Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Kramer" vs Kramer

As you are probably aware, Huffington Post has started a Detroit section, featuring opinion pieces from every variety of Detroiter, and because we are ultimately a small town it has of course become a little bit of a shitstorm already.

Toby Barlow wrote a piece called "Detroit," Meet Detroit which was a strong argument for the idea that as much as people from the 'burbs want to say they are Detroit, they really are ultimately still the suburbs. Maybe not his strongest idea piece ever - this is the man who broke the $100 house story (much to Ryan  Cooley's chagrin) and who proposed the idea that became Dan Gilbert's business model - but a strong assertion to actually make in public. Naturally, a strongly worded response arrived from the Northwest Territories saying "Hey!  Whose money is fixing up your damn town anyway??"  It's a tale as old as time, revisiting itself in a new iteration: City vs. Suburb: the Blog Wars.

I'm not going to belabor this in a lengthy way, and I'm going to paint in relatively broad strokes, so take this all with a grain of salt.  But the fact is, if you don't live in the city, if you don't put up with the bullshit along with the glory, then you ARE a suburbanite.  The biggest lesson I learned when I moved to Detroit was that living in Detroit was a completely different experience than just hanging out in Detroit.  And you can't fake it and you can't learn it from the outside and it is almost impossible to create authentic, meaningful, non-douchebaggy change unless you live here.

I was having a drink with an old acquaintance a while back. someone who knew me from my store back in the Ann Arbor days and who now lives in Royal Oak.  He was doing what I call the Suburban Shuffle ... getting in on the street cred of Detroit while trying to rationalize staying in the 'burbs.  The old, "I'd move to Detroit except ..." And I said listen, nobody who lives in Detroit has any superpowers.  But they did make that leap, and they take the bad with the good.  So don't expect a pat on the back because you tool down I-75 for the fun stuff and then tsk-tsk from the comfort of your fake loft when the latest calamity strikes.

There's a lot of cool stuff going on in Detroit right now, and it hasn't always been this way.  And suddenly it's cool to say you're a Detroiter.  I do believe there are Detroiters "in spirit," but at the end of the day you don't get to use Detroit to validate yourself without fully committing.

So what IS the status of the suburbanite who loves Detroit but won't or can't move to the city?  Or who just loves where they live (because frankly our suburbs are pretty great if you're into that kind of thing)? Well, I think you are "A Suburbanite Who Loves Detroit."  Or a "Detroiter in Spirit." It's not an aspersion, it's just a fact. I know a TON of people who fit that description. Please, do stuff in the city, work to make it better if that's what you believe in, say good things about it.  And be honest and unapologetic about your level of involvement.  I think you'll find everyone appreciates that.

Or, why don't you move to Detroit?  THAT is how you really make a difference, and you can finally be a Detroiter!  Now wouldn't that be awesome?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sit. Stay. Roll Over.

Hey!  It's a holiday week for Doggy Style, and that always means extra fun.  Especially if you have Wednesday off!

Doggy Style is off to a great start for its fifth season, but maybe you haven't been yet.  "What can I expect?" you may be wondering.  Well here's the deal:  there is an awesome (if I do say so myself) mix of videos from the sixties to now, with a bit of an emphasis on the golden age of music videos, the 80s.  There is gay music and new wave music and electronic music and not an insignificant amount of euro-pop.  There are the occasional clips from musicals, television shows and viral videos.  And sometimes I make my own videos because I still am occasionally inspired and have a little free time.

The crowd is always mixed - straight people like Doggy Style too!  But the vibe is gay and there is generally a good assortment of the city-oriented homosexualists I created Doggy Style to appeal to in the first place.  How many?  A good week might have fifty.  An off-week might have a dozen.  It's really a crapshoot, but everyone is friendly and sometimes there's even a love connection (although honestly, not that often).

Overall, if you are looking to change it up from the usual gay bar thing and meet some clever and inspiring folks while watching clever and inspiring music videos, then Doggy Style is for you.  See you this week, maybe, for the good times of Doggy Style and the great taste of booze at the Park Bar!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Stars

Man, I love a Doggy Style night, especially when it follows an Open City.  Open City, if you are not familiar, is a kind of grassroots small business incubator/support group/networking opportunity that's been going on for several years.  It's a good resource if you are thinking about embarking on your own independent retail adventure in Detroit.  Tonight's topic was "Localism" - ways to support and cultivate local business.

Of course I didn't make it despite my best efforts.  I was delayed by an extended meetup with some writing co-horts elsewhere, but I got to talk to a lot of the Open City folks at the Park Bar before Doggy Style.  So I had "Localism" on my mind all night.

Fortunately, I had a little local in the video mix for the evening.  It probably depends a lot on your age, whether or not you remember these guys, but Figures on a Beach were kind of a big deal in the 80s in Detroit.  They were signed to Sire records (in the Depeche Mode heydey) and were included on the first Sire compilation CD "Just Say Yes" with their song "No Stars."

Naturally they faded away, a bit of a one-hit wonder, although I still have their EP "Swimming" which is pretty great.  And man, did I have a new wave crush on the lead singer.

Anyway, "No Stars" made an appearance at Doggy Style tonight and in the spirit of "Localism," let's celebrate one of Detroit's few New Wave breakout bands, Figures on a Beach.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Late Night

Once upon a time, this would have been prime blogging time for me. 1:30am, after a night out with my favorite Detroit people. Lots of discussions about things on the horizon, and challenges that need meeting. Maybe not a typical Monday night, but a typical something night.

Instead, life has just been weird. I think about all the changes I've been though in the past year and a half - trying to develop new revenue streams; applying for abysmal jobs that you HOPE can make a difference, at least in your bank account; and wondering how did it all go so awry. I mean, once upon a time I bought art!

And that has been the full blog killer. I used to feel inspired, but lately I've just been tired. I can't believe how much I underestimated how much a lack of television and the killer view in my Lafayette Towers apartment inspired me. Sitting down and looking at the city evey night while I put on some old vinyl or listened to jazz was (it turns out) the perfect storm for blogging magic.

But now, Supergay Detroit has got to pull it together.

I've said about all I've had to say about the need for a more visible gay scene in Detroit. We are in desperate need for social outlet, this downtown-oriented crowd, and that hasn't changed too much in five years. What *has* changed is the fact we actually have a few more outlets now. It ebbs and flows, but the startup of Doggy Style again this year made me realize what a big difference even one night a week makes in connecting with gay people in the city.

Things aren't all doom and gloom though.  That Hatch Detroit competition I wrote about? I ended up winning. So within a year I'll be back doing what I love.

When Facebook became such a big thing, I decided I needed to make Supergay Detroit posts reasonably worthwhile, not just promos for gay events.. But I think I built it up too much in my head, and stopped writing because I couldn't do my goals justice. That will change. I think I can write and be a little frivolous and still produce reasonable content. Because ultimately, the internet is kind of lame. I can rise to that level!

This is a long kind of drunk way of saying hopefully, I'm back. There are still gay stories to tell in Detroit, and I want to get back to telling them.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Doggy Style Is Back

Yo guess what?  It's time to start up Doggy Style again.  Yep, now that the blight of baseball crowds is gone we can return to our own weekly takeover of the Park Bar for downtown's only and therefore by default best gay night!

The fifth season kicks off next Tuesday, November 8, around 9 o'clock.  Come and enjoy the music, videos and camaraderie that has given gay doggy style a whole new meaning!

