Foster, Jonathan. Stigma Cities: The Reputation and History of Birmingham, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018. xiv.
Reviewed by: Fritz (Charles F.) Casey-Leininger, Ph.D.
In Stigma Cities, Jonathan Foster ably demonstrates that reputation and history are deeply intertwined in Birmingham, San Francisco, and Las Vegas and by extension in other cities. As importantly, he shows that changing national attitudes have had a profound effect on the reputation and history of all three.
Foster focuses his analysis on media portrayals of white racist violence in Birmingham, San Francisco as a gay mecca, and gambling and sexually oriented entertainments in Las Vegas. He notes that earlier these portrayals led to negative reputations for all three. However, as American attitudes evolved, San Francisco has benefited from broadening acceptance of same sex relationships, while the growing toleration of the attitudes implicit in the slogan, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” has aided that city’s tourism business.
In contrast, the wide spread abhorrence of white racist violence that emerged in the mid-twentieth century has made it difficult for Birmingham to escapes its negative reputation despite what Foster sees as improved race relations there today. However, the author misses an opportunity to explore how Birmingham’s current racial climate may have been affected by the reemergence nationally of open and virulent white supremacist activities.
Foster’s examination of Las Vegas also has problems. He seems not to fully comprehend how problematic is the degradation of women by the sexually themed entertainments that are so important to that city’s tourist trade. He argues, “Las Vegas is not the rampant sexual exploiter of women that its reputation suggests,” and then appears to contradict himself, “Yet one cannot deny that Las Vegas objectifies women.” (164)
Despite these flaws, Stigma Cities will be useful to practitioners and students of urban history, media studies, and urban planning, as well as the general reader.
Pages: 274 pages.