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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

We burned down their city hall: 14 epic rivalries between fictional towns

Illustration for article titled We burned down their city hall: 14 epic rivalries between fictional towns

1. Pawnee vs. Eagleton, Parks And Recreation
When Pawnee, Indiana, was founded (fictionally, of course) in 1817, a group of the town’s wealthiest and snobbiest citizens disagreed with the town’s placement and fled to form their own town, Eagleton. Situated on a hill just slightly above Pawnee, Eagleton is everything that dirty, unhealthy Pawnee is not, something that drives Leslie Knope crazy. While Pawnee has the polluting Sweetums candy factory with its nougat runoff, those “rich, snobby jerks” in Eagleton have a cupcake factory that makes the entire town smell like vanilla. Eagleton also boasts a police department stocked with maple walnut scones, a tanning field manned by attendants eager to provide fresh pineapple snacks and water mistings, and free “Dawn-O’er-Eagleton” hot-air balloon rides. While Knope fights tooth and nail to get people to come to Pawnee town meetings, Eagleton residents get free crêpes at theirs, and are rewarded for their attendance with free iPod Touches and verbena-scented soy candles. While the Eagleton vs. Pawnee battle seems like something that concerns Leslie Knope more than anyone else, the 200-year-old “blood feud” should come to a head with the fourth episode of season six, “Dopplegangers,” which finds the Pawnee Parks Department gang coming face to face with their uppity Eagleton equivalents.


2. East Egg vs. West Egg, The Great Gatsby
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the relationship between America’s aristocracy of old and its turn-of-the-century industrialists—a relationship of struggle and symbiosis, one whose intermingling would birth an all-new nation—is symbolically manifested as two rival towns, each one half an “egg.” East Egg represents the entrenched “old money” elite to which men like Jay Gatsby aspire but never truly belong. Instead he’s situated, across the divide of both the “courtesy bay” and an entrenched class system, in West Egg, a town that may regard itself as parallel to its eastern neighbor, but is seen by East Egg as nothing but a haven for the “nouveau riche” and the many pretenders who rent its vacation homes, who are similarly playing at wealth and sophistication. Throughout the novel, that rivalry reveals itself time and again in the cold attitude East Egg inhabitants display toward Gatsby by turning up at his parties, only to stand apart in a condescending cluster, sneering at the tackiness of it all. That disdain not only underscores Gatsby’s yearning for Daisy, and the social standing he knows he can never buy, it also mirrors the real-world suspicion the upper class felt toward the new generation of bootstrapping entrepreneurs and bootlegging criminals moving in on their own, equally illusory territory.

3. South Park vs. Middle Park, South Park
The fictional town of South Park, Colorado, has a longstanding bitter rivalry with the neighboring city of Middle Park—though, as with so many traditional, dumb things that mostly matter to the adults of South Park, it’s not something of which the kids are particularly aware. Chef’s attempts to get the South Park Cows riled up for their big homecoming game against Middle Park are met with distracted confusion (“Who’s Middle Park?” “What’s homecoming?”), while it’s only Jimbo and Ned who—on behalf of the elementary school “alumni,” and anyone else with money riding on the match—seem to care about crushing them. But even as Jimbo’s nephew Stan is far more concerned about his possibly gay dog than with playing quarterback, his uncle’s commitment to maintaining that rivalry rages on, escalating from kidnapping the school’s mascot to trying to blow up its students with the help of a booby trap and John Stamos’ older brother.


4. Hooterville vs. Pixley, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction
While Hooterville certainly has its share of faults—it’s subject to random sinking spells, for instance—the town’s 46 citizens still think it’s better than nearby rural metropolis Pixley. Boasting a very tiny international airport and its own TV station, KPIX, Pixley was definitely more technologically advanced than Hooterville, a town that somehow thought it was okay that the Douglas family had to make calls from the top of a telephone pole. But Hooterville has its charms, like Drucker’s General Store and the Shady Rest Hotel run by the Bradley girls and their lazy Uncle Joe. Plus, Hooterville has Lisa Douglas, and there’s no way Pixley could compete with that fabulousness.

5. Lake Wobegon vs. St. Olaf, A Prairie Home Companion
A made-up town that’s perhaps best known for birthing Golden Girls’ Rose, St. Olaf sits somewhere near Lake Wobegon on the edge of the Minnesota prairie. Though generally acknowledged to be slightly more culturally advanced than Wobegon—the fictional town’s very real namesake college has played host to Garrison Keillor’s radio show a couple of times—St. Olaf is still pretty rough. In Keillor’s world, it competes with Wobegon over which town has the most residents with a common ancestor, and in Golden Girls’ world, the town’s two main attractions are a giant black hole that everyone stares into and Mt. Losenbauden, a sort of tribute to Mount Rushmore that features the faces of losing presidential candidates.