Now very quickly, I need to ask you a favor.  As I've mentioned, Hugh, the pop-up shop I opened back in 2009 and 2010, is in the Hatch Detroit competition, and I could win $50,000 to open the store permanently.  It's big time.  If you could do me a solid and vote for Hugh today, tomorrow and Wednesday I'd be REALLY grateful!

You have to register using your e-mail address, which I know is a tiny pain.  But I'll spend 8 hours a week for the next six months taking care of your gay socializing needs if you'll just spend two minutes a day for three days taking care of my voting needs!  It's a fair trade!  Go here to vote for Hugh!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Out on the Town

There are a couple events in the SE Michigan LGBT community that really should be on your "don't miss" list.  Motor City Pride is a big one, of course, and fortunately you get the rest of the summer off because if you are involved with it in any way you will be exhausted.  Another big one is coming up though, Michigan Equality's State Equality Dinner.

This annual dinner has been going on for some time, and it's a standout.  It brings together so many different people in our LGBT community into one room, it's like a one-stop gay networking shop!  Long-time activists, prominent community members, straight allies and the next generation of leaders all mixing and mingling at a "family" reunion. The evening also recognizes outstanding leaders who have worked hard to advance Michigan's LGBT movement.

This year the State Equality Dinner is a standout because the keynote speaker is Cleve Jones.  If you are an astute film viewer you will recognize the name from the movie Milk, where a young Cleve Jones is shown working with Harvey Milk in the pioneering days of the gay rights movement.  If you are an astute student of LGBT history you will recognize Cleve Jones as the founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

When I was a youngster living in the gay ghetto of Washington, DC, I went to see the Quilt during its display on the National Mall in 1992.  I had maybe a mild interest in gay rights issues at the time, but more concern about HIV/AIDS (this was the pre-drug cocktail days, remember).  But mostly I was a gay kid more preoccupied with decorating my apartment than engaging with the gay community for more than a night at the bar.

My visit to the AIDS Memorial Quilt was an insane eye-opener about the extent to which AIDS was ravaging the gay world, and a huge early lesson about how many straight friends and family also really deeply cared about what was happening. People were mostly silent as they walked through the acres and acres of quilt panels, looking at highly personal memorial after memorial.  Volunteers stood by with boxes of tissue for those who were overcome, which were many - it was impossible not to be moved. 

I wish I could say that viewing the Quilt was an immediate call-to-arms for me, but it took a while for me to really start to realize there were things I could personally do to help.  It is something I can still remember vividly, though, and when I think about my current interest in working within the LGBT community, that experience is one of the early seeds.

A few years back I was at Common Language bookstore and picked up Cleve Jones' autobiography, Stitching a Revolution.  It's a great read full of info about the early gay rights movement, and it shows how the call to action isn't necessarily a deliberate choice, it can simply be a reaction to what we see happening in the world. For the gay historian, the casual activist and even just the curious, it's a recommended read.

You may not be the next Cleve Jones, but you can hear him speak (and maybe meet him) this Saturday night!

State Equality Dinner and Catalyst Awards
Saturday, October 22nd
The Henry, Dearborn (formerly the Ritz-Carlton)

Featuring a VIP reception, silent auction, formal dinner, and an afterglow celebration.

Standard ticket: $150
VIP ticket: $250
Afterglow only: $50 (featuring DJ Jace)

All proceeds benefit the programs of Equality Michigan.
Tickets are available at www.equalitymi.org/dinner, or by calling 313-537-7000, x108

Monday, October 10, 2011

Transforming Spaces, Transforming Places

[This is a blog post I wrote for my store Hugh, which I've written about briefly on here before. Hugh is currently a semi-finalist in the Hatch Detroit competition, which will ultimately award a $50,000 prize to the business with the most votes. I don't usually mix the business of Supergay Detroit with the business of Joe Posch, but it's all becoming a blurred line anyway, so I'd really appreciate your support in this contest! You can vote here once every 24 hours per IP address - so once from home, once from work and once from your phone. Enlist some friends if you can - every vote helps!]

When I was interviewed on the Craig Fahle Show on WDET last week, Craig asked me why I am so bullish on retail in Detroit.  I gave my two cents on why I think Detroit is a great place to undertake a retail endeavor, but I didn't talk at all about why I think independent retail in general is a great idea right now.

The first thing that is so great about independent retail is the emphasis on the unique retail experience, and this has always been my favorite thing about retail and why I'll never stop loving bricks-and-mortar.  When you open a store you aren't just creating a space, you are engaging the imagination of your customers. There's an opportunity to inspire.  It's always primarily about the products you sell, but in the two spaces I've had in Detroit I think the thing that gives me the most pride is the way I created something that really exceeded people's expectations. Here are a few before and after shots:

Hugh - Before

Hugh - After

The second Hugh - Hugh for the Holidays

Mezzanine - Before

Mezzanine - After


With the shift over the past twenty years toward big chain retail and internet commerce, we've lost sight of the ways that independent stores define our neighborhoods and our cultures, provide a singular point-of-view, and allow us to connect and build community.

I found a copy of a 1983 book called simply Detroit Guide at an estate sale this week.  It's a highly-opinionated take on everything the metro area had to offer at the time, and I was looking at the record stores reviewed: Sam's Jams, Village Records, The Record Collector and of course Harmony House. They were places music lovers could gather to hang out and talk, explore new music, and sometimes even get a job. And while the internet has made access to music easier than ever and taken the conversation global, that local community all but died with the neighborhood record shop.

Likewise, Netflix and on-demand video have taken away many of the meeting (and working) places for film buffs. And bookstores look like the next endangered species.

What is so great about this moment for independent retail is that a well-executed endeavor can help define and transform a neighborhood, and can still build a community. Sure, it's got to be special if it is going to compete with the chains or the web, but that ensures that a shop's personality is strong and enduring. We have dozens of examples of this working in Detroit right now, changing our neighborhoods. And the best thing about it is we just think we're having fun.

That's why a competition like Hatch Detroit is so much more than simply a pot of loot for the winner. It endorses the idea that independent retail is not only alive but more important than ever, and that even though the powers-that-be may focus on bigger, corporate commercial development, there ain't nothing like the real thing. Baby.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Their Voices

If you recall, last year I wrote about a benefit for the Ruth Ellis Center called Kaleidoscope. And then, I went to it. And then? I meant to write about it but never got around to it. That’s a refrain you should be familiar with by now.

In the interim, I have gotten to know the Ruth Ellis Center quite a bit better than before, in part through my friendship with their outstanding executive director Laura Hughes, and also through a shopping event to benefit the Center we held at my pop-up store Hugh last March. It’s an outstanding organization that benefits some of the most vulnerable members of the Detroit LGBTQ community, homeless and at-risk youth. If you aren’t familiar with the Center please, PLEASE go to their website and learn about them.

Held at the Scarab Club, last year’s event featured the debut of a documentary on voguing produced at the Center that was … what’s the word? … oh yeah, fierce.  I met so many new people at the event, both supporters of the Center and folks involved with operations, and then I had the chance to watch a live performance by some of the young people at the Center. Which I recorded.


In my visits to the Center I’ve learned how welcoming it is, and how a real family forms there. The Center’s Highland Park location is so unassuming, you’d never realize the beauty of the work that goes on inside. But the really wonderful thing about the Ruth Ellis Center is the community it has built. The young people who have benefitted from its programs. The staff that genuinely cares about the mission of the Center. And the supporters who are sincere in their dedication, but not so sincere that having a conversation with them is rash-inducing. Basically it’s a lot of great, unpretentious, interesting people.

