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.


Tracie M said...

One dude putting up $25,000 is not a vindication of crowd funding. It's called having a patron.

Toby said...

Thanks for the clearheaded perspective. Even if the money came from many sources, I disagree with Jerry's perspective that its success would legitimize crowd sourcing for Detroit projects. Actually, what would legitimize crowd sourcing projects for Detroit would be completing the projects that money was raised for. Doing things you say you're going to do is the best way to legitimize people's contributions and efforts. Staying focused and completing things, executing them perfectly in an awesome way and then promoting that awesomeness is the best way to legitimize anything. Only half finishing them and then rolling along to the next shiny project only hurts the whole model. So I sincerely hope that statue rocks.

michael eugene said...

An excellent conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Location, Location, Location! - Robocop and his duty to his community

For the record, I do not mind a Robocop statue. What I do mind is the fact that it might be placed on the periphery of Roosevelt Park in a highly public setting.

While listening to the Craig Fahle coverage of the RC statue debate a bit back, I was at least somewhat heartened to hear John Leonard express an understanding that the location of the RC statue will determine its meaning.

Basic public art theory 101: the statue’s eventual environment will also determine whether the RC statue is a public or private work and what the creators might owe to their community.

Regardless if it is on private property, if the RC statue is placed on the periphery of Roosevelt Park (a public park) next to Michigan Central Station (one of the city’s most photographed buildings) directly off of Michigan Avenue (one of the major arteries in Detroit) and across from Slows BBQ (a frequented restaurant), the piece will be public.

If it is to stand there, the RC statue would reside too close to a highly public sphere to legitimately claim it is a privately owned work. Regardless of who funds it, it would still be piece that the public is subjected to on a repeated and regular basis.

Many people claim that they cannot possibly have a problem with the statue because it will be placed on private property and funded with private funds. However, using the common adage of freedom and private property to justify the aesthetics of (or on) a property comes dangerously close to aligning with the arguments that many speculators use to skirt the responsibility of renovating or destroying their blighted buildings.

Subjecting the public to your aesthetic, without determining who the public is and what the public actually wants to look at, suggests that the creators are comfortable forcing the public to go along with their vision of the city, similar to a Mr. Moroun or a Mr. Kelly. At least in respect to morals, the more controversial a structure on your property is the more responsibility you have as an owner to heed to the needs of your community.

In addition, 25,000 dollars worth –roughly half of the funding –came from one man who owns an energy drink company in California. This could be argued to be just one more example of rich guys who don’t reside in Detroit taking advantage of its cheap property.

Perhaps a comparison to speculators is extreme. But if the creators really believe in the erection of the RC statue, they need to reach deeper to justify their reasons for following through with this. Their simplistic “well… why not?” attitude is disrespectful and irresponsible. It is an important time for Detroit and it is important that we all look inward to determine our specific roles in improving the city as a whole.

Anonymous said...

I really would have love to seen how far the funding would get into the final days before the deadline. Then if the OmniCorp guy donated his 25k, he could have put them WAY over the top. Alas, they are already over.

I have high expectations for his placement, his positioning, and he should be made of the best craftmanship 50k+ can buy.

Perhaps Robocop can be sitting in the same position as the Spirit of Detroit, or boarding a train, etc. If we're gonna go ironic, why not then go all the way.

Robocop was an ADD Kickstarter. Instantly recognizable and drew immediate attention, nationwide. With internet crowdfunding (a fancy way of saying fundraising) this easily took off.
But crowd funding has been around forever. Churches, parishes, etc all use it.

I'm not 100% sure either if I agree that just because we can raise 50k for Robocop means we can do anything.
We raised 50k [with the help of our neighbors nationwide], but it was Robocop. Not every project will be that catchy, and as such won't be as an attractive sell to potential donators.
Really, we shouldn't have to juice anything up to get people to donate, but we are gullible people.

Seeing how this was so controversial, perhaps next time it could be beneficial to put the idea up in a public forum [even on facebook] for people to vote or poll. This whole thing, from beginning to end took less than a week. While amazing at that, I think it is beneficial to everyone to feel a situation out before creating such hype. Or was that the intent?

Anonymous said...

Look, Detroit gave the rest of the country Kid Rock and the Pontiac Aztek. Giving you a statue of RoboCop is the least we can do to return the favor...

Anonymous said...

Chicago has a giant ass shiny bean. I'll take a robocop over that any day.

Anonymous said...

Detroit needs something for the tourists. I mean how many times have you heard "I'm going to Detroit for vacation?" We need something that stands out. I know it is in poor taste to put a big statue of Robocop, but imagine the amount of people that would go just to see it. It probably won't stop there and I would expect the city to even create a park for it, which the city desperately needs. Phili had Rocky, so why cant we have something to show?

Gary said...

As I understand it, the statue is to be built on private property with private money (including mine). Because it is being done privately and voluntarily it will be more meaningful than than 100 government built statues.

May I suggest a book?
"The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations"

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting to see "no vacancy" lit up at night. :(

let down as a result,


Anonymous said...

Wise words, sir. I've enjoyed your blog now that I've stumbled upon it... I'll be back.

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