Memphis & the First 48

Memphis is the infamous “City of Blues”. We have Beale Street, National and Famous Museums, and the home of Elvis Presley less than 30 minutes from each other. Every year we have family members, tourists, and travelers alike stopping by to taste the barbecue we’ve branded and see our attractions. However, beyond the rapport we’ve built for being a great tourist city in the South, there’s one generalization we cannot escape: “Yeah, I know Memphis. Y’all are on ‘The First 48 all the time”. Given my combative nature, my first instinct has always been to pull out all of the facts I know or question a statement until the person that said it actually questions it themselves. However, I’ve never been able to fight this stereotype because I don’t actually watch “The First 48” and probably never will, leaving me with no comeback.

It was a well-known fact at one point that Memphis held the #1 spot in a listing of Most Dangerous Cities produced by Forbes. With our numerous star appearances on “The First 48”, we set a standard that could not be beat and shed a light on one of our biggest problems in our city (accompanied by low literacy rates and infant mortality, but who’s looking at that). It wasn’t until 2008 that the Commercial Appeal reported a discontinuation of Memphis’ ties with the show. City Council Member Wanda Halbert expressed her concerns as such, “I heard out-of-town people say Memphis was out of control, we were exposing the world to the worst aspects of our city…”, also noting that Memphis isn’t denouncing it’s role in crime as big city, but the show “sensationalizes it”. So what is it that brings people to Memphis, you ask?

Despite and beyond our reputation, as a whole Tennessee benefits greatly from tourists every year. USAToday stated: “more than 50 million people come to Tennessee each year…  tourism has an impact of more than $14 billion on the state. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the country, with more than 9 million visitors each year.” Ranking #1 in tourism for West Tennessee, Memphis has a lot to offer people that don’t have access to its attractions everyday. On the other hand, people that live in Memphis see nothing new or exciting about Beale Street. We visit Beale Street every weekend to people watch, Graceland maybe once in our lives to say that we went, Mud Island really just looks like water springing into the air across the River, and we visit places like Ching’s Hot Wings more than we do our Downtown Museums. However, when someone mentions our star appearances on “The First 48” our defense mechanism is to challenge their hometown and say that Memphis is never shown in a positive light. My question, as a city tax-payer and half-native, is do we support our city in any way, or do we just protect it from being shot down? When someone shadows our light, are we coming together to pull the blanket of crime, despair, and statistics off of the underlying heart that lies underneath? As much as we want to protect others from “talking bad about our city”, what are we doing to give them something good to talk about? I’m guilty, but I’m not the only one.

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