Tomorrow night there is another benefit for the Ruth Ellis Center, called Voices, which I really encourage you to attend.  They’ve upped the ante in the party department – this one being held at MoCAD – and there is really not a single benefit event you’ll feel better about attending. Why? Well, the good works of the Center and the people who attend, but mostly getting a chance to see the youth who attend the Center put their best face forward and show you what they’re all about!

There will be spoken word performances, where youth from the center tell stories from the heart about their lives. And there will be art, where work produced by the young people of the center will be for sale in a silent auction. All in all, a brilliant night!

If you care about LGBT-related causes then figure out some way to show up. The Ruth Ellis Center is a big part of the Detroit gay community’s non-profit world, and you need to be a part of it!

Voices: A Benefit for the Ruth Ellis Center
Thursday, September 22  5:30pm - 10:00pm
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4454 Woodward Avenue, Detroit
Tickets $175 for VIP, $125 regular admission, $50 for under 30
Dinner, beer, wine.
For detailed event information check out the Facebook invite.
To buy tickets, go to www.ruthelliscenter.org or call 313.252.1950

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Some Video Fierceness

The following video was emailed to me from its mysterious producer, Inspire Inspiration, and it has some GREAT video footage from this year's Hotter Than July.  Check it out and see why next year, you'll be at HTJ!

Skip to about the 30 second mark to get to the action!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Raised Voices, Raised Awareness

Continuing in the vein of highlighting Detroit's LGBT community, there's another video making its debut this week.  This one is a partnership between Model D Media and The HOPE Fund.  Read more about it here.

This video highlights the growth of leadership in the gay communities of color in Detroit - KICK, which serves Detroit's African-American community; Detroit Latin@z, which serves the Latino community; and Al-Gamea, which serves the Middle Eastern community.  It's a great testament to the growing voices of *all* aspects of the LGBT community in Detroit.

That growth is so fantastic, by the way, because with growing voices comes increased visibility. That is key as we work to change policy toward LGBT people in Michigan, but also as we work to become a more interconnected gay community here in the city of Detroit.

I also recommend you check you yet another gorgeous photo slide show by Marvin Shaouni, which captures some great moments from Detroit's Black Pride celebration, "Hotter Than July," which took place this past Saturday!

I have to tell you, this has really been quite a year so far for the gay community in Detroit. I feel like our collective identity is really shining. And more importantly, I don't think I can remember when there has been so much bridge-building within the community. It's a pretty exciting time!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Video is Worth a Million Words

As Motor City Pride approached this year, I got a call from Toby Barlow - friend, former neighbor, and chief creative officer at Team Detroit.  He'd been watching what was going on with Pride moving downtown this year, the Pride Project and the way that the gay (and straight!) community in Detroit was so energized by all of this.  He said (I paraphrase), 'Hey, I want to do something to help show this off, what do you think of a short documentary about gay life in Detroit?"  Naturally I said that would be awesome.

Now just two months later, the video is done and really exceeds any and all hopes I'd had for it.  It's not a comprehensive look at GLBT life in Detroit, it's not a gay history piece - it is just a snapshot of some of the things that make gay life in Detroit so different and wonderful.

I always say, being gay and living in Detroit isn't for everyone.  But if you watch this video and something resonates, then maybe it is for you.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Connecting Dots

This post is a bit of a departure from all the (uppercase) Gay Pride lately, but I need a diversion and, frankly, my reader could probably use one too.

As you may know, I enjoy the thrill of the vintage hunt, and late last winter I started picking up coffee mugs that had a distinctly 70s or 80s feel to them.  It seems random but don't forget - I had a huge tiki mug collection for like 15 years until I sold it last year.  One day a mug caught my eye, a beige one with a seventies graphic of a cat and the words "Le Chat" on it, which just made me think of "Le Car" and "Le Bag" and the whole "le" trend.  So I snagged it.

I ended up posting it to my Etsy vintage shop, but in the meantime I started using it and really became quite attached, so I was disappointed when it sold all-too-quickly.  It wasn't until later (when I started searching for a replacement) that I deciphered the signature on it and discovered it was part of a series of mugs that came out of a housewares store based in San Francisco in the 70s and 80s called Taylor & Ng.

I know I seem like a cynic most of the time, but when it comes to certain eras I actually get quite caught up, and that period in San Francisco is a real sweet spot for me.  I blame early exposure to the "Tales of the City" books. So I became slightly obsessed with the different mug designs by Taylor & Ng, and once I'd exhausted those Google image searches I tried to learn more about the company. What I learned made me love my lost mug even more.

The company Taylor & Ng was founded by Spaulding Taylor and Win Ng, an openly gay man born and raised in San Francisco's Chinatown.  The company produced housewares featuring whimsical illustrations by Win including mugs, trivets, linens and cookbooks that became enormously popular, and are quite collectible today.  They started with their own small shop and grew into a supplier for Macy's and other major department stores.  Additionally, they are credited with bringing the Chinese wok to the US and making it a common kitchen utensil.  (Those of you of a certain age will remember how popular the wok was when it burst onto the scene in the seventies!)

The company closed their store in 1985.  It is reported that Win spent the period after that focusing on his fine art.  Given that he died of complications from AIDS in 1991 at the age of 55, I'm guessing being diagnosed with HIV led to some rearranging of priorities.

On the one hand this is just another story of a gay man in San Francisco whose life was cut short by AIDS.  There are certainly enough of those.  But I suppose I was struck by the way that my impulse purchase at a thrift store led me to the story of a gay man completely unknown to me who left his gay world just as I was coming into my own gay world. And whose creations - as whimsical as they may be - live on for a new generation to discover.

I'm know I'm reading more into a mere coincidence than is really there, but sometimes I wonder if there isn't something that connects the dots for us, that draws us towards the things we really want to know.  It's certainly a New Age conjecture worthy of 1970s San Francisco.  In this instance, I'm kind of ok with that, because it brought me some knowledge that moved me, and it made me feel connected to an era I love.

And it brought me a different kind of gay pride. A lowercase one.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Sweetest Hangover

I'm a bit late in reporting back, but Motor City Pride in Hart Plaza was amazing.  And if you've ever been to ANY Pride before, you know walking away saying it was anything better than "fine" is unusual.  But it really was.  I was so ... proud.

Organizers estimate 44,000 people attended over the two days, which is incredible.  Between the Lines did a nice writeup of the event, so instead of re-hashing it all, I'll link to it here.  Let's just sum up and say it was incredibly diverse, Oakland County did not stay away, and everyone seemed to have a really great time.

The rainbow stripes on the Ren Cen were one of my favorite things!

Other local media did the obligatory puff piece with photo gallery of all the festival gayness (yours truly not excepted), which I thought was pretty lame given the fact this marked a gigantic jump in visibility in an area with essentially none.  I mean FOR REAL - it was big news that Movement/Electronic Music Festival had 99,000 over three days, but 44,000 local GLBT people gets the boilerplate article?  I guess the story was only interesting when Ferndale Pride and Motor City Pride were at odds with each other.

About that ... apparently by the time June rolled around, most animosity about Pride's move seemed to have dissipated, and from what I heard the Ferndale events were nicely attended and everyone was happy.  I fully intended on checking it out but the addition of a Pride parade on Sunday morning meant any free time was filled planning for that.  Maybe next year I'll plan better.

In Detroit, everyone is a star! Especially Robert M. Nelson!

