the purpose of this video? (“You Gotta Be Here” was the slogan for VISIT Milwaukee’s annual meeting last month.) It’s obviously aimed at people who don’t live here (thus the repeated demands that they do so RIGHT NOW), so why does it seem like it was made for the benefit of the people who already do? And why does it fail at that? Whatever VISIT Milwaukee’s intentions, “You Gotta Be Here” has all the makings of a unintentionally hilarious meme that takes on a life of its own, gets passed around and laughed at online, and makes Milwaukeeans look the bumbling oafs we most certainly aren’t.
So unless this video truly is a spoof of the “This Is My Milwaukee” thing (and I’m kind of guessing it’s not), the only thing I can do is ask VISIT Milwaukee to do better next time. Much, much better. My Milwaukee is a terrific city, filled with quirky, highly specific virtues and quirky, highly specific people. The Milwaukee presented here isn’t Milwaukee at all—it’s an alternate reality.