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Hey Detroiters: does this bother you?

Oct 4, 2011, 12:02 PM EDT


I have never lived in Detroit, so I am an outsider to the place in most every respect.  My parents were both born and raised there. My extended family calls the Detroit suburbs home now (like a lot of folks they started moving out after the 1967 riots). But I was born and lived until I was eleven 55 miles north of Detroit in beautiful Flint, Michigan.  As such, I don’t presume to have any standing of my own to talk about what is and what is not appropriate when it comes to talking about Detroit and its ills itself. Just a vicarious interest in the place by virtue of people with whom I share some DNA.

But outsider status notwithstanding, columns like the one George Vecsey wrote for today’s New York Times — about how the Tigers and Lions are making Detroit feel good, and ain’t it great for such a crappy city to feel good — really bug me. This one isn’t bad or egregious in any way — it’s an OK column on its own merits — but we see them written every time a Detroit team does something good. Or New Orleans or Cleveland or anyplace else that is depressed or blighted. And they kind of drive me nuts.

I’m not sure which aspect of these columns bug me more: (a) the “those poor, poor sods” sentiments which, not unlike ruin porn, necessarily revel, however unintentionally, in the misfortunes of the city; or (b) the presumption that something as superficial and fleeting as the success of a professional sports team makes a bit of difference to the people hardest hit by those misfortunes. (note: anyone with tickets to tonight’s Tigers-Yankees game probably has a job).

This isn’t a really big deal in the grand scheme — and you all know that I can get overly-sensitive about certain things and that this may be one of them — but I’m curious to hear if this kind of thing bugs people with stronger Detroit ties than mine.

  1. Matt - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    I don’t live in the city itself either, but as a resident of the greater SE Michigan area I get extremely irritated that at the way the city cannot be brought up by the national media without mentioning that the city is struggling. I’d be lying if I were to say that the narrative is wrong when it comes to the city itself, it really is struggling hard and there doesn’t seem to be much hope left, but that doesn’t mean that its citizens need to constantly be reminded about this fact every time their home town is discussed.

    • tashkalucy - Oct 4, 2011 at 7:11 PM

      Will say it again:

      Not many more readers right now, but I’ll add my two cents…..

      This entire article reads like something the Coen Brothers wrote for either Walter or The Dude to say in ‘The Big Labowski’, but decided to cut it out.

  2. Old Gator - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    Great photo. Looks like a set from The Road.

    But then Detroit always looks like that.

    • philliesblow - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:27 PM

      F you Gator

      • Old Gator - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:45 PM


    • Matt - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:31 PM

      It’s too bad that this is a view shared by most non-Detroiters…despite my statements above about struggling and losing hope, there are areas of Detroit that are gorgeous and vibrant, and this narrative in the media also serves to hide that fact from the general public.

      • Old Gator - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:47 PM

        I’ve actually been up in some of those gorgeous and vibrant penthouses – furnished with rare orchids from the profits being rung up in low-labor-cost auto plants in Tiajuana, Matamoros, Juarez….

    • detiger69 - Oct 4, 2011 at 2:36 PM

      That is because Detroit has been the actual location for many films and television shows. Grand Torino and Jumper come to mind as does a Pawn shop reality tv show. But alas our new Governor has decided to end the tax break that was drawing that busniess to utilize Detroit. Killing off what few jobs there still were here in the Detroit area.

      Therein is the root of the problem – politicians who love to bleed our cities for political gain and leave them in ruins afterward. The subtext is very racist. Most major cities are precieved to be where all the Blacks live, while the suburbs are where the whites live. Politicians want to highlight all the problems in the city to help get themselves elected. They get in office and do nothing about the problems or make them worse, while they and their cronies make off with all the money.

      Until we break the corruption that is our political process, our cities stand little change of improving.

  3. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    I suppose it really has to do with the quantity and quality of the research someone does for an article like this. Do they have any sort of tangible evidence that the Tigers are brightening up the hopes of the city? If they are really backing it up, it seems OK. Are there parades, attended by a ridiculous number of locals? Are the unemployment offices erupting into cheers? Or is the reporter just making crap up?

    I guess what it comes down to for me, is the question: Is this actual reporting, or is it some sports writer waxing philosophic? Because that second thing is one of the most obnoxious and condescending things I can ever read.

    • Bryz - Oct 4, 2011 at 8:55 PM

      You ruin (pun not intended) the story if you research it and find out that your feel-good story is completely wrong, so why research? Might as well just go with your gut.

      (Perhaps the only time anyone on this blog will type something like this and not be referring to baseball.)