Everything else went great too.  The Pride Project came together beautifully and I got great feedback from both the Detroit indy businesses that supported Pride as well as the folks at Motor City Pride and Equality Michigan about it.  I even had some other businesses approach me to be included next year!  Please be sure to check out that website again and thank (and patronize!) anyone who participated!

A few very nice posters of the Pride Project placed around
Hart Plaza attracted no end of attention.

Finally, the Friday night Pre-Pride Doggy Style was out of control.  Who knew a downtown gay night on a Friday could attract so many people?  Someone open a downtown neighborhood gay bar NOW.

People who need Doggy Style are the luckiest people in the world.
After all the Pride Projecting and Doggy Styling and Fierce Hot Messing and Hart Plaza-ing and Parading and everything, I was the closest to exhaustion I've been in my adult life.  If I had a normal job I'd have had to call in "Proud" on Monday, I was that worn out.  To me, that's a great Pride.

The most incredible thing about this Pride was that for the first time since I moved to Detroit, I actually really felt like being gay here was totally normal.  I mean as completely normal as it would be in Chicago or Washington, DC or Boston or anywhere else I've lived.  Everywhere you went there were gay people or rainbow flags or just people asking how Pride was going.

In my email to business owners for the Pride Project I said that Motor City Pride moving downtown had the potential to change perceptions about Detroit in a way that hasn't happened since the Superbowl was here in 2006.  In the way Pride exceeded every expectation, I really believe that was the case.  What I didn't expect was that it was going to change the way *I* thought about Detroit.

The whole weekend left me feeling a little feisty, like maybe it's OK to say that something can just be GAY for its own sake without people getting defensive or worrying that people will feel left out.  (It's Detroit, for God's sake. The Island of Misfit Toys.  Everybody belongs.)  By foregoing a gay identity in the name of not offending anyone, we actually diminish our ability to create our own community, raise our own visibility and maximize the positive impact we could be having on Detroit.

This post is long enough without hashing out all that in 2000 words or less, so let's just say Pride left me thinking "what if ..." a lot for a long time afterward.  And it's been a while since I really looked at Detroit that way.  I'm sure I'll elaborate soon enough.

SO! It's been a recuperative and reflective couple of weeks, and that's why it's taken so long for even a little reporting back.  But now that I can finally deal with this stuff again ...

Double Rainbow: Oh My God!

This Tuesday night is a big gay double feature, starting with the Model D Speaker series "Gay Detroit"!  Join an expert panel of judges as we discuss the state of gay culture & community in Detroit.  I'll be sitting on the panel in my first official public appearance.  It's a real Detroit gay meet-and-greet!

The event is followed by a Town Hall discussion presented by Unity Michigan.  The Model D panel will be a little more community-oriented (and certainly City-oriented), and we'll let the folks with Unity Michigan handle the heavy stuff.

To make it extra special, there's a post-panel Doggy Style!  Yes, you can't get enough!  It all happens at the Park Bar, starting upstairs at 5:30 and ending sometime after midnight in the gutter.  Please join us, and help keep the Pride momentum going!

Model D Speaker Series: Gay Detroit
Charles Pugh of Detroit City Council, Roland Leggett of Equality Michigan, Kirsten Ussery of the Downtown Detroit Partnership and Villages CDC, and me.
Tuesday, June 21, 5:30 - 6:30pm
The Park Bar, 2040 Park Ave. (upstairs)
Pre-registration is encouraged.

Unity Michigan Town Hall: Equality Action
Denise Brogan-Kator from Equality Michigan, Shellie Wiesberg from the ACLU, Curtis Lipscomb from KICK, and Laura Hughes from Ruth Ellis Center.
 7:00 - 8:30pm

Hot DP (Double Panel) Doggy Style Action!
9pm - ?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Downtown Roundup for Pride

Motor City Pride weekend is here!  I was talking to a bunch of friends last night and everyone is so excited - it's like we live in a different city.  Last year I was in San Francisco for their Pride, and while I readily admit the level of planning and number of festivities was much greater there, the anticipation for the event in Detroit this year seems about on par with that.  And if that's not progress I don't know what is.

The Pride Project was an overwhelming success.  Forty-five independent businesses from Corktown, Midtown, Woodbridge, Eastern Market, New Center and the Central Business District participated, and together as the Greater Downtown Independent Merchants we raised over $7000 for Motor City Pride. The group is a sponsor at the Gold Level, the highest sponsorship level this year!

Please visit our extra special website to see all the great downtown businesses that chipped in.  Visit them this weekend while you are out and about, and throughout the year!  They are our friends and a fantastically supportive community, and I can't send them enough love.

OK, so onto the festivities!  There is a lot going on at Hart Plaza, most notably a bunch of us city-dwellers will be hanging out at our booth in Sponsor's Row, just as you enter the festival.  Stop by and say hello!

But there's also a lot going around downtown of special interest for Pride attendees as well. Here is a rundown of things you'll want to take advantage of this weekend.

Visit my little contribution to downtown's alternative gay scene tonight!  The very special Motor City Pride edition of Doggy Style takes place at the Park Bar from 9-2, with a painstakingly curated mix of highly entertaining music videos.  All the cool kids will be there!

If you head downtown for the Saturday component of Pride, it's a quick two blocks to the Grand Trunk Pub.  They are always a good spot to visit and as a special extra for Pride, DJ GM (or as you may know him better, Greg Mudge, proprietor of Mudgie's Deli in Corktown) will be spinning all afternoon and evening.  They have a great patio, great eats and if you are a beer lover, they have fifteen craft beers on tap.  Which are also great!

Of special interest, Saturday is the date for the annual Historic Indian Village Home and Garden Tour, which is always lovely and you can hit before Pride starts Saturday afternoon.  Tickets are $20 there is more info at their website.  See Sunday's activities for more info on tours of the Villages!

Saturday night, another mainstay on the downtown scene, Fierce Hot Mess, is having its third anniversary party AND Official Pride Afterparty at Oslo!  "Messy dance floor decadence, fierce music and hot people, converging in one place to create a distinct Detroit experience that is sure to be remembered."   Our favorite dj's, Mike Trombley and Chuck Hampton (aka Gay Marvine) always play the most amazing music!

If you are looking to mix things up on Saturday night, you can also check out the Cupcake Collective at the Old Miami, where they present All OUT Detroit: A Very Special Cruise.  They will be playing electro, disco, house, hip-hop and soul all night, and part of the proceeds go to benefit the Ruth Ellis Center.

Sunday morning is the all-new Pride parade!  It starts at Griswold north of Lafayette (think Lafayette Coney Island area) and goes down to Hart Plaza.  Who knows what it will be like?  Probably awesomely home-grown.  I'll be walking with the "Robert M. Nelson presents a Salute to Robert M. Nelson, with Robert M. Nelson and the Detroit friends of Robert M. Nelson" float.  Who is Robert M. Nelson?  Find out at 11am on Sunday!

When you are at the Pride festival, make sure you check out the DJ set by Macho City's Mike Trombley at 5 on Sunday!

Wind down after Pride at Cafe D'Mongo's!  Larry is opening especially for us "in honor of your parade" and I expect a lively afterparty at everyone's fave watering hole will be the perfect way to end a fun weekend.  Come by for drinks and Robert M. Nelson will show you how he puts the "easy" in "speakeasy."

Some of the sponsors in the Pride Program are making special offers just for Motor City Pride attendees.