6. Craggy Island vs. Rugged Island, Father Ted
Craggy Island is barely a town; it’s a (fictional) island well off the coast of Ireland, where the Catholic Church has exiled three of its most dysfunctional clergymen. “It wouldn’t be on any maps,” explains Ted. “We’re not exactly New York.” While nearly every parish in the faith would have little trouble looking down on Craggy Island’s isolation, awful weather, and irrationally angry congregation, it’s always most satisfying to look down on someone if you’re near the bottom yourself. Neighboring Rugged Island is a shadowy reflection of Craggy Island, with slightly more respectable versions of Ted and his cohorts, led by his nemesis, Father Dick Byrne. Unfailingly smarmy and arrogant, Byrne exists to lord over Ted his slight advantage in competence, charm, and location, and as the series progresses, the rivalry escalates, as Rugged Island plays Olde Towne Tavern to Craggy Island’s Cheers in a songwriting contest, a giving-things-up-for-Lent competition, and a heavily wagered all-priest over-80 soccer match.

7. Agrestic vs. Majestic, Weeds
As opening theme “Little Boxes” made thuddingly obvious, one of Weeds’ central themes involved suburbia’s placid façade. Behind the Starbucks and McMansions were people like housewife-turned-drug-dealer Mary-Louise Parker, crooked accountant Kevin Nealon, and cheerfully amoral social climber Elizabeth Perkins, not to mention more experienced drug dealer Romany Malco. But the show focused more on characters than setting until the third season, when Matthew Modine’s sleazy real-estate developer shows up from neighboring Majestic. Majestic is like its neighbor, only richer, smugger, and more brazenly hypocritical. Under the town’s aggressively Christian exterior is a dark, scheming heart, as Modine and Majestic’s politicians attempt a hostile takeover of Agrestic, which only fails because a fire set by rival drug gangs ends up burning down the town, prompting the first of the show’s many changes of setting, allowing Parker to outrun her enemies and the writers to outrun their lack of ideas.



8. Night Vale vs. Desert Bluffs, Welcome To Night Vale
The Welcome To Night Vale podcast has one of the best kinds of continuity: the kind where it often sounds like the show’s creators (Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor) are discovering new connections at the same time as their listeners. A tossed-off joke in one episode can become a reference point for later stories, and a history develops: the off-limits dog park, the library and its horrible librarians, Intern Dana, and the beautiful scientist Carlos are all ideas that became key pieces of show lore over time. Then there’s Desert Bluffs, the neighboring town that normally only gets mentioned when Cecil, the host, wants to insult it. The rivalry starts out as typical enough, with sports teams squaring off against each other, and it was natural to assume that the Bluffs served as the chipper counterpart to Night Vale’s Addams Family-meets-Twin Peaks surrealism. The two-part episode “The Sandstorm” suggests otherwise. Suffice it to say that when it comes to picking sides, you’re better off sticking with the hooded faceless figures you know.

9. Arlen vs. McMaynerberry, King Of The Hill
If the Hills’ hometown of Arlen is meant to represent the all-American anytown idyll, then it requires what any all-American anytown does: a rival all-American anytown. Enter McMaynerberry, the neighboring city that serves as Arlen’s chief rival, especially when it comes to high-school and middle-school football. Given the half-pitiable pathos that King Of The Hill affords to Arlenites (or is it Arlenians?), part of the joke is that McMaynerberry has little interest in Arlen’s perceived rivalry with them, as it’s generally hinted that McMaynerberry is far and away the better town. It even has a revolving hardware store.


10. Dog River vs. Wullerton, Corner Gas
Much as a horse can be heard frantically neighing when the name “Frau Blücher” is uttered, so does any mention of Wullerton inspire expectoration in the residents of Dog River. In the Canadian sitcom Corner Gas, this habit of spitting is so ingrained that the local newspaper, The Dog River Howler, actually prints the word “SPIT” parenthetically whenever the name of the neighboring town appears in an article. Somewhat less defined, however, is how Dog River came to so thoroughly despise its neighbor—although part of it may be due to Wullerton holding the record for World’s Biggest Magpie—or, indeed, if the feeling is even mutual. But a one-sided rivalry is still a rivalry, at least as far as Dog River is considered.

