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04 March 2013

‘In Detroit, You Can’t Talk Aesthetics Without Talking Ruin Porn’

By Ed Driscoll

Back in 2004, blogger Val Prieto coined the phrase “Omnipotent Tourist Syndrome” to describe the love of many on the left to jet into places such as Cuba and scope out the socialist-inflicted ruins, and the ruined lives of its inhabitants, and then jet back a few days later to enjoy all of the benefits of American or European capitalism:

The Omnipotent Tourist Syndrome is a disease common among Americans that is caused by arrogance, egotism and non-chalance. Carriers show a penchant for obliviously overlooking the obvious while delighting themselves at the cost of others. Delerious OTS sufferers refuse to acknowledge their malady and will argue that it is their God given right as an American to travel freely about the world with little or no conscience or consequence. OTS people fequently hide behind their Bill of Rights and Constitution. Unfortunately, there is no cure for OTS nor is there any way to ease it’s symptoms. It is a disease which, no matter how much hard data and facts are introduced into the OTS sufferer, will not ease unless said sufferer finds a compass of morality and humanity.

See also, Dennis Rodman and Ted Turner, just after their visits to the hell of North Korea.

Of course, getting to Cuba or North Korea from America can take a bit of effort. But these days, there’s no need for a leftist with a yen to play omnipotent tourist to ever leave the US, as my fellow PJM columnist Richard Fernandez writes, taking one for the team by spotting an article in the New York Times titled, “How Detroit Became the World Capital of Staring at Abandoned Old Buildings.” Richard sets up his link to this piece by writing:

Mark Binelli of New York Times has managed to portray the collapse of the city as some kind aesthetic triumph. He calls it the “world capital” of beautiful ruined buildings. Where else can you see whole city blocks of skyscrapers in smashed, burned and deserted condition except in movies with titles like “Omega Man” or “I am Legend” or “After Earth”?  And in the movies they do it with CGI whereas in Detroit it’s all live action.

Binelli explains a point which may not have been obvious to the reader. It is only plain to the artist: the city is beautiful because it seems ugly.

Now much of the attention being showered upon Detroit from the trendiest of quarters comes, in no small measure, thanks to the city’s blight. Detroit’s brand has become authenticity, a key component of which has to do with the way the city looks.

This is not exactly a question of gentrification; when your city has 70,000 abandoned buildings, it will not be gentrified anytime soon. Rather, it’s one of aesthetics. And in Detroit, you can’t talk aesthetics without talking ruin porn, a term that has become increasingly familiar in the city. Detroiters, understandably, can get touchy about the way descriptions and photographs of ruined buildings have become the favorite Midwestern souvenirs of visiting reporters.

Still, for all of the local complaints, outsiders are not alone in their fascination. My friend Phil has staged secret, multicourse gourmet meals, prepared by well-known chefs from local restaurants, in abandoned buildings like the old train station; John and his buddies like to play ice hockey on the frozen floors of decrepit factories. A woman who moved to Detroit from Brooklyn began to take nude photographs of herself in wrecked spaces (thrusting the concept of ruin porn to an even less metaphorical level). And Funky Sour Cream, an arts collective originally from New York, arranged an installation of little cupcake statues in the window of a long-shuttered bakery on Chene Street. A few days later, the bakery burned down. People debated whether or not this was a coincidence.

Perhaps the article is tongue in cheek, but if not then the bakery fire is probably not coincidence. It was probably intentionally set by the last sane man in Detroit.

One black lady managed to point out the downside of living in ruins at a talk the author attended. “During the question-and-answer period, a stylishly dressed African-American woman in her 50s stood up to make a contrarian point: that devotees of ruined buildings should be aware of the ways in which the objects of their affection left ‘retinal scars’ on the children of Detroit, contributing to a ‘significant part of the psychological trauma’ inflicted on them on a daily basis.”

“Retinal scars” — that’s a classic. How’s that related to the scars that have been gouged in the American landscape by the legions of those in search of aesthetics, themselves, their life destiny, in making a statement for passion, caring, understanding and all the other planks of liberal policy that led the city to dusty death?

“Retinal scars” was probably her polite way of telling the members of that refined audience that there was something of a downside to living in a dump. But whether that will dissuade artists whose idea of chic is having yourself photographed nude in a reasonable facsimile of Berlin, 1945 remains to be seen.

Berlin, 1945 you say?

It’s funny, my first thought after reading the above passage from the Times on Detroit and “Ruin Porn” was simply to juxtapose it in a blog post with a quote from historian Frederick Taylor’s 2005 book Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 from Robert Ley, the head of the National Socialist Labor Front. When Dresden was flattened by the Americans and British in 1945, with the approval of the Russians simultaneously advancing into Germany from the east, Ley fanatically said:

“After the destruction of beautiful Dresden, we almost breathe a sigh of relief. It is over now. In focusing on our struggle and victory we are no longer distracted by concerns for the monuments of German culture. Onward!…Now we march toward the German victory without any superfluous ballast and without the heavy spiritual and material bourgeois baggage.”

Of course it’s fantasy, with the end of the Nazis clearly in sight, even to them. (And recall early in the film Downfall, Hitler utters a very similar remark to Albert Speer when staring at his enormous model of Berlin, backhandedly praising the allies for hitting the CTL-ALT-DLT keys on Berlin, which they themselves had planned to do, either before the war or if they had won.) But at least there was an assumption that these cities would be rebuilt.

Many of today’s left though simply want to leave the ruins in place. Earlier today, we linked to Robert Tracinski in Real Clear Politics, written after watching the Oscars last week revealed to him the abyss of 21st century Hollywood, and Tracinski concluded:

This is the dead end of Modernist culture, which sought to break down traditional values and rules but was unable to replace them with anything better. It left us in a cultural void where, as the New York Times piece puts it, everyone is afraid that “serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst.” In the second half of the 20th century, this corrosive Modernist skepticism brought us the ruling concept of contemporary popular culture: the “cool.” Remember the original meaning of the term. To be “cool” is to be emotionally cool, to refuse to be caught up in enthusiasm. Early on, this could be taken to mean a kind of manly reserve, the ability to be calm, cool, and collected in the face of strife, or to refuse to be carried away by momentary or trivial emotions. This is the sense in which James Bond was “cool.” But by the end of the 20th century, the culture of cool increasingly came to mean a studied lack of response to values. It meant refusing to be carried away by enthusiasm about anything.

That sense of nihilism has implications far beyond the television and movie screen. Much of today’s left have abandoned the serious study of history, and have largely turned their backs on the future as well. All that is left for them is to play in the ruins — and to create more of them.


Detroit Was Destroyed By Communists

Survivor: Detroit





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