Wheelhouse Detroit is located right on the riverfront, and you can rent a bike and do a little exploring.  It's so fun to bike around downtown and Sunday in particular is supposed to be GORGEOUS.  If you show your Pride sticker (you know, the one they give you when you enter Motor City Pride) you can get 20% off rentals, so two hours is only $10 and a full day is only $25!  Those Wheelhouse girls are the best.

Avalon is giving a 10% discount off your purchase for the weekend if you tell the retail staff a piece of local or national GLBT trivia.  Which will be really easy to do if you read Tim Retzloff's great op-ed in this week's excellent issue of Between the Lines.  Buy cookies and bring them to us at Hart Plaza!

Inside Detroit, the downtown's unofficial chamber of commerce and home of the Detroit Segway tour, has a great retail shop inside the Welcome Center in Merchant's Row.  They sell tons of unique Detroit apparel and locally-made items, and they are offering 15% off in honor of Pride weekend!

While you are at Pride, be sure to stop by the booth for The Villages of Detroit because they are offering three FREE one-hour bus tours that leave from Hart Plaza.  It won't be as in-depth as the Indian Village Home & Garden Tour on Saturday, but it will give you a great overview of all the Villages, and there will be one stop to visit a gay-owned home on the tour!

Also in the home tour category (but separate from Pride), Corktown is presenting their Historical Home & Garden Tour on Sunday from 12-5. It's not specifically for Pride but who doesn't love a home tour?

Finally, when you are at Pride, stop by the booth for the Spirit of Hope Church, where our friend Pastor Matt is running a GLBT trivia contest.  Answer questions on gay politics, music, society and religion and get a chance to win a gift card from a Detroit Pride Project business!

That's all I've got for now.  See you at Motor City Pride!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Doggy Style Pride

Motor City Pride is right around the corner! It's hard to believe it's almost here - almost as hard to believe as the fact I'm actually excited about it.  Of course it is kind of a big deal: Pride moving downtown, expanding to two days, and upgrading in just about every way.  It's like the most idealistic dreams of a very annoyed me four years ago come true.

Being as excited as I have been, I've naturally overextended myself on a bunch of planning and coordinating my various gay spring projects, but I wanted take the time to make sure everyone knows we are having a very special Doggy Style at the Park Bar, just to kick off Motor City Pride!

This Friday night stop by the Park Bar anytime from 9pm to 2am and get Doggy Stylin'!  It'll be an extra special night of old favorites and new surprises and the perfect way to get into a gay downtown mood.  And remember, Doggy Style is Detroit's best "gay-er" night so your straight friends can come too!  As long as they can handle a little Xanadu.

See you Friday!  And spread the word on Facebook!

[OH! I almost forgot, if you are interested in volunteering at Pride, they could still use some help!  It's an awesome way to pitch in, meet some new people and get some good karma.  You can squeeze in a couple hours of helping and still have lots of Pride fun.  I recommend you sign up to be a check-in person, so you can check out everyone as they come through the gates!]

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Pride Project

For me, one of the most frustrating things to come out of the discussion about Motor City Pride moving to Hart Plaza from Ferndale was this leitmotif that Detroit is not as gay-friendly as Ferndale.  It's been mentioned in comments on Facebook (although the Motor City Pride page is pretty aggressive about removing excessively negative comments, a policy I have mixed feelings about) and covered in Between the Lines (be sure to read the comments).

Now I get where this perception comes from.  There have been widespread reports of homophobia in the African-American community in the past, and we've had several civic and community leaders make homophobic remarks over the years.  But let's compare apples to apples.

Ferndale is a community of 19,000 people covering 3.9 square miles.  Detroit is a city of 713,000 people covering 149 square miles.  But the greater downtown area, the area including the Central Business District, Corktown, the Midtown neighborhoods, Lafayette Park & adjacent areas, and Eastern Market, is roughly 16 square miles and approximately 40,000 residents. Essentially that's been my world (with the addition of the Villages and SW Detroit) and it's a better comp than the city as a whole.  And I've never lived anyplace more gay-friendly.

A little over three weeks ago this was rattling around in my brain, trying to figure out how to send the message that Detroit is actually an AWESOME place to live and be gay.  And maybe Motor City Pride moving downtown was an opportunity to show that.

The independent business community downtown is pretty tightly-knit, so I asked a couple friends if they were interested in doing a small sponsorship of Pride that we could bundle together.  And if they thought other business owners would be receptive to the idea.  It turns out they weren't just receptive, they were enthusiastic.

I could never in a million years have anticipated the positive response I received from every friend I approached.  And they approached friends too.  And in the three weeks since we started spreading the word, we've raised over $6500 from a whole slew of downtown independent merchants who are proud to be sponsors of Pride.

See the fact of the matter is, Detroit is the most welcoming city I've ever lived in - and I've been around.  Jim Geary, owner of the Woodbridge Pub, said it even better:
I think this is great for the city and a good public example of the diversity and tolerance that Detroit should be famous for. It is my experience, in the ten years I have lived here, that Detroiters are more tolerant in general, whether it be religion, race, sexual orientation or financial status, than anywhere else I have lived.

So anytime you hear someone say Detroit isn't welcoming to gays, why don't you straighten them out and mention the following list of businesses - the bars, restaurants and retailers who make Detroit as cool as it is - who put their money where their mouth is and jumped at the chance to welcome the regional gay community to Detroit.

I'll share more info about this when this little Downtown Pride Project is done.  I'm still approaching folks - these are just the people my friends and I knew personally who'd committed by last night.  If you don't see your favorite downtown spot on here, why not ask them about it? Hit me up at the email to the left, I'd love them to help roll out the gay welcome mat!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Downtown Pride

You may have heard: Motor City Pride is moving this year, from its long-time location in downtown Ferndale to Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit.  It’s a huge upgrade and it means a big increase in visibility for the GLBT community, room for significant growth of the festival and a fantastic venue for the variety of events and activities Pride entails.

Naturally, people are worked up.

Many in the Ferndale-centered gay community have expressed emotions ranging from disappointment to anger over the move.  Reasons cited as to why the move is a bad idea include the fact that Ferndale is very gay-friendly, the event is a tradition there, and the businesses in Ferndale will lose money.   Overheard cocktail party chatter reveals more: that Detroit is not welcoming to the gay community, and that parking, or crime worries, or inconvenience are reasons why they won’t attend.  There is even a separate Ferndale Pride planned.

From all the bellyaching, you’d think these people actually spent time at Motor City Pride!

Anyone who’s been to Pride knows that it is a big street fair, with a crowd that is diverse no matter how you slice it: all races, genders, ages, and economic dispositions are represented.  It does have a smalltown feel, and it doesn’t compare to Pride in other major cities.  And if you look for the Woodward-corridor gay contingent they are either not there, or they are holed up inside Q (or Zoo Bar or whatever it’s called now) or Soho.  I wrote about this after attending Pride two years ago, and I’d argue that commentary is worth a read again today.

So it is really kind of surprising to me that the people with the most gripes about the scale of Pride in the past – the people who routinely head to Chicago or Toronto for bigger Pride celebrations – are the same people who are complaining that Motor City Pride is moving into a bigger, more visible and (frankly) better-suited venue.

Look, I get the disappointment when a big event moves.  But the lack of vision from the community in this regard is really kind of unbelievable, particularly when it comes to the formation of Ferndale Pride, a series of events designed to “complement” the events downtown. Craig Covey, the openly-gay Oakland County Commissioner, former Ferndale Mayor and a perfectly nice fellow is the co-chair of this event, is doing a great job of sticking to the script that everyone should support Motor City Pride downtown too, but the Ferndale thing has kind of turned into a rallying point for folks who resent the move.