  4. craggt - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    I’ve lived in Detroit my entire life and I think I speak for most people here when i say: Stop with the pity party. Yes we love sports and everyone feels good when the Lions and Tigers win, but does that help with jobs? Of course not, and no one expects it to. I think SI was the worst with this when the stationed a group of reporters in Detroit all year and wrote articles about how Detroit is in such terrible shape.
    Leave us alone.
    We don’t want your pity.
    We work for what we have and we’re proud of it.

  5. donniebb23 - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    I’m glad you mentioned this Craig. I was talking with a friend of mine last night during the game about this very topic. We both find the whole narrative ridiculous, on the basic premise that the people who are truly enjoying the Lions and Tigers seasons probably aren’t the ones who are in dire personal or financial straits. Go talk to any of tens of thousands the homeless or jobless people in that city and ask them how much their lives have been improved by those two teams, and how much their success is “lifting their spirits.” My guess is most of them could really give a hoot.

  6. dailyrev - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    That evil terrorist-loving Communist obese creep Michael Moore has visually made this point in every single one of his films going back to the early 90’s. And governments and media entities have done their best to ignore him even as the corporations have schemed to slander him. Start with Roger & Me and go from there: the guy’s entire career has been about exposing the 3rd-world descent of mid-America in general and that Detroit region in particular.

    • Alex K - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:39 PM

      He’s from and still lives in Michigan- that probably has a lot to do with his Detriot focus.

      • Old Gator - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:51 PM

        Well, given how hysterical the Tea Party dupes, cretins and knuckledraggers, and their big-money pimps, get whenever Moore’s name is brought up, he’s obviously striking an exposed nerve. Go for it, big fella…though I think maybe you’d have a bit more credibility if you looked like a grown-up Biafra baby instead of one of the dancing hippos from Fantasia.

  7. Chris Fiorentino - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    “the presumption that something as superficial and fleeting as the success of a professional sports team makes a bit of difference to the people hardest hit by those misfortunes. ”

    I couldn’t disagree more with this. If the Tigers were to win the World Series, I am sure it it would make a ton of people in Detroit happier, at least for a little while, no matter how hard their fortunes may be right now. You don’t agree with that notion?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:21 PM

      “the people hardest hit” are unemployed and/or homeless and/or are struggling to feed their families. No, I seriously doubt that the Tigers making a deep playoff run does much for them.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:34 PM

        I guess is depends on your definition of happy. I’m not saying it is going to change their lives forever. But those struggling to feed their families are probably listening to or watching every single Tigers and Lions games as a family and it is probably making them feel better that the teams are winning.

        We do a Christmas charity thing every year for families who can’t afford presents and everybody on the lists ask for sports related jerseys, balls, bats, nets, etc. These are men, women and children who are struggling to survive, yet they are following sports and asking for DeSean Jackson, Shady McCoy, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins jerseys. They live vicariously through these players and when they win, it has to raise their spirits. Does it help them eat? Of course not. But it brings them a smile where one wasn’t and that is because of sports.

      • pestiesti - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:35 PM

        I don’t know Craig, I imagine it helps the aggressive panhandler who works the alley between the Ford Field parking garage and Comerica Park.

      • ThatGuy - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:39 PM

        Do people automatically stop caring about sports because they’ve fallen on hard times? I don’t think so, even if it is fleeting it would be an emotional pick up for even a short while.

    • Bryz - Oct 4, 2011 at 8:58 PM

      If they don’t like baseball, then how does their city’s professional baseball team hypothetically winning the World Series cheer them up?

  8. dwishinsky - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    Detroit is my hometown and it is good people and I miss it. Detroit is full of fighters, we may have our blight, we may lose our jobs but we don’t give in. Detroit was the Arsenal of Democracy for a reason and no matter how far away from it I am, I will always miss it and call it home. That doesn’t mean I am a fan of our baseball team, but with my team out I say Go Tigers!

  9. philliesblow - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    Yes these pandering stories bother me, but even the local happy-talk TV media pulls them out whenever a team has success. In 2009 it was the Michigan State in the Final Four in Detroit story. A winning sports team will not reverse years of econominc decline and dysfunctional government. Just write a story about the game on the field leave all the pathos out of it.

  10. hackerjay - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    IS this really any different then everything they were saying about the Yankees in 2001? I don’t think this particular story arch exclusive to cities like Detroit and Cleveland.

    • Matt - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:42 PM

      Yes, it is different. Do you hear about the decay in NY every single time the Yankees are discussed? That is the case with every bit of sporting success we have here in Detroit. The Pistons win in ’04 and we hear how great it is for poor Detroit, again with the ’06 Tigers and the ’09 Spartans. The national media loves their narratives and never gives it a rest when it comes to Detroit (and Cleveland).

