Saturday, April 14, 2012

The new visual genre of "ruin porn"

Detroit is the poster child for the ruined economic times in which we live. Detroit is literally crumbling away. I've posted many articles about how the city is struggling to keep the street lights on, keep ahead of the crime, the dwindling or AWOL police and fire department workers, urban blight, and condemned homes. Now here comes a story today from Jalopnik

"Jalopnik" is the nick-name of a Yahoo! writer of things automobile. In today's article, Jalopnik posted a story of the economic times that has driven a Detroit man to live inside an abandoned auto manufacturing plant. The author Jalopnik (Matt Hardigree) uses a term in the first sentence of the article. "Ruin porn". Ruin porn, or a fetish for images of ruin and decay, is defined this way,

"Hearing “Detroit” today brings to mind some ideas specific to the post-2000s: a city emptied by the flight of business, money and population, the crisis faced by American car makers during the economic crisis, a bunch of grand buildings built while times were flush and now as empty and silent as a modern Stonehenge. The last idea, the connection of Detroit with its failing, crumbling architecture, has now become such a dominant visual path for artists depicting the city that an entire genre has arisen: Detroit ruin porn. In a Studio 360 segment, Jennifer Guerra explores why artists create ruin porn and how Detroit citizens are reacting to it. In an interesting conversation, Guerra talks to Dan Austin, editor of the architecture information site Buildings of Detroit. Austin notes that artists and photographers from all over the world have contacted him to act as their guide to Detroit’s ruins, help for quick photo and art projects. These “parachuters” leave Detroit just as quickly as they arrived, contributing little but to the city’s image of decay. Ruin has become Detroit’s brand: what the city is known for is its slow death, like Rome in collapse."

A city, emblematic of a culture, in slow collapse. Hard truth, isn't it?

This is an example of ruin porn from Hyperallergenic



Appropriateness of ruin porn as a visual artistic genre aside, you are familiar with ruin porn, I am sure. It seems that every poster of a movie or trailer clip of one has an iconic image these days of a post-apocalyptic ruined city. Just think of movies such as The Road, The Book of Eli, Falling Skies, 2012, Hunger Games, and even the post-apocalyptic television ad during the 2012 Super Bowl for Chevy, which, if you remember, ends with a plague of frogs raining down on the men who had survived the apocalypse. Some 'entertainment'... The 1969 Super Bowl top ad featured Wiley Coyote chasing a Plymouth through a cartoon desert. Innocent fun. In 2012, the top super bowl car ad featured scenes of total ruin, smoking hulks, twisted charred building remains, and a truck that can drive through it all. Ugh. But ruin porn sells.

The Atlantic tried to psychoanalyze ruin porn in January of this year in an article titled The Psychology of Ruin Porn. In another recent article, Grist, a green magazine, addressed this new "porn" in a positive light, essentially trying to put a positive spin on urban collapse by saying brightly, 'hey! with all the abandoned lots we can grow mini-farms in between dodging rats and vigilante gunfire!' Here is their excerpt--

Beyond ‘ruin porn’: Film gives farm’s-eye view of Detroit
"What happens to a post-industrial city? How does it revive itself amidst the ruins of a disappearing way of life? In Detroit, modern America’s favorite example of urban decay, the auto industry left behind pockets of resilience: “Growtown” is full of urban farms flourishing in backyards and abandoned lots, like wildflowers sprouting from the ash of a charred forest."

So Matt Hardigree's article about the documentary that was recently made of the man living in the abandoned Detroit plant that opens with a reference to 'ruin porn':

Meet Allan Hill, the man who lives In Detroit’s abandoned Packard Auto Plant
"Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of Detroit "ruin porn" is it inherently ignores the very real people who still live in the city. Now there's a convergence — the amazing story of Allan Hill, the man who legally lives inside the city's abandoned Packard Auto Plant.What's most surprising about this moving mini-documentary is Hill's "quality of life" doesn't look as terrible as you'd imagine, nor does his reasoning for choosing to stay in the largest abandoned factory in the world seem so unsound. Yet, Hill has power, Internet access, a welding setup, and a small kitchen. He even maintains a webcam. The owner apparently gave him his blessing so long as Hill works as a custodian of the property. He reminds me of the Prophet Amos, whom God appointed to tell the Israelites to stop letting the wealthiest few prosper at the hands of the poorest. This was not a popular message as it came at a time when Israel was doing fairly well. Amos also told them to prepare themselves for judgement, especially from a foreign nation. Amos 9:13-15-- "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, and I will bring my people Israel back from exile."They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them," says the LORD your God."

Leave it to the syndrome of the frog slowly boiling in water for an article to state that a man living in an abandoned manufacturing plant isn't so bad really, as circumstances go...I guess by recent comparison, it isn't. By comparison 20 years ago, it's unthinkable. As this blogger said, "Living in the Rust Belt one becomes accustomed to what many find shocking. Example: in a period of a few weeks I saw the fa├žade of an abandoned brick building fall out of itself on fire and into the street. Firemen and neighbors gathered around to look. Nobody was surprised really. It was more communal than anything. Then not a few weeks later I went for a jog and came upon a skeleton of twisted metal that had its insides sunken in. It was quiet. The smell was of a cooled burning. Such scenes of destruction are prevalent in the post-industrial setting. Not only that, the commonness of vacancy, disassembly, and decay can be damn near Mad Max-ian. Don’t believe me? Spend a day in Detroit. Chunks of the city feel like the real-life version of the fictional setting in Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road."
Below, poster of movie The Road

Below, actual photo of Detroit, Peggy Turbett, Plain Dealer

Note that the secular author writing about the man living in the abandoned plant likened the scene to the prophet Amos. Many times recently I've mentioned that in seeking meaning of the incomprehensible crumbling of our infrastructure, cities, economy, culture, that people turn to biblical references. This is most commonly seen in weather reporting. Typically reporters will more often these days use phrases like "of biblical proportions". Wiktionary defines that phrase as: "Of or pertaining to a natural disaster or other cataclysmic event so immense that it brings to mind biblical accounts of horrific catastrophes. Ex: The tsunami wrought destruction of biblical proportions."

We can all see the collapses before us. This real collapse is reflected in the culture's incessant fascination with apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic visual images, movies, television, novels, and comics. As Christians we know why the collapses are happening. Lost people don't. But the eternity He placed inside us (Ecclesiastes 3:11) prompts us all at some point or on some level to turn to the bible for answers. That is where Christians come in. First, we have to know the bible. Second, we have to know it confidently enough to share its truths about the last days with people who are questioning  things about the apocalypse. Third, we have to have joy in the promise of His coming! The joy will be a light against all the dark, post-apocalyptic visions. Jesus always shines!

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