It’s hard to be critical of Covey, who has done more for the benefit of the SE Michigan gay community than most of you combined, but all I can say is if I wanted to be super passive-aggressive I would plan a bunch of events the same weekend as Pride but make a point of not technically overlapping any of Pride’s official hours.  It’s really suggesting a classic Oakland County approach … venture into big bad Detroit for the event only, and then scurry back to the safety and security of the OC!

Covey has said in various outlets that lots of other cities have multiple Pride celebrations, and that’s true.  But I can’t help but think how fun it would have been if we had a Motor City Pride with the support and attention of the whole community, and then later in the summer there was Ferndale Pride in the spirit of Market Days in Chicago, the country’s largest gay street fair.  Instead we now have White Pride as an alternative to regular Pride. I say that in jest! Kinda.

The OC crowd wasn’t the only one upset about Motor City Pride on the move.  The Black Pride Society, the group that throws the annual Hotter Than July festival, is also displeased.  Their stated concerns are that the Pride planning committee didn’t build a community consensus for the move (and while MCP organizers have been exploring a move to Hart Plaza for years, this is technically true).  OK, valid point, but the word on the street is that it has more to do with MCP’s stated objective of creating a more inclusive event and the concern that it could potentially eclipse HTJ.  And the fact that MCP is now actually in Detroit, which I suppose you can’t blame the Black Pride Society for feeling a little ownership over.

Now honestly, if I were them I’d feel kind of good.  Motor City Pride is now twice as far away as it used to be from Palmer Park, where Hotter Than July is held!  And while Pride may now be in a more appealing location to the black gay community, it’s not like Pride in Ferndale was anything close to a white-only event.  Hotter Than July serves a different need than Motor City Pride, and I think the City of Detroit just lucked out because now it gets to host two GLBT Pride events.

Imagine when the dancefloor isn't squished to one side of the street!

Well, we clearly have a lot of Pride in the Detroit area!  

Obviously I’m thrilled about the move. I’m not the only one who has commented over the years that it seems, well, odd that Detroit's Pride takes place in a suburb.  Without dismissing the significance of Ferndale as a community that has been embraced by gays who have likewise been embraced in return, I think it has been one of those things that perpetuates the notion that Detroit as a whole does not have a "real” gay community.

The move also reinforces - for me, anyway - the fact that the Detroit area GLBT community still occasionally takes its role as community developers seriously.  Ferndale was a pretty bleak place before the gays and the cool kids moved in, and now it's quite a nicely-actualized community.  Really a beacon of forward-thinking in Oakland County. Pride moving downtown kind of shows that the general gay community views Detroit as a place with promise too.  And a successful Pride could go a long way toward changing perceptions of the city for the gays and lesbians who spend most of their lives outside of it.

I think this Pride will really blow everyone away, and given the fact we live in a state where rights for the GLBT community have actually REGRESSED over the past ten years, increased visibility and a successful Pride are more important than ever.  So go and have fun.  And you know what?  Check out Ferndale Pride too.  I might view their handling of things as a mis-step, but everyone wins when everyone wins.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Change of Season

As winter's last gasp keeps us bundled up for a just a few days more, it's reassuring to know that soon spring will be firmly rooted and we can finally ditch our Season Affective Disorder for another year.  With this great news comes some bad though.  The home baseball season starts this Friday, and that means we've come to the end of another season of Tuesday Nights Doggy Style at the Park Bar!

Join us tonight for some gay camaraderie, the beverage or beverages of your choice and not one but TWO new video compilations, plus Doggy Style's greatest hits!  It's a night to remember, at least until you forget!

Thanks to all the folks who came out for good times and this (compared to last year) surprisingly robust season of Doggy Style!  And thanks to our good friends at the Park Bar who let us gay it up every week!  See you in the fall, probably!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mies You Much

Being without a permanent address currently, I've taken to waxing nostalgic about my last apartment in the Mies van der Rohe-designed Lafayette Towers. I had a lot of love for that place, it is probably the most amazing place I've ever lived.

So why move out? The once-in-an-adulthood chance to take the summer off and travel was a big part of it, to be sure, but I considered leaving even before that opportunity arose. My desire to keep things upbeat has kept me from discussing my reasons in depth, but (at the risk of establishing myself as the elitist curmudgeon of Detroit bloggers) I should probably revisit what is really, in blunt terms, an aesthetic travesty perpetrated on one of Detroit's greatest modern treasures.

The owners of Lafayette Towers when I moved in – Chicago's Habitat Company – made the place feel like a real luxury property, despite the occasional out-of-service elevator. The building was meticulously maintained, had well-tended landscaping and a staff that was responsive, friendly and really seemed to know what a treasure the building is. The lobby was always spectacular, and despite a few aesthetic missteps (Marriott d├ęcor in the hallways being primary, having the base of Mies' Barcelona table oriented the wrong way in the lobbies), it was really like living in a high-end high-rise for only $700 a month.

The apartment itself was just perfect and the views unparalleled. I think the only things I didn't love were the carpeting and the shower, but the apartment's strengths made up for those tenfold. I won't waste words describing the place, I think these pictures speak for themselves.

My apartment shortly after moving in.  And the view.

In early 2008 the two towers were sold to The Northern Group. You may have heard of them, they are the investment group out of New York who went on a real estate shopping spree in Detroit, picking up the Penobscot Building, the First National BuildingCadillac TowerAlden Park Towers and finally, Lafayette Towers.  (We won't even discuss Cadillac Centre.)  And then one by one, they lost these iconic buildings to foreclosure (although they are trying to regain control of the First National Building again, a move the tenants are fighting tooth and nail).

Well, they didn't lose all of them. Call it bad luck, but they somehow managed to hang on to Lafayette Towers, and after cleaning house of all the long-term employees they introduced a series of outsourced property management companies who treated the buildings like a generic suburban apartment complex instead of a downtown modern masterpiece.

Northern Group did make some initial investments in the buildings. The new laundry facilities were nice. And if they'd actually been able to complete and maintain it, elevator replacement was smart. But while making some capital investments they neglected the very things that made living there special: gone were the meticulous landscaping, the well-maintained public areas, the uniformed doorpeople, the friendly staff. Instead we got weed-ridden sidewalks, haphazard maintenance, a perpetually leaking parking structure, dirty elevators and rent-a-cop security. My apartment, which in my first year was so warm in the winter I occasionally had to open windows, would be freezing until enough people complained that the heat wasn't on high enough. The office staff was halved, resulting in exactly zero responsiveness. And I won't elaborate on the multitude of aesthetic issues other than saying if you are running a Mies building, act accordingly. I think these photos speak for themselves.  Click to make them larger.


(L) The "faux bois" OfficeMax special shown here replaced a far more attractive marble and stainless (ok maybe faux marble) podium that the doorperson sat behind. 
(R)  The new owners didn't know what to do with a Mies Barcelona table either.

(L) A message written in the dust on the lobby marble: "Move today." Noted.
(R) For the last year and a half I was in the Towers this ladder was everywhere but put away: either in the lobby as shown or outside leaning against the glass.  Note to management: there's no "behind the garage" in an all-glass freestanding tower.  This isn't Warren.  Put it in the basement storage room where it belongs.

How hard is it to keep plants alive?  Apparently very. I spoke to the manager about this once and she said, "Nobody knew who was supposed to be watering them."  Two of these were eventually removed and not replaced.  The sansevieria (photo 1) remain similarly afflicted.

