Ah, Indy... the city everyone forgets except for a certain Sunday in May, during which the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race occurs. This is virtually the only time it will be mentioned in fiction, despite the fact that it is the second-most populous state capital in the US (behind Phoenix) and the second largest city in the Midwest behind Chicago (though other cities in the region have bigger metro areas). And the Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn't technically in Indianapolis, it's in the suburb of Speedway.
Also known as the "Circle City" and the "Crossroads of America" (from its central location in the US Interstate Highway system) Indianapolis was founded in 1826 to serve as the capital of the newly recognized State of Indiana. Indy was an economic powerhouse by the early 20th century, especially in the automotive industry (one of the factors leading local entrepreneur Carl Fisher to create its famous Speedway) but came under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan during The Roaring Twenties. Though the Klan effectively took over the whole State of Indiana in the 1924 elections their power was thoroughly broken by 1931 after their leader was jailed and documents from his files resulted in the resignation of the mayor and five of the six city council members. Indy spent The Thirties as a center of American Isolationism and the city has done its best to forget about these periods ever since.
Urban decay took over in the years after World War Two as the economy gradually shifted from manufacturing to warehousing and logistics and downtown Indianapolis has only recently lost the last few decrepit, abandoned factories from its early days as an industrial center. Recently the downtown has undergone something of a renaissance as buildings that formerly housed companies like L.S. Ayres and Madame C.J. Walker's headquarters have been converted into stores, lofts, restaurants and clubs. Two whole blocks of mostly derelict buildings were converted into a large shopping mall and arts districts have grown up in Fountain Square and along Massachusetts Avenue. The Indianapolis Repertory Theatre is one of the best regional theatres in the Midwest, The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has achieved an international reputation, and the Children's Museum of Indianapolis is among the best in the world. The annual Indiana Black Expo (the first and largest of its kind) draws record crowds, as does GenCon, an enormous gaming convention that annually attracts more than 28,000 participants.
In recent years the city has become known in the sports world for something besides auto racing; the Indianapolis Colts have become a well known football team after their win in Super Bowl XLI in 2007, and the city is scheduled to host Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. The city also favors its NBA franchise, the Indiana Pacers, in keeping with the state's rich basketball tradition. The Colts impressive (and consistent) record-breaking doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt either that the "face of the team", quarterback Peyton Manning, is a mortal lock as a Hall-of-Famer who has proven himself to be a genial, able, and self-deprecating advertising pitchman, a dedicated and generous philanthropist, and an all-around nice guy. Indy is also home to minor league baseball and hockey teams (the Indians and the Ice, respectively.)
Indianapolis is also a center of amateur athletics, styling itself as the "Amateur Sports Capital of the World" ever since the 1987 Pan American Games. As a result most of the significant U.S. amateur sports federations (including the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its High School equivalent) are headquartered in Indianapolis. The city retains all of the facilities necessary to hold an Olympics in miniature and the annual 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, while one of the largest foot races in the U.S with over 35,000 participants, is just one of four full and five half marathons run in Indianapolis every year. Even such peripheral sports as marching band, drum & bugle corps, and soap box derby were enticed into relocating to Indianapolis, along with their national associations and associated championships. Indy hosts the Circle City Classic college football invitational every year and with the opening of the new football stadium (which is also designed to become a large basketball arena) the city is guaranteed to host the NCAA "Final Four" Basketball Tournament every four years for the foreseeable future.
Indianapolis' relatively low population density and relatively large geographical area (one-tenth the population of New York over a much larger area) makes for a very green and leafy city, and one can still find rural features like cornfields and horse farms within city limits. (There aren't many other major metropolitan areas that actually have horse farms within four miles of downtown.) The downtown area along the Canal hosts several museums and is quite attractive to pedestrians, with lovely walkways and rentable paddle-boats. Indy also stays close to its agricultural roots by hosting the annual Indiana State Fair, a huge 21 day agricultural and industrial expedition - this fair is a Big Deal, being not only the biggest show of the year for 4-H and a gathering place for Future Farmers of America but also host to several Country Music luminaries including Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts. It also has the standard Midway attractions, including deliciously fatty fried things and fun if fairly ordinary rides. The State Fairgrounds and the newly expanded Indiana Convention Center are also home to numerous conventions, trade shows and exhibitions taking advantage of Indy's central location and position at the hub of the interstate highway system. (Incidentally, Indy is also a hub of train transport, as though few people take trains any more, cargo travels just fine. This makes Indianapolis one of a very few places where the sentence "We got stuck behind a train" - i.e. got stuck at a railroad crossing while an obscenely long freight train rumbled past - is a legitimate excuse for being late to school.)
