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'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.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fierce Is as Fierce Does

There are few things less inspiring than Michigan in February.  The holidays are over, the charm of a winter wonderland has worn off, and we're still two months away from any real signs of spring no matter what the groundhog says.  When the world gets like this, what's a guy gotta do to keep things exciting and fun? Get out of the house, that's what.  Fortunately I've got just the pill to break that cabin fever.

It's been a while since we chatted about Fierce Hot Mess, the monthly gay dance party at Oslo, and partially that's because FHM took a tiny break and partially because I took a tiny break.  But - FINALLY - things are back on track in all quarters and this Saturday is your chance to have a little underground winter fun!

FHM was a real breath of fresh air when it started up and one of the strangest coincidences of my life happened the morning after a FHM a few years ago.  It has been a fixture on the downtown gay scene for a while now and it has matured into what host Adriel Fantastique! describes as "a monthly celebration of Detroit underground culture."

click for larger image!
The addition of DJs Gay Marvine (Secret Mixes/Fixes) and Mike Trombley (Macho City) brings a crazy depth of cross-genre musical knowledge and you are guaranteed an amazing mix of House, Disco, New Wave and underground classics.

So if you want a little action in the bleak mid-winter then I suggest you throw some glitter on that hump, call it fabulous and hit the dancefloor - this Saturday and every first Saturday - at Fierce Hot Mess!

Fierce Hot Mess
Saturday, February 5
Oslo, 1456 Woodward, downtown Detroit
10pm to 2am, $5 cover
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