Oct 5, 2010

ruin porn

A coworker sent a link to a Detroit Free Press slideshow of Detroit's crumbling ex-treasures.  He knew that his small audience would be interested; we're the ones who discuss Detroit's history more than its sports and solve the world's problems during coffee breaks.  But as much as I've been fascinated by well taken pix in the middle of our ruins, they're growing tedious.  Hipsters, TEDxDetroiters, and 'Detroit Soul' t-shirt wearers call these shots and the breathlessly concerned, belated text they're usually accompanied by 'ruin porn.'  Fascinating and riveting, sometimes beautiful, but essentially cliche.

Something I never see amongst all the sentimentality about how some building was where generations of Detroiters went to get their family watches fixed, or what great bands played at certain now-crumbling venues is the point that this didn't happen in a vaccum, and it wasn't just the city's fault.  In this area it's always a 'they' type of accusation and never a 'we' acceptance of responsibility.  The sentimentality of ruin porn amongst suburbanites who stopped using the city as they shifted to shopping malls and strip mall theaters is a misplaced symptom of the throwaway society that was fostered at the same time.  It didn't start with plastic bags; it started with entire cities.

Some of the fascination is genuine and more or less blameless.  Often removed by only one generation from a home in Detroit, this really is some suburbanites' first view of what was.  The city, they were told and believed, was not somewhere worthwhile anymore, and everything new was inherently better.  It's nice that more eyes are opening to Detroit's past and future, but can we move past this ironic rehashing of our fixation with ruins that our own apathy and inability to tackle the problem caused?  Don’t get me wrong, there were a LOT of Big Problems that got us here; even if everyone had pitched in, not sprawled out, and done the heavy lifting to keep this city vibrant, there would still be spectacular ruins like the Packard Plant.  That said, the tone conveyed by people I grew up around and articles that I read is normally, 'Wow, would you look what happened here,' as if we just stumbled upon this mess for the first time, archaeologists and not direct participants.

I don't mean to second guess the combined result of a lot of individual decisions; I just wish we could stop pointing at the carcass as if we had nothing to do with it, wipe away the crocodile tears, and get busy living in a city we're actually proud of.


Anonymous buzzingstreet said...

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8:38 AM  

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