Oh, and if anyone from Indy says "Raceday" without qualifiers they are invariably referring to the last Sunday in May and the Indianapolis 500. Indianapolis Motor Speedway (AKA "The Brickyard") may hold other races, but there is only one Raceday, thanks in part to the annual influx of nearly half a million spectators and the partying that results, in part because it's the culmination of a month-long festival and in part because the race has more than a century of history. Think of it as a Hoosier Mardi Gras—with automotive fuel. Though automobile manufacturing has gradually vanished from Indy since the days of Stutz and Duesenburg auto racing is still a vital part of the local economy. Do not, under pain of rioting, take any side whatsoever in the CART vs IRL debate. You will lose, just as CART finally did.
- The final game in the movie Hoosiers takes place at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, which is Truth in Television since all 1950's era Indiana State basketball finals were played in Hinkle, including the one on which the story is based.
- Likewise, the news reporters covering the Butler Bulldogs' appearance in the 2010 NCAA final four were apparently contractually obligated to mention that the Bulldogs' home court was "Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the movie Hoosiers was filmed", while completely missing the fact that the actual game that the movie was based on was played there as well.
- The short-lived CBS crime series Close to Home took place in suburban Indianapolis.
- An Indianapolis that looks eerily similar to Los Angeles, but still...
- The NBC comedy series Men Behaving Badly (not the original British version, obviously) is set here.
- Indianapolis made a brief appearance in the Shia LeBeouf thriller Eagle Eye as one of the cities the harried protagonist is forced to visit.
- While Indianapolis is indeed mentioned by name in the movie, they obviously didn't film there. Also, there are no tourbuses full of Japanese tourists in Indianapolis—except on Raceday, of course.
- The Norman Lear 1970s sitcom One Day At a Time was set in Indianapolis.
- The webcomic Everyday Heroes is explicitly set in Indianapolis. Mr. Mighty works for a Triple-A level minor league superhero team ("one step away from the major leagues"), a Shout-Out to the Indianapolis Indians baseball team.
- An episode of The Flintstones sees Fred and Barney drive to its prehistoric counterpart, "Indianrockolis", to enter its auto race; Indianrockolis was shown as being several hours' drive from Bedrock.
- The Bartlet campaign spent one episode of The West Wing in Indianapolis... ironically, the late date of the Indiana primaries means that in real life hardly anyone ever bothers to campaign in Indianapolis.
- The climax of the film October Sky involves the state science fair in Indianapolis.
- Indianapolis is one of the cities destroyed in the nuclear attack that occurs at the beginning of the television series Jericho.
- According to an oft-mocked world map included with the Sega Saturn RPG Tengai Makyo IV, Indy is in Vermont, has a large waterfall to the northwest, and is part of the Michigan Territories, apparently.
- The most iconic scene of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller North by Northwest involves the hero getting stuck on a country road in Indianapolis and being forced to duck an attacking crop duster. You don't actually see the city here, because the entire scene takes place in a cornfield AND the movie takes place in the fifties, when the city pretty much consisted of downtown, the Speedway to the west, and not much else. Note that Indianapolis is so big (402 square miles) that there are still some cornfields within city limits, even today.
- According to the plot, this scene took place "an hour and a half" outside of Chicago, which would place them roughly halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis. Anyone who's driven through the part of Indiana between Chicago and Indianapolis, presuming they stayed awake, will recognize the flat, featureless terrain. But, wouldn't you know it, the scene was actually filmed near Bakersfield, California.
- Obviously, the Sega racing game Indy 500 uses IMS as the beginning track, as does pretty much any other game involving the race.
- In one of the episodes of M*A*S*H, Klinger names the city (or more accurately, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) when Winchester demands he drastically increase their jeep's speed.
Major, there's a reason they don't run these things at Indianapolis!
- Famous author and Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut was equally famous for dissing his hometown, dismissing Indianapolis as "The city that woke up only one day a year."
- Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's first job in America was in Indianapolis, back in 1973 when the town was still a little on the sleepy side. He says he wanted to work there because they have an automobile race, and Monte Carlo has an automobile race, so it must be posh and glamorous like Monte Carlo, right? He's always careful not to dis Indy, he just says it isn't what he expected.
- Radio's The Bob and Tom Show is aired from here.
- The Magnificent Ambersons takes place in Indianapolis around 1900.
- The Mark Knopfler song Speedway at Nazareth (about a driver's entire racing season) includes the line "The Brickyard's there to crucify anyone who does not learn."
- The seventh episode of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior was set in Indianapolis. At least some establishing shots were legitimately filmed there, as there's a very recognizable Monument Circle in the teaser.
- The episode "Phantom Traveller" of Supernatural has its final scene take place at Indianapolis International Airport. Though it looks nothing like the Indy Airport which has a rather lot of glass and white rather than the very blue airport seen in the episode.
- Parks and Recreation doesn't show us much of Indianapolis, but since the characters work in municipal government in small-town Indiana, "Indianapolis" is often mentioned with connotations of both "the Big City" and "the Powerful State Government," with all that implies. "Indianapolis" shows up most obviously when two representatives of the State Auditor's office, Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt, appear; they end up liking Pawnee so much they become its City Manager and Deputy Manager, respectively.