      • nolanwiffle - Oct 4, 2011 at 1:39 PM

        I think hackerjay was alluding to the Yankees being credited with lifting the collective spirit of NY in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

      • Matt - Oct 4, 2011 at 2:07 PM

        Ah. I guess that makes a little more sense…I’d still say that it is a little different because there isn’t the consistent commentary from those outside of Detroit telling us how shitty our lives are. My memory of 2001’s commentary was that it tended to be more sympathetic and ultimately hopeful (of course this is from a non-New Yorker, so I can’t speak to how the narratives sounded to those that were so much closer to the tragedy of 9/11) instead of the condescending pity/disgust that is lumped onto the city of Detroit by the national media on a regular basis.

  11. steveohho - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    The sad fact is there are many American cities, towns in all regions of the country that are suffering. But then, the Slimes never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

  12. channingtaintum - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    “beautiful Flint, Michigan”?

    My extended family is from the Tri-cities, and in all of my visits there, beautiful is the last word that comes to mind.

    • lampdwellr - Oct 4, 2011 at 2:32 PM

      As a native Midlander, I am forced to imagine that Craig was being sarcastic. I mean, Roger and Me.

  13. grizz2202 - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    I can’t speak to Detroit’s situation, but I am a Memphian and we’ve had our share of these articles before. Most recently, when the mighty Mississippi was flooding during the Grizzlies magical playoff run. TNT, ESPN, et. al. wanted to make it out like this was “Katrina II: (This time it’s personal)”, when it was not. Most of the flooding was in areas that are sparsely populated, if populated at all. More than 4/5ths of the city was above water, and people were filling the FedEx Forum en masse. For that matter, the FedEx forum is downtown, which is less than half a mile from the river itself! We were going to the river to watch the game, so that should tell you how bad the flooding was in populated areas (which is to say: not much).

    The thing that bothered me was how the NBA broadcasts were making things out as if we were all downtrodden and about to kill ourselves because of “Katrina II: The Remix”, and that the ONLY thing keeping us together was the play of these Memphis Grizzlies. It was the ONLY reason to be happy, and if only we could get a glimpse, nay, if only we could LOOK UPON THE SHINING GLORY OF THE MIGHTY Z-BO HIMSELF, could we then begin to rebuild this once thriving city.

    It was BS. I sat comfortably in my apartment for all but the 3rd playoff game I attended (the first in Memphis vs. the Spurs), miles and miles and miles away from the flooding, drinking beer and rooting the Grizzlies on. I’m sure it may have been hard on the few that were actually being flooded, but do you think they cared about the Grizzlies at all at that point? Do you think the shining glory of the mighty Z-Bo himself was on their minds? Would they have had a television (or even power for the TV) if they were in a flood?

    Sports production (and broader, news and television production in general), thinks they write the narrative for all of the country and the world. That we care as much as they think we should based on what they force-feed us. And that their sad, sappy, 35-second game intros are what stirs us on to be good Americans. They are fools and narcissists. I am smart enough to determine what’s important to me, and some fly-by journalist/producer that’s been in Memphis for 15 minutes and decides, “Hey, there’s a flood! It’s big news! Quick, get a shot of the shining glory of the mighty Z-Bo himself, floating down the river on the Mississippi Queen!” doesn’t capture the spirit of the city, doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and doesn’t speak for me. I’m sure some citizens of Detroit feel the same way.

  14. irreverendsara - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    Not a Detroit native here, but I was born & raised in Cleveland. Save your apologies–there are none needed. Cleveland may be unlovable to the rest of the world, but to many natives it is a place with an amazing orchestra, tons of ethnic festivals that open one’s eyes to a different culture, a park system which other cities try to duplicate, and a medical mecca to which people from New York & Los Angeles flock in order to have the best treatments on earth.

    I think these type of stories show the lack of creativity in the media. Why not do a story on some of the cool things happening in town? I understand there is a growing arts movement in Detroit. Why not show some of that? Because it would mean having to come up with a new narrative. Perish the thought.

    I live in Philly now–another great place to live (and it is fun to be a dual Tribe/Phils fan with all the player & Cholly connections over the years). But the media does the same tired narrative of Rocky & cheesesteaks. Yawn. Show me creativity. Show me you can come up with a new narrative.

    • heynerdlinger - Oct 4, 2011 at 2:03 PM

      Why not show some of that? Because it would mean having to come up with a new narrative. Perish the thought.

      Or perhaps more accurately, it would mean having to leave the confines of the press box to write the story.

