“Democracy is a proposal (rarely realised) about decision-making; it has little to do with election campaigns. Its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed. This is dependent upon the governed being adequately informed about the issues in question, and upon the decision makers having the capacity and will to listen and take account of what they have heard. Democracy should not be confused with the “freedom” of binary choices, the publication of opinion polls or the crowding of people into statistics. These are its pretense. Today the fundamental decisions, which effect the unnecessary pain increasingly suffered across the planet, have been and are taken unilaterally without any open consultation or participation.” ~ John Berger
I. Dance, reconstrueism [rek-kun-stroó-ism], dance!
My impulse used to be to dismiss it. But nearly six years after returning here to my hometown of Detroit after my decade living in Miami, it has become more and more difficult to go on living and working in a post modern, post industrial, casebook ‘capitalist endtime’ city like Detroit, ignoring the hyper-reality and the hype of American rust belt era gentrification and post gentrification; to go on ignoring the post industrial situation: the poverty, loss, and disintegration in weird concert with the outlandishly enthusiastic, intrusive media junkets that spin across the dance floor in disco mode even though the music is a mournful dirge.
While local Detroit’s news media have steadfastly ignored for two decades now the steadily growing din of community protest and outrage, the gulf between politicians and the governed, between the suburbs and the city, between the haves and the never-will-haves again, between official public media and real life has grown into an ocean; and the two continents are drifting. Citizen outrage over both a political establishment’s and media establishment’s practice of treating community voices and groups as if they were invisible, is as the feeble complaints of Hebrews in the work pits of ancient Egypt, cutting stones for pyramids they will never see the end of. The same newspapers, radio broadcasts, and so-called ‘alternative’ media that have steadfastly ignored post-civil rights, post-nationalist, and post mass culture complaints of racism and abandonment lodged by the mostly Black, mostly poor populace, are peculiarly attentive now to the interests, ideologies, and the dogmas of the forces of Republican triumphalism. They are likewise quick to lick the hand of the interests of ‘urban renovation’ politics, and of what I call ‘settler chic’.
‘Settlers’– the slowly increasing trickle of returnees from suburbs, and new arrivals from other cities (of which I was one, six years ago) are a new dispensation, but all these forces and interests make up ‘the media junket’: journalism at its worst. Nothing covered by American Journalism, or rather, nothing that is blipped, blurbed, byted, and blurted, is presented with adequate depth, meaning, or critical content. The two major city newspapers, The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, cover the city either sensationally through a blanket fascination with crime and petty corruption (as opposed to deeper, more far-reaching corporate corruption), or else in so diffident a way (emphasis upon what Miami cultural critic Dr. James Nadell sarcastically calls ‘that local media life-giving, all important, precious sports coverage’) that all the city’s greater complexity is flattened out into purely entertaining, descriptive, lurid and titillating ‘copy’ for creation of a salable commodity by a media that abhor political, economic, cultural, and ethnic diversity and legitimacy. Thus, the rot, the collapse, the poverty, the slow
disintegration of a city center and of its neighborhoods, is the daily commodity that turns the profit motive. With a few human interest and ‘poor folk make good’ stories sprinkled in for plausible deniability’s sake, pathos, suffering, and rot are the papers’ real bread and butter, and crime is the spice. News is wrapped like liver and sold slightly bloody with little meaningful, ongoing attention to the past and its economic and political causality. In Detroit, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’, and that motto controls the daily fare (‘crime reporting’ being a perfect avatar for it all) of TV, radio, and print journalism. It’s a corporate standard, a nationally pervasive style of media coverage of cities that is shallow in focus, stereotyped, smug, and presumptuous–not just because it leaves citizens uninformed, which it does, but because it leaves citizens altogether: it has fled us; or it floats above our heads, unconcerned with our real, material lives as it arbitrarily selects what it chooses to spill down upon us–information as scat. If this is what has become of ‘the watchdog of democracy’ then Detroit has what is more accurately described as a cadaver dog of complacency. The media, conglomerated by Gannett (newspapers), Clear Channel (radio and satellite access), and New Times Corp (‘alternative publication weeklies), and their subsidiaries, have long ago broken democracy’s leash, to root through the details of the dead, the unburied casualties, with no concern for or memory of democracy as John Berger defines it, and even less concern for democracy’s discontents (sudden gun battles at police precincts notwithstanding).
Jeffries Projects Demolition
Lately in fact, a characteristic of inappropriate playfulness, even of exuberance, is being displayed by the current incarnation of those junkets ridden by suburban settlers touring the inner city, assessing property values, and planning renovation. These excursions are peopled by ‘creative class’ types [see Richard Florida further down this page]. The tone of their safaris has veered, nauseatingly, over toward the extreme of what some call ‘ruins porn’ (a growing fascination, nationally, with American cities’ shattered, disintegrating architecture and that dying architectures ‘antique’ quality; fascination with the even more fetishistic practice of doing ecstatic and politically mute photographic ‘studies’ of urban wreckage shots offered as aesthetic objects and as visual commodities).
Typical Detroit 'Ruins Porn' Shot
The corporate ghouls–the land developers, real estate vampires, expensive condo prospectors, and strip mall developers, are only some of the many junketeers who have for years now been descending upon modern dying cities. However, when a city that has lost its industrial basis and its economic base begins to die, and also happens to have a high percentage of people-of-color, of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Arabs, or members of the working poor, the ghouls are double in number and strength, and even more easily can they buy access, authority, and fiat from easily bought-off, corruptible local public and elected officials who fail to protect constituents from these revelers at The Ball. Their claim, the caption that scrolls across their faces calls them ‘rescuers’ of dying urban space. Continue reading →