Images of urban abandonment and decay produced by deindustrialization and disinvestment have become pervasive. And no city is pictured in books, exhibitions, web sites, films, and popular media more than Detroit. Although deindustrial landscapes are scattered across the world, most notably in the former leading manufacturing centers, Detroit has become the preeminent example of urban decay, the global metaphor for capitalist decline, and the epicenter of a photographic genre: deindustrial ruin imagery.
By highlighting poverty, urban deterioration, and economic and ecological crises, ruin imagery underscores the inability of capitalist society to protect its citizens and its cities. As national economic imperatives clash with the demands of globalized capital, the decrepitude of cities like Detroit, Buffalo, and Cleveland feeds a pervasive cultural pessimism that foresees violent disintegration and collapse — whether through viral pandemics, ecological destruction, warfare, or deindustrialization.
Hence the paradoxical appeal of ruin imagery: as faith in a better future erodes, the beauty of decay helps us cope with the terror of apocalyptic decline. In the cultural imagination, the idea of Detroit has come to serve as the repository for the nightmare of urban decline in a world where the majority of people live in cities.
A fascinating sociological experiment unfolds before our eyes starting this morning, as the Washington Post unveils its new “PowerPost” vertical, subtitled “Intelligence for Leaders.”
Post publisher Fred Ryan, in a memo to the Post newsroom leaked to Politico, said the new project would focus “on the subjects that matter most to the people at the center of power.”
What we can learn, therefore, is what the editors of the Washington Post, themselves of course among the powerful, think their fellow powerful people are interested in.
If I had a captive audience of powerful people, mind you, I would expose them relentlessly to the stories of the powerless — the people being squashed by their precious status quo, the people scraping by at wrong end of the playing field the powerful have tilted so steeply, the people going to schools to which the powerful would never dream of sending their children.
But of course the Washington Post’s goal here is not to bum out the powerful, or teach them humility; it is to attract them, coddle them and fulfill their needs.
Apple seems to be inching forward in its pursuit of the perfect human: It apparently wants to make people smarter, faster, and stronger, prodding them along with little Apple buzzes throughout the day. Exactly 10 minutes before every hour, the Apple Watch vibrates on countless wrists across the country to prompt users to “stand up!”
Now reminding users to drink water or get some sun will become the next iteration of Apple nudges. Consider it the latest step toward the company’s ultimate goal: keeping its users strong and healthy.
Brenham is an orderly place,” my friend Molly told me. She had moved there from Houston a few years ago and was settling into life in what is arguably Texas’s best-loved small town. She gave me the grand tour on a perfect late spring day when the sky was a cloudless blue and the April air was cool, crisp, and pristine.
It is a town built by thrifty, modest German immigrants. The Victorian and Craftsman cottages had been restored with restraint. Flower gardens thrived without the benefit of professional landscapers, and the rainy winter had left the lawns and wild grasses in the fields beyond an almost otherworldly green. Children roamed the oak-shaded parks, joyously free of adult supervision. The clean, broad streets were devoid of big-city blights like hungry strays, impassable traffic, and people yelling into their cellphones.
In fact, Brenham, with a population of around 16,000, peddles nostalgia better than just about any other small town I know. Molly and I wandered around the “Historic Downtown”—caps theirs—poking through Texas ephemera in the antiques stores and visiting the farmers’ market housed in a restored old warehouse; the locally grown produce and homemade jams were set off nicely by dark-wood floorboards and sunlight filtered through old glass panes. We stopped for salads at the Funky Art Cafe, which was suitably so, and peeked in on the homemade pies at Must Be Heaven, which describes itself as a place where “everything from the hand-painted decor to the old-time atmosphere makes everyone slow down and enjoy the day.” Then we headed out to the airport to check out the Southern Flyer Diner, which boasts Brenham’s best burgers and waitresses who dress in fifties ensembles, including but not limited to poodle skirts. Everyone we met seemed really glad to see us—maybe a little more so than usual, even for a small town.
One afternoon this past April, a Florida mom and dad I’ll call Cindy and Fred could not get home in time to let their 11-year-old son into the house. The boy didn’t have a key, so he played basketball in the yard. He was alone for 90 minutes. A neighbor called the cops, and when the parents arrived—having been delayed by traffic and rain—they were arrested for negligence.