  15. sdelmonte - Oct 4, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    I wonder what you would find if you went through the archives of the newspapers from 1977, and saw if anyone talked about the Yankees winning in the same terms. The Bronx is Burning – a good book, though incomplete in many ways – makes a strong case that NYC was totally down at its heels to a large degree, and that the return of the Yankees coincided with the return of the city to greatness, or something akin to it.

    • heynerdlinger - Oct 4, 2011 at 2:16 PM

      If only that were true. Bernhard Goetz shot those kids on the subway in 1984. If it was the ’77 Yankees that brought the city back to greatness, they had a bit of work left to do seven years later.

  16. presidentmiraflores - Oct 4, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    I think we would be making a mistake to assume that the commentators are referring to the sports teams’ successes raising the spirits of the worst off. I imagine the people they are talking about are the ones who are still holding on, but saddened by what they have seen around them. Like most, I doubt they think at all of the truly down and out, the homeless and the foreclosed-upon, the long-term unemployed and the like.

    What Craig and others have said is true, but it is probably also true that the success of the Tigers and the Lions is making this a better fall for many people in the area.

    Not everything has to be all-or-nothing; multiple truths can coexist and often do.

  17. bigleagues - Oct 4, 2011 at 1:21 PM

    Detroit – Michigan’s very own Bridgeport, CT

  18. dnc6 - Oct 4, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    Craig, didn’t you know, apart from a couple small instances, nothing happens between NY and LA? Every time something happens to those useless flyover cities, we have to inform those in the cultural meccas just how tough those third-worlders really have it.

    • - Oct 4, 2011 at 2:35 PM

      Exactly. Having spent most of my life in the plains states I’ve learned to ignore this mentality.

      When Kansas City was awarded the All-Star Game next year the snark was instant and vicious from the National Media. And just for Tony Kornholer & Bill Simmons I hope it is 107 with 90% humidity next summer. Everyone else gets BBQ in the AC.

  19. lampdwellr - Oct 4, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    I have considered starting a blog entitled I Want to Go to the Unemployment Office with Justin Verlander.

  20. Detroit Michael - Oct 4, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    I should say that I work in the City of Detroit (in the Renaissance Center, which if the office complex in the right side of the photo to this blog entry) but that I live in suburban Detroit. I don’t mean for my internet handle to imply that I necessarily live in the city.

    People from the Detroit are shouldn’t be bothered by bad or condescending press coverage because we’re used to it. Frankly, it’s about 90% understandable anyway. Some basic indiputable facts, which leads to negative press coverage, include:
    – Over much of the past 40 years, Detroit has been near the top of the nation’s violent crime statistics.
    – Over much of the past 30 years, Detroit has been near the top of the nation’s unemployment statistics.
    – The population of the City of Detroit peaked at 1,500,000 and now stands at about 700,000 approximately.
    – There are many ruins standing in the City of Detroit that have not been cleared since the 1967 riots. That’s 1967 folks. As in a very long time ago.
    – Southeast Michigan’s housing patterns continue to be very racially segregated in practice.
    – Just a few years ago, Detroit had quite a splashy scandal regarding (former) Mayor Kilpatrick.
    – For about 15-20 years, Detroit had a histroy of arsons on October 30. This has been under control for many many years now, but it still probably factors into our reputation.

    Just off the top of my head, that’s a lot of understandable reasons why Detroit has a bd national reputation. Those who live in Southeast Michigan and complain about our national press may not be very objective about the reasons why.

    • Detroit Michael - Oct 4, 2011 at 3:35 PM

      Sorry for the typos — no edit function on these comments.

  21. oldpaddy - Oct 4, 2011 at 4:59 PM

    I feel pity for the people of Detroit. What’s left of them anyway.

  22. franklapidus316 - Oct 4, 2011 at 6:07 PM

    Thank you thank you. This whole “bad thing happened in City, so root for their team” narrative drives me nuts as well. Its almost demeaning. “Hey, I know you’re in for some rough times, but how about I root for your local team, that’s the least i can do”.

  23. tashkalucy - Oct 4, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    Not many more readers right now, but I’ll add my two cents…..

    This entire article reads like something the Coen Brothers wrote for either Walter or The Dude to say in ‘The Big Labowski’, but decided to cut it out.

  24. hp4life - Oct 4, 2011 at 8:02 PM

    Ethnocentricism! The idea that you and where you are from is better than everybody and every place else! I grew up in the Detroit area and my family is still there. I go back regularly. The natives are keenly aware of the problems they face, and don’t need some outsider with a superficial view of things pontificating on the ills of Detroit.

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