The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

26 March 2006

Taking leave of one's census

How big is a small town? I suppose it depends on your frame of reference, but I think that a population of forty or fifty thousand would be enough to fill up a pretty fair-sized city.

David Lynch thought that his mythical town of Twin Peaks had about 5,120 people; ABC apparently balked, whereupon the "Welcome To" sign on the edge of town, seen in the opening credits, was amended to read 51,201.

Something similar seems to have happened to Smallville:

Smallville is obviously a small town. It's surrounded by farms, apparently only has one coffee shop (the Talon), and has little of what a "city" is supposed to offer. There's never been a mention of a Smallville Mall, for example, and there is apparently only one high school in the town, Smallville High. Having grown up in a small town about 30 minutes from a big city (and about four hours from Dallas, a really big city), it felt about right.

Then, in one of the third-season episodes, Clark was trying in vain to describe a bad guy to the sheriff, but he didn't have enough details to make it work, so the sheriff said, "In a town of 45,000 people, Mr. Kent, that's not much to go on."

To be exact, 45,001.

And as in Twin Peaks, where everyone knew everyone else, or at least everyone else's business, something that doesn't happen in cities of 50,000 and up — try that in Midwest City, Oklahoma sometime — the numbers in Smallville don't add up:

Any town with more than about 40,000 people needs more than one high school, and certainly wouldn't be based around a single main street like Smallville is on TV. Such a large population would explain why kids keep arriving and vanishing without too many people noticing, even though at other times, everyone seems to know everyone else. Still, when the producers came up with that figure as a "reasonable size" for a small town that would support their story lines, did any of them bother to look at census data and figure out that it would be close to the seventh-largest city in [Kansas]?

Now I'm starting to wonder about Eerie, Indiana (population 16,661).

Posted at 1:48 PM to Dyssynergy

That's Hollywood for you...they never have lived or worked in rural America, so Tulsa and Oklahoma City are considered "small towns"...
Well, if Tulsa is a small town, I wonder what they would call Pawhuska?

Posted by: Boinkie at 4:01 PM on 26 March 2006

45,000 is a small town?? I grew up in what was called a 'bedroom community' in Southern New Jersey. Year round population of approx. 10,000 that 'swelled' to 20,000 with summer residents.

I live in one of the few incorporated cities in the Florida Keys with, again, about 10,000 full time residents, a bit over 6,000 registered voters.

Now that's what I consider small!

Posted by: Mary Stella at 5:17 PM on 26 March 2006

Geez, my hometown doesn't exist if OKC and Tulsa are considered small towns. As far as Eerie, Indiana goes, they had to get those three sixes in there somehow.

Posted by: Tina at 9:37 PM on 26 March 2006

Fairbanks, Alaska had a population under 40,000 within city limits when I lived up there (have I ever mentioned I once lived up there?), and is the second most populous town in the state.

It was possible there, if one took the trouble to go where they gathered, to become acquainted with the most prominent people in town -- state senators, former lite-gubnors, the daughter of a then-U.S. Senator/now-Governor (but not the then-senatorial/now-gubernatorial daughter who is now a U.S. Senator) -- but that still left some 37,475 people who didn't hang out in those places.

Posted by: McGehee at 4:44 PM on 27 March 2006