Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Are you still there? Or have you moved away?

Let's say you are visiting from out of town - maybe you even used to "live in Detroit" (i.e. the suburbs) but could do nothing but bitch and moan about wanting to get out while you lived in Michigan - and you come to my house. You then tell me you want to see the "sights of Detroit" and ask me to show you around. I can't help but notice you somewhat impatiently nod through my suggested destinations (Mexicantown? Corktown? People's Records? MOCAD? Eastern Market? Belle Isle?) and instead of showing any interest in my suggestions, you say, "I want you to take me to a totally fucked up, bombed out neighborhood." Well, guess what? I'm not going to. And I'm also going to kick you in the nuts and tell you to get out of my house. Maybe to you, seeing a house that's collapsed into a heap or a burned out shell is some kind of amusing, touristy thing to do. But for me, those kinds of houses are a block away. In my neighborhood. Where I live. And it's really fucking insulting to me that, when visiting a city that actually has some pretty awesome things going for it, all you want to do is marvel at Detroit's collapse and ruin. I'm not blind to the city's serious issues, but I'm not going to exploit them for your enjoyment either. Sorry, but I will not enable you.

What's that you say? But you have a camera? Well why didn't you say so, you bonafide artist you! You will totally be the first white kid crawling around the ruins of Detroit snapping pictures. Your fellow photography class students back home will be so impressed with your amazing shots. What an eye you have! Take the photo included here for example. I took it with my cell phone after work today. Which wasn't hard to do, because it's very near my house and I drive or ride my bike by it several times a week. Like most of your photos, this isn't that impressive. Good thing the interesting subject matter is clouding your lack of real photography skills! You look like a real artist instead of a hack thanks to the collapse of Detroit. Who can blame you for wanting to exploit such things? That girl in your class who takes those cool, overexposed pictures of trains is totally gonna sleep with you when she sees your pictures of the Packard Plant!

If you want to see pictures of Detroit's ruins, there are tons of them. But "the Sweet Juniper guy" is the best source. Why? Because he lives here with his wife and kids. On purpose. His writing and pictures also point out many exciting, touching and hopeful things about Detroit - it's not just pictures of ruin. I really appreciated his post featuring pictures of "feral houses." The idea of a house being so long abandoned that vegetation completely envelops it is a fascinating concept. What bothered me about the Sweet Juniper feral houses post were the overly romantic comments about the pictures. Things like, "These are so beautiful - I want to frame them and put them on my wall" and other such flowery nonsense. Yes, there's something beautiful there, but you want to put it on your wall? Would you feel the same if the homeless dude who stays there was standing in the doorway? If the family that used to call that place home until tragedy struck and they were evicted or foreclosed on was holding hands on the front lawn? Maybe that sounds overdramatic, but the underlying reason these "feral houses" exist is some tragedy or another. But yes - you should totally buy some Ikea frames and put these pictures in the foyer of your suburban home. Then, during your next dinner party, you can impress your friends with your art. And when they say, "Wow - that's amazing. Look at what Detroit's become! Who would want to live there?" You can laugh and shake your head as you pour them another glass of Merlot.

Also, I hear Time is in town. So drink up.


Woodwards Friend said...

Fucking perfect.

labambasaurus said...

feral houses are amazing. belonging to the dead is so apt, i can't stand it. nicely done.

jdg said...

that post got picked up by brooklyn-based design bloggers writing about the "beauty" and racist hateful right-wing websites writing about what happens to a city controlled so long by democrats. once you start documenting this shit, you can't always control how others will interpret it (I learned that QUICK). I am, however, all for having Detroit exploit these bombed-out areas and ruins as tourist attractions. I want douchebags from nice gentrified cities all over American (and the world) to come here and shoot photographs and gawk and spend money the same way we go to long-dead 17th century European merchant cities and shoot photographs and gawk and spend money. I just want the people who do this to realize they are tourists and not fucking Ponce de Leon (and I wish they would stop using the word "urban explorer"). more than anything else, I wish detroiters would stop feeling so territorial about outsiders being interested in their city for what are perceived as the "wrong reasons" (myself included), and start welcoming them and exploiting that interest (rather than denying that the most interesting things about detroit are even worth acknowledging).

anyway, thanks for the thoughtful post.

Laura said...

Thank you jdg – I appreciate you weighing in here. Very well put. I totally agree your point about people coming to explore Detroit’s ruins as TOURISTS. I WANT people to come visit and spend money in the city. Feelings of defensiveness and exclusivity by those who live here (no matter how natural) are antithetical to Detroit’s ability to grow. We need tourists as well as more “carpet baggers.” It is a mixture of the frustration I feel toward the “Ponce de Leon” types and the more personal experience of having somebody visit me and do exactly as I described that fueled this post. Go ahead and “explore” away - I’m just not going to drive you around to such places if you come visit me. I figured this post was the best way to make that clear, so I don’t have to feel awkward and “unhostess-like” again in my own home when it comes to this subject.

I don’t know - maybe it’s similar to the kid who has a pool table in his basement. Every friend that comes over is like, “Wow, awesome! Let’s play POOL!” Of course, the kid with the pool table is totally bored with pool and he resents how novel it seems to his friends. And his friends think he’s no fun because he’d rather play video games or ride bikes. But he IS fun because video games and riding bikes are enjoyable too! So shut up, friends and let’s do something we both want to do.

jdg said...

oh man, I hear you about the whole "show me around" thing. because of my website I get that shit from STRANGERS. I have started telling people to figure things out for themselves. "who do I look like, fucking Sacajawea? you don't need a guide, you need a bike or a car and maybe a little common sense."

the best part about normalizing this or making it touristy is tht maybe people will begin to figure out you aren't going to get shot at for venturing outside of the CBD.

anyway, I've been enjoying the blog.

(me) said...

Much appreciated jdg. Also, I've seen you in real life, and although I am sure many historians quibble about her actual appearance, I feel confidant concurring you do not look like Sacajawea.

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