11. Springfield vs. Shelbyville, The Simpsons
One of the longest-running and most-developed rivalries in all of TV, the Springfield vs. Shelbyville battle has a played a pivotal role in some of the best episodes of The Simpsons. The rivalry goes back to the first settlement of Springfield by Jebediah Springfield and his partner, Shelbyville Manhattan. Springfield wanted a place “where we can worship freely, govern justly, and grow vast fields of hemp for making rope and blankets.” “Yes, and marry our cousins,” added Manhattan, fomenting a split with Springfield that would create two towns. Lisa provided a quick history of the rivalry in season five’s “Homer Loves Flanders”: “They built a mini-mall, so we built a bigger mini-mall. They made the world’s largest pizza, so we burned down their city hall.” (Shelbyville retaliated by tainting Springfield’s water supply with hallucinogens.) When smooth-talking huckster Lyle Lanley comes to Springfield in the fourth-season classic “Marge Vs. The Monorail,” he initially teases the Springfieldians at a town-hall meeting with his idea by saying it was “more of a Shelbyville idea.” “Now just wait a minute,” says Mayor Quimby. “We’re twice as smart as the people of Shelbyville. You just tell us your idea, and we’ll vote for it!” But the war between the towns was best captured in season six’s “Lemon Of Troy,” when simmering tensions between kids from the towns leads to the theft of Springfield’s beloved lemon tree. (“We’ll get it back, or choke their rivers with our dead!” says Bart.) Although the cities seemed to be pretty evenly matched for most of The Simpsons’ run, season 16’s “The Seven-Beer Snitch” showed Shelbyville to be more prosperous and educated than its neighbor, which is portrayed in the musical Song Of Shelbyville as an illiterate hick. To compensate, Springfield built a $30 million Frank Gehry-designed cultural center that immediately failed and was subsequently reopened as a prison.


12. Dictionopolis vs. Digitopolis, The Phantom Tollbooth 
When bored, lethargic Milo arrives in The Phantom Tollbooth’s the Lands Beyond, he finds the fantastical new world in crisis. Though enamored with the sumptuous word marketplace, Milo finds himself imprisoned, along with his dog companion Tock, by Officer Shrift. While in jail, he learns the history of the kingdom, now divided between the feuding cities of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, with adopted sisters Rhyme and Reason in exile. Azaz The Unabridged and The Mathemagician, rulers of the respective cities, sought counsel from Rhyme and Reason on every dispute, until one day their argument over the importance of numbers and letters grew too strong. Rhyme and Reason decreed both to be equal, but the brothers couldn’t stand for the decision, sending the world into a discord and disharmony. At that low point, Milo realizes his mission: to adopt equal appreciation for mathematics and language, and restore Rhyme and Reason to the world by journeying to the Castle In The Air.

13. Chatswin vs. East Chatswin, Suburgatory
To the pearl-clutching, garden-manicuring, stuffy suburban residents of Chatswin, nearby East Chatswin is a lawless ghetto. But it’s actually just one town over, where the houses are slightly smaller, the lawns slightly less green, and where a feminist played by Rachel Dratch moves when Chatswin ostracizes her. In the first season, when Jane Levy’s Tessa searches for a scooter to allow her more independence, she brings her best friend Lisa along to check out a possibility from Craigslist. Once walking along the streets of the perfectly normal suburb—it even had garden gnomes!—Lisa offers Tessa a cigarette, as they have crossed to other side of the tracks. Add to that Dalia’s brief transfer to East Chatswin High in the second season, where she gets bullied by similarly vapid girls for what she perceives as an inferior tan, and East Chatswin forms another useful metaphor for the sheltered atmosphere of privileged suburban life.


14. Dimmsdale vs. Brightburg, The Fairly Oddparents 
Dimmsdale’s rivalry with neighboring town Brightburg only appears in one episode of The Fairly Oddparents (“Mother Nature”), but that’s enough time for the once-gleaming city to suffer accidental destruction, thanks to Timmy Turner’s wishing powers. In Dimmsdale, inaccurate weather forecasts cause angry mobs with torches and pitchforks to run two weathermen out of town. Timmy’s mother, upset that her husband and son pay more attention to the television than to her accomplishments, becomes the new meteorologist, but with one important caveat: If she makes a wrong prediction, an angry mob will run her out of town. To protect her, Timmy wishes for all of his mom’s predictions to come true. Unfortunately, that also includes protecting Dimmsdale from a bunch of natural disasters, which then spill over and decimate unprotected Brightburg, causing it to slip from the best to the worst place to live almost overnight in punishment for their smug attitude and use of monorails.

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