Monday, February 06, 2006

The Morning After

Well, all that Super Bowl XL nonsense is over (yes, I watched the game and yes, I wanted the Steelers to win), and I guess I feel like I should say something about it all. And I don't know quite how to say it, so I'll just say it.

Detroit is the most insecure city on the planet.

If you've lived around here your whole life -- as I have, more or less -- you know the drill. Whenever something big like the Super Bowl happens in the city, the local media run story after story about the national media's coverage. The word "image" is used incessantly, as in "What will this do for Detroit's image?" The "this" may refer to the event itself, or else to the latest murder or arson or other high-profile crime that inevitably accompanies the event.

For example, I remember a few years back watching the coverage of the 4th of July shootings in Hart Plaza. The first question out of the mouths of local journalists was not "Who did it and did they catch him?" or "Are the victims all right?" It was, yes, "What will this do to Detroit's image?"

For the Super Bowl, there is undisguised relief that the weekend's shooting was not widely reported.

This has always struck me as being rather perverse.

I haven't lived anywhere else, so take what I'm going to say with a grain of salt: I can't imagine any other major American city reacting this way. Maybe I'm just naive, but the obsession with "image" seems to have itself become a quintessentially Detroit thing.

Obviously, the city does have a bad reputation, and it's not totally undeserved. And I can understand the strong desire of folks to want that reputation changed.

Myself, I've always been of two minds about Detroit. On the one hand, I know from my father and other family members who grew up in the city what it was like many decades ago when it had twice the population and half of the crime. Or maybe one-quarter of the crime, who knows. Dad is unrelentingly critical when he sees all the abandoned buildings he remembers from when they weren't. He's right. Detroit fucked up. Big time. And it's still a very dysfunctional town.

But I can get a little defensive too. It might be fun to kick someone when he's down, but it's sure not sportsmanlike. For all the city's problems, people forget some important facts. Like, how Detroit put the world on wheels. How it created the Motown sound. How it contributed to the development of jazz and, though not to my tastes, how it's pioneered popular new forms of music like electronica and hip-hop. For better or worse, Detroit's also sported its fair share of larger-than-life personalities, from entertainment gurus and business titans to sports heroes and great writers. The cultural impact of this city is much larger than it's usually given credit for.

And in the end, it's home. It's where I'm from. It will always be where I'm from, wherever I may go or whatever I may do in the second half of my life.

It's like being with your family. Sure, they drive you crazy and have many habits that annoy or aggravate you. But they're your parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, children. You admit their flaws readily. Sometimes you defend them when outsiders keep pointing out those same flaws over and over. In the end, you come to the realization you don't always have to apologize for your family being who they are.

Detroit, stop apologizing. You did well this week. You will undoubtedly go back to being your sad, scary, messed-up self long after the spotlights have moved on. But you are what you are, warts and all, and you don't need to constantly justify your existence to the rest of the world.

It's not like you're Gary, Indiana.