Our worst fears about that future
John Patrick Leary considers the fascination with the ruins of Detroit @ Guernica.
Red Dawn 2, the forthcoming sequel to the nineteen eighties B-movie about a Soviet occupation of America, was shot last year in downtown Detroit. A long-abandoned modernist skyscraper coincidentally undergoing demolition served as a backdrop for battle scenes between American guerrillas and the Communist occupiers, now Chinese. For weeks, Chinese propaganda posters fluttered in the foreground of the half-destroyed office building, whose jagged entrails were visible through the holes opened by the wrecking ball. A pedestrian routinely bumped into Asian-American extras with Michigan accents and fake Kalashnikovs, while a parking garage played the role of a Communist police station. It was an uncanny spectacle: the very real rubble of the Motor City’s industrial economy serving as the movie backdrop for post-industrial America’s paranoid fantasies of national victimization. What made it even weirder was the fact that the film’s producers just left the posters hanging when they packed up. A red-and-yellow poster on that same parking garage assured us for weeks afterward that our new rulers were “here to help.”“Do you have any books with pictures of abandoned buildings?” demanded a customer of a bookseller friend of mine at Leopold’s Books in Detroit. The man marched to the cash register and abruptly blurted out his question, looking, perhaps, for one of the recent pair of books on Detroit’s industrial ruins and its abandoned homes, Andrew Moore’s Detroit Disassembled and Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre’s forthcoming The Ruins of Detroit. These two books, along with the architectural history Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City's Majestic Ruins, are part of a small Detroit culture boom over the last year. Besides the new books by Moore and Marchand and Meffre, photographers have chronicled the city’s decaying structures in the likes of Slate.com, the New York Review of Booksonline, and Time, which moved a troupe of Detroit bloggers to an old mansion on the city’s east side, an old-fashioned news bureau mixed with a bizarro-Real World social experiment. A new graphic novel, Sword of My Mouth, imagines a band of survivors living in a depopulated Detroit after the Rapture has swept up the righteous, a clever satire of the clichéd description of Detroit’s “post-apocalyptic” landscape and the moralizing that has always bolstered public discussion of the social problems of American cities. And while empty buildings would seem more suited to still rather than moving images, filmmakers like Julien Temple have recently explored industrial ruins in his Detroitsploitation documentary Requiem for Detroit?, while Detroit boosters respond with their own, sunnier films (Johnny Knoxville’s Detroit Lives and Florent Tillon’s Detroit Wild City) about entrepreneurs, artists, and urban farmers amidst the ruins.read more