Nothing spruces up a Mies lobby like dying gladioli or a fake rosebush.  After two weeks of looking at the scene on the left I pulled out the decaying stems, which smelled wretched by the way, and moved that hideous vase out of sight.  Another friend in the Towers took the initiative to remove the fake plant, which still retained its $19.95 pricetag.

Can I assume these photos speak for themselves?

Once again, there's no "behind the garage" at Lafayette Towers.  Interestingly, both towers had a hose caddy that could have stored these, but they sat unused nearby.  The photo on the right is directly outside the rental/management office.  When I called to mention they should consider how the office looks from the outside and then followed up when nothing was done to adjust the crooked blinds, boxes pushed up against windows and papers behind desks, I was told there is "a process," and they can't just do everything immediately.

This is one of my favorite debacles.  Left photo shows the planters as they were when I moved in.  Right photo shows planters as painted when someone arbitrarily decided they needed sprucing up.  Many thanks to the neighbors across the park in the townhouses who called to yell at management about this tragic ignorance. The planters were re-painted white.

To the left, my other favorite debacle. I guess someone misunderstood "Less is more" and decided a jazzy row of banners along the East Tower on Orleans Street was just what was needed to attract design-lovers to these modern masterpieces.  I may not have been the only one to complain, but they came down after I got mad at the manager.  On the right, what you might call a weed patch at the entrance there was, I'm sure, intended to be a garden of indigenous plants.  This was the year they gave up on maintaining the landscaping.  Oh and that sign?  I know.

Ah, Christmas.  Under previous ownership decorations were restrained and tasteful.  Under Northern Group they gave the maintenance guy $100 and sent him to CVS.  Note the lovely cord management, and is it really too much trouble to remove the tags from the cord of the wreath?  Photo 3 has a great shot of the ficus tree that was never replaced in the lobby, too.  And believe it or not, Photo 4 is from the following year.  You can almost see the mis-matched un-lit wreaths hanging in the back windows.

It seems the Northern Group was hiring a management company, giving them no budget, and expecting big increases in occupancy. Instead, long-term tenants left the buildings in droves, many over to the other Mies building, the Pavilion (still owned by Habitat, which now has something like a three-year waiting list [edit: I've been informed there are a few availabilities - act now!]). Studio specials and attracting drive-by attention with banners (on a street that, frankly, doesn't get a lot of traffic from your professional crowd) were apparently the extent of marketing the Towers, all the while professionals and stable tenants who previously happily rented the more expensive one- and two-bedrooms fled.

The week I was preparing to move I talked with three other tenants who had been there at least as long as I had who were moving out within the month. Since then I've met several people who used to live in the Towers and have now moved to Harbortown or the Riverfront Towers or finally bought their own places. And I've heard rumors that the Towers are once again accepting Section 8 residents, although nobody seems to be able to verify that.

Since I wrote about my move out of Lafayette Towers last June, I've had several people contact me asking what the deal is there. In particular, my comment about the "ghetto-ization" of the Towers seems to have struck a chord. Throwing the word ghetto around might have been a bit careless because it often has racial connotations.  But to me "ghetto" in Detroit is primarily about lowered standards and the disastrous effect of just not caring.

In Detroit the rate of entropy is highly accelerated. It takes vigilance and dedication (along with a decent helping of good luck) to keep something nice. Just try ignoring a vulnerable situation and see what you get: a disintegrating train station; an entire housing project, fully scrapped; another demolished historic building; a RoboCop statue. The lowest common denominator usually calls the shots here. When you look at the areas of town that are defying the pull toward chaos you see areas that fight to keep standards high - the co-operatives of Lafayette Park, or Indian Village, or Corktown, or Midtown.

But look at a place that by most accounts was a craphole, Trolley Plaza on Washington Boulevard. It was taken over by (wait for it) the Habitat Company, renamed Washington Square, upgraded like crazy (including replacing the killer elevators) and now? 100% occupied (although currently managed by a different company). And you have to think that it doesn't take a genius to attract good tenants to a rental building within walking distance to the Central Business District in a time when the rental market is strong. But it does take an idiot to run two amazing buildings in one of Detroit's most popular neighborhoods into mediocrity and MAYBE 75% occupancy.

Lafayette Towers has new management since I moved out. I don't know how they are doing because I haven't been back, but I've heard that some issues persist. Friends who still live there report several weekends this winter with no heat or hot water, and I know the elevators continue to break down (sometimes all three).  I know that they still think placing banners along Orleans Street is somehow going to get people to move in, which isn't a promising sign. If you have anything to share, feel free to post it in the comments.

This photo from last fall.  Doesn't it make you want to move in?
I was telling a friend that I would move back there if I never had to leave my apartment, because usually it was the journey from front gate to apartment door that threw me over the edge. And as tempting as it is – because let me say one more time overall it was a phenomenal apartment – I absolutely refuse to even entertain the notion until I know for sure that the Northern Group has officially lost those buildings. It can't happen soon enough.

They can't take away the view.  Thank God.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Supergay Home Movies, Part 2

It's been a while since I posted a home video of Supergay as a little faglet, preparing for the world stage.  I came across another one from the vaults so I thought I'd share it with you.

If you are wondering how a 41-year old man was only 11 when Mariah Carey was debuting her vocal histrionics to the world, don't stress your beautiful mind.  Supergay is like Billie Jean.  She's everywhere.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Palate Cleanser

The past week has been invigorating but I'm ready to get away from serious discussions for a bit.

In that vein, let's watch a video that I always revisit whenever I need to remember that this is all supposed to be fun.  Maybe the RoboCop discussion is a good example of why we need a bigger gay community in this city!

And that should get us through until next week, when I have another post about out-of-staters shitting all over Detroit. Seriously, I won't be a grouch much longer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Imported from Hollywood

Let's get this out of the way first, it appears that we will get the cherished desire of the masses, a RoboCop statue.  The people have spoken.  Very specifically, some guy who owns an energy drink company in San Francisco named after Omni Consumer Products (they would be the giant corporation that built Robocop in the movie) kicked in $25,000, which pushed the project over the funding level.

Thanks to everyone who commented on the previous post.  There are really some great thoughts in there and I encourage everyone to take a moment to glance over them.

This has been a really fascinating debate.  And I do want to emphasize that - at least for those of us here in Detroit - it's been a discussion, not a battle.  Some of you in the comments section there really got a little carried away, and I think you should have a drink (nothing involving energy drinks though).  Maybe a valium. Maybe both.  I had a long chat with Jerry Paffendorf of the Imagination Station the other day that was fully casual and friendly, and what I really got out of it is that - at least from my perspective - this is about different priorities.

First off, at the end of the day it's just a Robocop statue.  It's not going to save Detroit and it's not going to ruin Detroit.  I still personally feel it is one of the dumbest ideas I've heard in a long time, but that's just me. I will be annoyed when I see it and that's the extent of it.

The things that rankle me the most are the permanence and the placement. A cast metal statue isn't easily removed when people get tired of the joke (unless it it scrapped, of course).  And there is something about taking a joke to a $50,000 extreme that really speaks to the question of priorities.  I am aware that the Imagination Station folks are open to placing the statue someplace else but as of this moment, the proposed location is still on the edge of Roosevelt Park.  I have a very hard time with the idea that any neighborhood in Detroit should have to be home to a RoboCop statue.  I guess that's what you get when you let in hipsters. Cue gentrification arguments in three ... two ... one ...

