29 July 2013

Detroit ~ Ruins and Responsibility

Photograph © Yves Marchand and Roman Meffre. 

Photograph © Andrew Moore.

A couple of related items popped up on my news feed recently. The first is this older piece (2011) from Guernica on disaster photography in Detroit. The author is discussing The Ruins of Detroit and Detroit Disassembled projects by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre and Andrew Moore respectively. In this passage - the relevance of which will come clearer in a moment - the author, John Patrick Leary, rightly is critical:
"But other photos tend towards overwrought melodrama . . .  Moore leans on the compositional tactic of ironic juxtaposition, an old standby of documentary city photography since at least the days of Robert Frank and Helen Levitt. In one photograph (repeated in Marchand and Meffre’s collection) of the East Grand Boulevard Methodist church, its Biblical invocation, “And you shall say that God did it,” looms above its sanctuary. The irony is obvious, heavy-handedly so, yet the photographer’s meaning is less clear. One feels obliged to raise the obvious defense of the Almighty here: If anyone or anything “did it,” General Motors and the Detroit City Council had a hell of a lot more to do with it than God did. And who said God was ever here in the first place?"
The images Leary mentions are those I've lifted above This brings me to the next of the items in my news feed. It is this pointed column by Scott Martelle at WaPo entitled "Five Myths About Detroit." Not only was it not God who flushed Detroit, it was not rampaging black rioters or the unions. It was the usual suspects - corporate and political elites. Mostly Martelle is on point. But I reject this insipid
"Yet scapegoating corporate leaders shifts responsibility from where it belongs: on us. We’ve voted for leaders who endorse policies that require corporate brass to make decisions based on their responsibility to stockholders. Blaming corporations for maximizing profits is like blaming a dog for barking. If we want businesses to behave differently, we need to change our laws and our expectations."
He is right that it is important to assert democratic control over political-economic decisions. But that is not going to happen simply in the voting booth. And, as elite response to the efforts by OWS (for example) to push a more radically democratic agenda attest, it is not going to occur without significant resistance from those elites.

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