In Seattle, how do you solve a problem like Jean-Sun?

Near the beginning of the celebrated 1965 movie, “The Sound of Music,” the nuns at the Nonnberg Abbey in Saltzburg, Austria, sing about their discomfort with the free-spirited nun-in-training played by Julie Andrews. “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” they warble. “Many a thing you know, you’d like to tell her; many a thing she ought to understand.”

Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn

Now I have to think they’re singing this song over at Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city’s chief promoter to the outside world. Except that the lyrics were changed from Maria to Jean-Sun.

Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn is the newly crowned Miss Seattle. She is also the newly crowned Latest Person To Kvetch Publicly About Seattle. A Seattle-area native, Ahn did this on Twitter a couple months before she won the title in the city to which she returned after attending college near sunny Phoenix. “Ew I seriously an hating Seattle right now,” she tweeted on December 10. “Take me back to az!! Ugh can’t stand cold rainy Seattle and the annoying people.”

A Seattle radio station, KIRO-FM, was the first to bring Ahn’s musings to light after she took the beauty pageant competition on Saturday night.

It is hard to overestimate the amount of bad press and implicit ridicule this has been generating for Seattle in extremely far-flung places. It reminds me of the utter lack of sympathy to some of Seattle’s recent winter weather woes. Here’s a sampling of just headlines:

In the Chicago Tribune: “Oops! Miss Seattle gets caught dissing the city

On The Huffington Post (under the “Weird News” category): “Miss Seattle Tweeted City Cold and People Annoying

On the CBS News website: “Miss Seattle can’t stand Seattle

By London’s Daily Mail: “‘I can’t stand rainy Seattle and the annoying people‘”

By the Associated Press (over a story reprinted in hundreds of newspapers): “Miss Seattle apologizes for tweets that called city cold and people annoying.”

I think this has gotten wide pick-up for a number of reasons. It’s an extremely easy story to tell. All you really need are four words: “Miss Seattle criticizes city”. Bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you tales have universal appeal for their connotation of hypocrisy. And of course there are pictures and video available of an attractive woman, which always draws the attention of editors.

Ahn’s lament also plays into a narrative that Seattle weather is too dreary and its residents too dull. I became New To Seattle last summer (moving from Los Angeles, a sunny region like Ahn’s Arizona). As I have written here, Seattleites actually apologized to me in advance for the future rain and lack of sun, which I still think was a little strange since quantitatively, the weather here isn’t all that bad.

True, I do find a sense of day-to-day humor among residents here to be elusive. But I easily deal with this by watching Jay Leno and Jon Stewart on TV, or by reading the rules for Seattle trash recycling.

Still, there’s more than a little hope in all this for Seattle. The city’s image-makers should take great solace from the fact that this is news in a great many places. It’s proof Seattle is an internationally famous city that others find interesting. Things that happen here get noticed all over the world. Do you think such utterances from, say, Miss Topeka would draw any coverage outside of Kansas?

A lot of locales are just plain jealous of Seattle, perhaps none more so than Washington State’s second-largest and honesty-challenged city on the other side of the hills. “Oops! Miss Seattle bashes Seattle,” said the almost gleeful headline in the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

So Seattle, which long has tried to minimize the perception of excess precipitation, should confront this head-on. Even now, the convention and visitors bureau is looking for a new marketing pitch to replace the silly “Metronatural” Seattle. How about this: “Seattle: More Than Just The Rain”.

Or sing some other songs from “The Sound of Music.” I suggest a medley: “Climb E’vry Mountain” followed by “My Favorite Things”.

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In Seattle, how do you solve a problem like Jean-Sun? — 8 Comments

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