Detroit’s Push Back Against Ruin Porn

Photo by Erika Lindsay.

Almost a month after the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in this year’s super bowl, Chrysler’s “Imported from…Detroit” ad is still causing quite a bit of Internet buzz. Detroit area native Harvey Dickson talks here about how much backlash “ruin porn” has been getting, thanks in part to the positive images the ad featured. The New Republic also recently lashed out at ruin porn here. You can also read what Changing Gears’ Micki Maynard wrote about the ad’s immediate success and its divergence from the ruin porn Detroit is better known for.

But the issues’ resurgence, or better yet persistence raises a few good questions. First of all, many people consider ruin porn art. Check out Michigan Public Radio’s dissection of this topic from a few weeks ago here and an excellent slide show here. Many of these ruin porn photographs are reminiscent of war photography. How different are the two, really? Is the problem that we don’t see nearly as much art about Detroit’s standing buildings as we do  its crumbling ones? Or are people just offended that ruin porn has become sort of a Detroit specialty?

The other question that comes to mind is how come it seems more acceptable for a local to rip on their own city than it does for an outsider to parachute in and snap photos of a few dilapidated buildings? Around Cleveland, the well known “Hastily Made Tourism Cleveland Video” and its successors are incredibly popular. I must have had that link sent to me over a dozen times, followed by “haha” or “lol” or some variation thereof. Everyone that sent it was a Clevelander, as am I. I’ll admit it, I laughed. It’s a pretty funny video, the kind where you shake your head and say “it’s funny, because it’s kind of true.” But with verses that include jokes like “here’s the place where there used to be industry, this train is carrying jobs out of Cleveland,” the line between funny and just down right depressing begins to blur.

PS – A brief introduction.

Since this is my first blog post for Changing Gears, and I don’t want to be rude, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ida Lieszkovszky, and currently I’m the “web reporter” for Changing Gears. That means you’ll be seeing my name on blog posts, reading my tweets and Facebook comments, and talking to me through our web chats. I look forward to working with the wonderfully talented Changing Gears team, and connecting with all our listeners and readers online.

2 Replies to “Detroit’s Push Back Against Ruin Porn”

  1. Firstly, welcome. Secondly, you’re getting paid to blog, tweet, and comment on Facebook?!?!?! Where do I sign up?!?!

    Re: ruin porn, it’s the notion of an outsider coming to Detroit as if its dilapidated buildings were some sort of museum to be reflected upon, but ignoring the people who still live amongst its ruins.

    Re: locals ripping their town vs. outsiders, locals earn their stripes or their badge of loyalty. they earn the right to gripe and discuss with disdain the problems that affect their neighborhood, their city. whereas outsiders come in and start opining without having lived it.

  2. I’m a Michigander and really enjoy ruin porn, regardless of who shoots it. I think that Detroit could become like Rome (Italy, that is) where new and old exist in layers, side by side. Or in other European cities where the old is integrated into the new. The opportunities for some unique architecture and urban planning exist and I’d hate to see our ruins either torn down or rehabbed to a point where their haunting beauty no longer can be enjoyed. The ruinous buildings impart a sense of history that is needed, too, so that we all can remember the real past, including past failures to maintain vitality and liveability.
    Interestingly, I recently watched the original Beverly Hills Cop, with its opening sequences shot in Detroit. Amazing to see that, even in 1984, the city already was known for ruined neighborhoods.

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