THREE REASONS THE QUEEN MARY ISN’T GETTING ALL THE LOVE IN LONG BEACHBy Chris Butler
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, LBPost.com requested nominations for the Ten Worst Decisions in Long Beach History---yes, just like three years ago (which was publisher Shaun Lumachi’s favorite LBPost.com story, ever), except this time the results will be saved for the new print edition (a marketing-over-journalism move that the savvy reader will tuck away until the bound-to-come day somebody seeks nominees for the Ten Most-Cynical Decisions In LBPost.com History) … uhh ... let's see ... right ... Long Beach’s 10 worst decisions. So the Queen Mary apparently got a few mentions, which got all the ship-for-brains folks on the Queen Mary listserv either revved up or moped out---but evoked Chris Butler's really well-reasoned, three-part analysis of why the Queen Mary isn't universally loved in Long Beach. We combined the three takes, let Chris give ‘em a once-over, and here ya go!]
The Queen Mary is beloved around the world; people travel thousands of miles to see her. Yet in Long Beach, her home for more than four decades, the locals look upon her with very mixed feelings—with indifference, I suspect, being by far the most pervasive.
But the Queen Mary is also perceived with suspicion, a strong sense of suspicion there is some kind of serious problem, scandal, or crisis with the ship. Only a small group really hates her. Among a sizeable minority of the population, I would imagine there is a diffuse sort of fondness or civic pride in the Queen, and then a small minority that cares deeply about the ship.
Where is the love?
THE FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT REASON the Queen Mary has failed to win a universal and deep affection from the citizens of Long Beach is quite simple: she has not served them adequately. I believe she can, but since her arrival it seems clear she has not played a major role in the lives of most Long Beach citizens. What proportion of the population has ever set foot on board? With admission prices presently set at $32.95 for adults and $19.95 for children, it’s easy to imagine that all but have only seen the Queen Mary from a distance
By comparison, the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles is free—and attracts crowds daily. The Queen’s ticket prices not only keep out the poor completely, but also a large percentage of everyone else. The Queen’s operating costs may fully justify high admission prices—but if they keep Long Beach citizens (and voters) away, then it is a poor bargain for the ship in the long run. Griffith Observatory has a huge school program, guaranteeing that almost every family’s child will visit; the Queen Mary would have benefited greatly from a major education effort, but sadly this has not yet come to pass.
Add the cultural and demographic challenges faced by the Queen Mary; it is one thing for an Anglo such as me to adore her, but people of other backgrounds (55 percent of Long Beach’s population, according to the 2010 census) have much more tenuous connections to her. While there are universal themes that can bridge Queen Mary’s appeal to the varied cultures of Long Beach, they really haven’t been exploited.
Put simply, the Queen Mary is not Long Beach’s ship. In general, the people of the city do not feel she is theirs; they regard her as a part of the landscape, but in some ways as alien as a flying saucer. Apart from an occasional visit to the annual haunted house in the parking lot, the mass of the population knows no more of her than an owl staring at a comet.
Until the Queen Mary and the people who own her truly meet, there isn’t much hope for the love and support from Long Beach’s population and government.
MY SECOND REASON for popular unease about the Queen Mary is the practical, cold analysis that she has not been a huge commercial success. Her operating costs are high, and the challenges of operating her are so myriad that neither government nor the population foresee vast rivers of wealth flowing from her. I am not referring to scandals—a separate subject—but the more-objective conclusion that (like a beautiful old house) she has proved to be a big burden to keep up. When we hear of ambitious plans and great hopes for the Queen Mary, these focus on development of the land around the ship; if anyone believes the ship, herself, will prove lucrative, I have not heard of it.
After many years of lackluster financial performance, there are plenty of government and civic leaders who see the Queen Mary as a waste of excellent seaside real estate. They want development that will make people rich, and fill civic coffers—be it a marina or a new cargo dock. With this in mind, there have been politicians who have tried to set the stage for Queen Mary’s departure by emphasizing any negative they can find … including suggesting her bottom is about to fall out —which is certainly not true.
Parting with the ship would be ugly, and embarrassing; some financial interests in the city are probably hoping that their more mundane dreams of tax revenues can be applauded if there is some sort of excuse available for letting the ship go. A recent and strange proposal to purchase and refit the Queen Mary for commercial service might even have been a smokescreen to get her out of the way to make room for real estate dreams of cold, hard cash.
Until the Queen Mary becomes a success on the city’s balance sheet, she will not receive a deep and wide affection among her owners, the people of Long Beach.
MY THIRD REASON for the Queen Mary not being loved as she should be is tragic. The very voices of those who love her most have created the impression that the ship is so deeply flawed as an institution that she can not survive. When someone says the ship is poorly managed, or that she is not promoted well, the average reader simply notes “that place is screwed up.” The more harsh the criticism, the worse the general impression. That the problems are sometimes real and need to be pointed out makes this all the sadder.
Over the years, various operators have made matters worse, not only through mismanagement, but also by failing to engage critics constructively. The result is as if movie producers were to infuriate film critics; the scathing reviews that end up in the morning paper would leave the average citizen with the impression that the show is a mess. The angriest critics might end up destroying that which they seek to improve.
Passionate advocates for the Queen Mary, and respected institutions that have been critical of her in the past ought to be resources for the operators and city. Endorsements and good reviews from such entities can bolster the ship. There must be an outreach and engagement generally, but in the end, the ship must be managed in a way to truly earn those good reviews in the morning paper.
Negative press about the Queen Mary may have helped usher in the present era, where preservation and historic integrity are prominent goals, but negative press is sadly also aiding those who would rather be rid of the ship entirely.
The value and potential of the Queen Mary is, in my opinion, not just ample—it is necessary for the development of her community. The people of Long Beach and their unique historic treasure will both be better off if proper introductions are made between them. It is well enough to know you have a queen, but how could you be expected to support or even love her if you have not met her–if you have not been shown all she has to offer her people?
The estrangement has gone on too long between this Queen and her people. After many long years, some of them hard, it is time for both sides to reach out. This is a royal opportunity.