And other issues lay where they always have with this blog - about lowered standards, and trying to raise expectations.  I think the "it's art" argument is spurious, it is at best a monument to a Hollywood movie, and quite frankly for a much more appropriate location consider the Hard Rock Cafe or a shopping mall.  You can call me an elitist but I've been called worse.

From Jerry's perspective, however, this is a fantastic way to put crowd funding on the map.  They have worked very hard to raise money for local projects in the past, and they feel with the success of the RoboCop statue project they will be able to firmly establish this method of fundraising as legitimate, and it will hopefully lead to more and easier success in the future.

I am actually very pleased for them on their success in this regard.  It's hard to make something go in this town.  I just wish the vehicle for this success hadn't been something quite as polarizing as RoboCop. What's next, Kwame?

And I wish it hadn't been driven almost entirely by people outside the Detroit area.

There is no way for me to precisely track where the money is coming from, but I took a look at the list of backers this morning to do a little math.  Some people have their location listed with their names, and I do know a reasonable number of people here in Detroit.  What I discovered was that out of 1500 backers, there were 10 whose location was listed as Detroit, MI.  Additionally there were 10 people whose names I recognized, including folks affiliated with Imagination Station.  And while I didn't count specifically, there were maybe 10 others from the metro Detroit area.  So that's 2%.  Even if you take into account that many people have no location listed, what could we possibly be talking about, 10% of the backers were from the Detroit area?  I think that says a lot, and not just that we are poor.

So the question remains, will this lead to success in future projects that are not tied to some national enthusiasm over a joke?  Most Detroiters I know are not fans of this idea, will they support future Imagination Station projects?  Or has IS sacrificed some local goodwill in an effort to put themselves on the national map?

We can really only wait and see. A lot will pivot on the execution of the statue, but at the end of the day Detroit just got a present from the rest of America, and it's a gag gift.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

10 Reasons Why a Robocop Statue is a Bad Idea

Someone Tweeted Mayor Bing, his office replied, and a sensation was born. In case you haven't caught wind of it yet, a movement is afoot to build a statue of Robocop in Detroit. Primarily growing through social media, there seems to be a lot of support for this “awesome” idea.  All I can say is, wow.

I don't have strong feelings about the film "Robocop," and I was as charmed as anyone when Sweet Juniper posted the pics of his son's Robocop Halloween costume. I am sure for younger folks, most of whom are newer residents to the city, a statue of this film icon from their youth seems like a really fun idea.

But building a monument to this particular character in Detroit stirs up a very deep well. So before everyone gets carried away, I just want to share with you my 10 reasons why I think the Robocop statue is a bad idea.

1. It is insulting to Detroit and to Detroiters who have lived here through the worst. The reason Detroit is the setting for Robocop is because the city is considered a hellhole. Robocop may be a man/machine who overcomes injustice, but the Detroit in that movie is no compliment. The statue would serve as a perpetual reminder that Detroit holds the distinction of being the most believable dystopia in America.

2. It's disrespectful to the police. As if there is any better symbol of a dysfunctional police force than Robocop. Good luck with your 911 response times with that statue in your front yard.

A vision of the future.
3. It's hypocritical. A major plot point in the movie is that the new “Delta City” would be built over the crime-ridden “Old Detroit.” The movie's plot does pivot on the actions of corrupt corporate overlords, but Robocop remains a tool of the corporate powers at the end. The need for a new Delta City is never in doubt.

The fact that the Imagination Station is involved is of particular interest, since co-founder and president Jeff DeBruyn has been so very vocal in the recent gentrification fear-mongering in the Corktown area (a notion that was nicely debunked by the Free Press editorial page and mlive.com's Jeff Wattrick last month). Apparently it's ok to celebrate a movie that takes for granted the need for a most severe kind of gentrification in Detroit, but it's problematic when middle-class people move into a middle-class neighborhood.

Incidentally, the Detroit Works project posted “Love that Robocop trended out yesterday” on their Facebook fan page. They need to think really hard about the decision to enter into this discussion, since they are teetering on the perception of being Omni Consumer Products, the corporation responsible for making the New Detroit in the movie, themselves.

4. It proves Martha Reeves was right. When she was elected to office a major part of her agenda was to have statues of Motown stars placed around town. She said it would make people feel good. She was rightly ridiculed for this, because what Detroit needs is substantive change, not feel-good gestures, even if it is statues of actual Detroiters who made significant cultural contributions.

Of course a statue of a fictional character, conceived and created 2000 miles away from Detroit, is a great idea and if you don't like it then you should prepare yourself to be labeled a buzzkill.

5. It's the outsider's answer to the Joe Louis fist. There is a vocal group of people who can never move past the notion that the Joe Louis fist statue is a defiant gesture aimed at the suburbs, a constant reminder in the heart of downtown that they think they were told to “hit 8 Mile Road” by a Detroit mayor.

A Robocop statue, with money that will no doubt be raised primarily from outside the city limits, can be seen as the constant reminder (potentially right in the middle of one of our more vibrant neighborhoods) that Detroit will never move past its reputation as hopelessly corrupt and crime-ridden. And will be celebrated by many more non-residents than residents, for sure. Way to put a city in its place.

6. It's derivative. Public art can be hit or miss, but even when it doesn't quite work it demonstrates the creativity of a community and the openness of a population to those creative endeavors.

Placing a statue of a movie character shows little creativity, and it actually flagrantly uses somebody else's intellectual property, whether or not this particular use is legally copyrighted. It may be clever, or even ironic, in its placement, but at the end of the day it's not art.

7. It's a waste of money and manpower. The Kickstarter project seeks to raise $50,000 to make this statue. I don't doubt that is a reasonable estimate of costs for materials and manpower, and possibly administrative costs. But in a city like Detroit where $50k can make such a difference, is this really the best way to use that kind of cash? And doesn't it really squander the talents of people who could be involved in better, more creative pursuits?

Or what about projects to help the destitute in Corktown so they can get real help instead of feeling displaced from a public park?

8. It's low culture. Sure, Philadelphia has a statue of Rocky, and Milwaukee has the Bronze Fonz. But honestly, is that what we are going for? Stupid tourist attractions that appeal to connoisseurs of lowest culture? I'd argue that this is one “us too!” moment we can live without.

9. It's opportunist. The initial Tweet to the Mayor's office was a joke, and possibly the biggest error in this whole thing was the fact that someone in the Mayor's office actually deigned to reply to it (props again to Jeff Wattrick for that observation). But now it's become the movement of the moment, and it just seems a bit opportunist to take ownership of the idea.

It certainly will be plenty of publicity for the Imagination Station whether this gets funded or not – heck, they're already on Detroit Public Radio today to talk about it. Then again, maybe that's the idea? In which case Jerry Paffendorf (whom I like very much personally, by the way) continues to prove himself one of the savviest marketers in the Detroit area.

10. It will add an entirely new dimension to train station ruin porn. Tired of pictures of the Michigan Central Station? If this goes up in front of the Imagination Station, located across the street from the train station, you can expect to be seeing a lot more MCS ruin porn in the years to come.

At the end of the day, if this project gets funded, it's a private project on private property and of course people will do what they want. And that's their right. I just think that this particular idea is too rife with negative connotations.

I guess all I can say is I gave to the Kickstarter Hygienic Dress League “No Vacancy” Project, and I gave to the Save the Downtown Synagogue project, but I'm hanging on to my money for this one. I think we are better than this.
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