Saturday, January 23, 2010

AfterCulture: Jerry Herron Captures the "Humiliation of History"

One of Kevin Bauman's 100 Abandoned Houses photographed in Detroit.

I'm devouring
AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History by Jerry Herron and finding many disturbing parallels with Flint in the various essays. And although it was published in 1993, it's depressing how many of the ideas and observations in the book still hold true today.
"It’s as if the country needs a Detroit to go uniquely wrong in order to make clearer and simpler — by comparison — the otherwise baffling work of going right. This is the site, or the symbol, that makes consensus once more seem possible for Americans, whom differences of all kinds have driven apart. Outside of war, or some sort of national emergency, it’s hard to imagine anything — especially anything domestic and urban — that people could agree on and get behind, except, perhaps, for the wish to keep 'Detroit' from happening to the place where they live."


  1. Why does the myth exist that Flint is worse than Detroit?

    How can it be? Detroit was once 10 times bigger than Flint. That's a whole lot of bad to be overcome by "concentration of bad", "crime rate" vs. number of crimes, etc.

    The same economic forces have been at work in both cities. Somehow, the likes of Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick have hoodwinked the Detroit media into promulgating the myth. The fingerpointing has gone on for years. Remind me of the hilarious Cleveland "tourism" video where the song ends "at least we're not Detroit...we're not Detroit". Detroit has been promulgating the same thing by saying they're not as bad as Flint.

    One big difference is that suburban Detroit residents began identifying with the suburbs much earlier, and there are suburbs completely around Detroit. Detroit ended at 8 Mile since the 1960s if not before.

    To an outstater, Detroit is anything east of US-23 and south of I-69. Funny, that includes a lot of Flint!

  2. I guess it depends on what you mean by "worse." For me, one of the saddest things about Flint's demise is that there's almost nothing to do in the city and parts of it feel completely empty. (And please spare me the talk about Flint's "thriving amateur theatre scene and the Farmer's Market. You can only take in so many plays and eat so many vegetables.) Detroit has vastly more cultural opportunities and interesting things to do right now than Flint has ever had. The current art, music, film and just hanging out and boozing scene is vastly superior to Flint.

    Now if you're talking purely economic degradation, that's a really tough call, but I'd venture that if you set up a model to measure economic decline on a per capita basis, Flint might be worse than Detroit.

    But what's the point in arguing which city is worse off? Does it matter if Gary is worse than Youngstown? If Toledo is worse than Allentown? If Detroit is worse that Flint? It's like the Lions arguing with the, ummm, well, that's a bad analogy. How about's like Williamson arguing with Stanley about who was the worst mayor of Flint. It's pointless

  3. Cleveland "Tourism" Video.

    About the only thing that made Detroit's economy more "stable" is that they weren't solely dependent on GM for auto jobs. But like you say places like Gary, Youngstown, Ft. Wayne, Akron, Dayton, Pittsburgh all had industries that were in bad shape before the auto industry was.

    I don't think the model being used for the American economy works, period. Countries which appear to be thriving are producing value added goods.

    It will catch up to the rest of the country if we don't reassess this.

  4. Quote from the movie "American Splendor".

    "Harvey Pekar: You don't have any problems with moving to Cleveland?
    Joyce Brabner: Not really. I find most American cities to be depressing in the same way."

    The sooner Flint stops pretending it's the only city with big problems or the worst, and tries instead to solve those problems, the sooner it will recover.

  5. Wow, brilliant advice. I never thought of that. And I thought it was the loss of 80,000 jobs that were the problem. It's all about attitude! Thanks for the keen insight. But what happens if all the other dying cities all get a good attitude at the same time? Oh, they'll all get better! I see it all so clearly now.

  6. Pelt, I'm going to have to ask you to turn that frown upside down, please.

  7. My fur trader friend, I didn't say it would be easy. I think sooner of later, manufacturing must be returned to the USA, or it will be permanently weakened and vulnerable. Of course, there are countries who want the USA to be weak and vulnerable. Think about it.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at