Too bad illustrator Saul Steinberg died in 1999. He was the creator of what is arguably the most famous magazine cover ever: “View of the World from 9th Avenue,” which graced the March 29, 1976, issue of The New Yorker. Its careful distortion of diminishing detail and distance–still studied in art schools–perfectly captured the notion that elite New York City residents are haughty folks full of hubris wrapped up in their own surroundings and barely able to distinguish much of anything west of the Hudson River.
Take a close look at the cover, which, as a New To Seattle service, I have reproduced to the right. Past the thin band across the middle of “Jersey,” you can see Chicago, Texas, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, something representing the Rockies, and in the far distance beyond the Pacific Ocean, China, Japan (as one island) and Russia. Even Kansas City and Utah are marked.
But where Canada and the Pacific come together on the right side upper of a rectangular United States, there’s–nothing.
I have to think if Steinberg were around today to update his 38-year-old masterpiece, Seattle would make an appearance. That’s what meting out a 43-8 Super Bowl thrashing in that Jersey strip can do for a city.
But that’s on top of a lot of other stuff. Think how far Seattle has come as a brand in less than four decades. In 1976 there was no Amazon.com (Jeff Bezos was all of 12 years old). One-year-old Microsoft was still based in Albuquerque, N.M.; co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen wouldn’t move it to the Seattle area until 1979. Starbucks was a tiny Seattle operation. Tom Douglas was more than a decade away from starting his first restaurant. Costco didn’t open its first warehouse until 1983. Gerard Schwarz didn’t take the conductor’s baton of the Seattle Symphony until 1985. The band Nirvana wasn’t formed by Kurt Cobain until 1987.
And now, of course, there’s legal recreational pot, which I know from conversations with my many friends in New York City, where I once lived, is a topic there of considerate interest.
Unless he was a World’s Fair freak, Steinberg would have been crazy in 1976 to put Seattle on what one judge’s ruling in a later copyright infringement case called “a map of the world from an egocentrically myopic perspective.” (I’m guessing Kansas City was put on for its prodigious processing of New York strip steak; I have no theory at all about the Romanian-born Steinberg’s inclusion of Utah.) Today, given Seattle’s prominence in so many things cultural and economic, Steinberg would be crazy not to.
However, the city might have to share space with two other cities that also didn’t grace that 1976 cover: hated Denver and hated San Francisco. Judging by the astonishing 700,000-fan turnout for yesterday’s Seahawks victory parade through the heart of downtown Seattle, I’d call that characterization “View of the World from 4th Avenue.”