Salvage City: St. Louis Deserves Better
It's that sort of cavalier attitude toward the law and landmarks he supposedly loves that have inspired a backlash from locals. Social-media chatter left Coffey defending the show to media outlets like KSDK-TV (Channel 5) and the Riverfront Times before it even aired, with many questioning his methods and portrayal of St. Louis. Indeed, Salvage City plays into the worst stereotypes of this region, ones familiar to a national audience for whom St. Louis elicits little more than the Arch pictures and Rust Belt scorn.
Coffey, a native St. Louisan, seems surprised by the tepid response, but critics' complaints are dead-on. What he and the show's producers have done -- exploit the city in exchange for personal gain -- is the definition of selling out. Not the artistic selling out that is inevitable when a band or artist enjoys mainstream success, but the kind that constitutes betrayal. Coffey co-owns the Fortune Teller Bar, located on Cherokee Street, one of the city's blossoming business districts. His creative and business partner on the show, Mia Brown, runs Eve's Apple Vintage, a consignment shop located on downtown's Washington Avenue, another local success story. These people are in a better position than most to celebrate the city's emergence from a post-industrial economy. And yet here they are on national television, selling the city as an "urban wasteland...ripe for plunder."
Ultimately, Salvage City disappoints because St. Louis deserves better. The best city television shows are love letters, as Treme is for New Orleans, or requiems, as The Wire is for Baltimore. Other shows focus on Chicago's toughness, Los Angeles' glamour and New York's culture. Even most reality shows celebrate a place, or way of life. St. Louis is none of those things in the American psyche, but surely a homegrown production can do better than play into national stereotypes.
Salvage City is a manufactured-reality cash grab, a tall tale starring a conceited wannabe pirate who is, in his own words, "not the hero St. Louis wants, but all they've got." This citizen begs to differ.
Chris Haxel is a St. Louis freelance writer.