They were put in handcuffs, strip searched, fingerprinted, and held overnight in jail.
It would be a month before their sons—the 11-year-old and his 4-year-old brother—were allowed home again. Only after the eldest spoke up and begged a judge to give him back to his parents did the situation improve.
I have a confession to make as an internet writer: I block ads. It’s not a habit I formed recently – I have pretty much blocked ads my entire life, in every medium that I can. In middle school, I bought the first-generation TiVo in order to skip television ads (my mother may have helped with this purchase). I still saw the ads though while scrolling the video, so I resorted to only watching C-SPAN and PBS for a while to cope.
Today, I have installed the comprehensive set of browser plugins needed to block not just ads, but every single tracker known to exist. Sadly, this is only possible on desktop, since my iPad doesn’t have similar plugins (yet!) to be able to do this.
Adblocking is suddenly in the news again because that equilibrium has been shattered. Internet users are increasingly using tools like Ghostery and others to block ads and marketing trackers. Growth in adblocking has traditionally been slow and steady, but since 2013 that growth rate has skyrocketed. In the last three years, internet users who adblock have increased from 40 million users to more than 200 million users today.
We’ve seen it happen again and again: libertarians are derided over some supposedly crazy or esoteric position, years pass, and eventually others start to see why our position made sense. It’s happened with asset forfeiture, with occupational licensure, with the Drug War, and soon, perhaps, with libertarians’ once-lonely critique of school truancy laws.
People, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other outlets are reporting on the case of Julie Giles of Sylvania, Georgia, who was arrested and put in shackles after her son Sam, who has been on the honor roll and won a “Student of the Month” citation, had nine unexcused sick absences when only six are allowed. Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak has reported on a 13-year-old straight-A piano prodigy charged with truancy in D.C. for taking ten days off to play on international concert stages, and another local mother charged with truancy because she took her son on an overseas trip for purposes of adopting his little brother.
Recently I noticed a comment on Twitter that the very idea of the poor being dependent on private charity, rather than being cared for by the state, is “monstrous.” It was a neat, if unremarkable, example of the hypermoral tone of much American political rhetoric. The question of whether the poor benefit more from state-funded and state-administered programs or by private charitable organizations strikes me as an empirical one, the sort of thing that people ought to be able to discuss rationally and peaceably while trying out new ideas and sorting through the available evidence; but clearly that is not how some (many, I think) on the left see it. It is for them simply an article of faith that the morality of a societymust be manifested through its government, and that any other vehicle is not just inferior but … well, monstrous.
Four years ago I mentioned a wonderful documentary called Wings Over the Golden Gate, which was produced in the 1930s. The scenes of Depression-era San Francisco were fascinating. But what riveted me was the language.
The narrator of that film spoke in a way instantly recognizable to anyone who has seen footage of FDR-era newsreels, or for that matter listened to recordings of FDR himself. It was a style of phony-British “Announcer Speak” that dominated formal American discourse from the 1920s to maybe the 1950s—and now hasentirely disappeared.
I mention this because today I was listening to a rebroadcast of a great 2012Fresh Air interview with the musician and writer Michael Feinstein, which included a rare, brief interview that George Gershwin had done on Rudy Vallee’shyper-popular radio show in 1933. The amazing thing was that even George Gershwin sounded this way!
Don’t miss the follow-up post.
Interesting history here:
At the center of a diamond formation of Secret Service agents, Ronald Reagan stepped from the secure VIP exit of the Washington Hilton and onto the damp sidewalk. When a small crowd yelled greetings from across T Street, his movie-star smile instinctively materialized.
The new president crossed the pavement to a Lincoln parade car and heard the familiar voice of ABC White House correspondent Sam Donaldson rise above the din: “What’s the latest on Poland, Mr. President?”
It was 2:27 p.m. on March 30, 1981, and the Soviet Union was poised to invade Poland to suppress a labor uprising.
Reagan merely turned toward the press line and waved.
Next to Donaldson, a 25-year-old man in a trench coat flexed his knees and raised his hands in a marksman’s stance. With a revolver he had purchased at a Dallas pawnshop, John W. Hinckley Jr. fired six shots.
It was the 70th day of the Reagan presidency.