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Detroit may have seen better days, and may have its problems, but is it to be seen through a tragic lens? Should it viewed as an artifact whose meaning is to be determined by young artists looking for a sense of community, social integration, and a certain definition of “culture?”
At the end of this enjoyably contentious interview, Simon says we must learn how to live in cities. He says this as though it were a moral imperative, and as though his presentation of a rather tragic vision of human nature, good and evil, individuals navigating through corrupt and decaying institutions, were enough to actually live in those cities.
Here’s some of what Detroit living is like for many people:
The lights are off. There aren’t enough police. Like parts of Baltimore, it’s dangerous and unsafe, overrun with criminals and criminal activity. Detroit doesn’t have enough revenue to provide basic services. Clearly, some of what Detroit needs is to attract companies that are actually generating revenue back into Detroit. I doubt that the people still within city limits can focus on the crime and victims of violent crime, the broken windows, and the corruption at City Hall until something like this happens.
I realize we’re looking at decades of decline, and no easy answers. I also understand that Simon spent a lot of time writing at the Baltimore Sun, observing closely the stuff of which he made his show, the actual lives and rational incentives that guide many of his characters.
I don’t begrudge anyone their art nor experience, nor their own ideas and principles regarding that experience. I also don’t begrudge people their freedom to move into Detroit and grow community gardens, and seek some kind of ‘organic’ solution, though they will clearly run into problems.
Obviously, in getting individuals to contribute to institutions that aren’t already corrupt, or in some cases barely functional, much more is needed, including reasonable freedom from violence, the freedom to move out of a terrible neighborhood if you’re able, and the opportunity to get a job and develop skills that don’t relate to the drug trade.
Perhaps we are also in a Western wave of semi-nihilism passing through the arts and our culture: Individuals are isolated from, and in conflict with, nearly all institutions and traditions on such a view, led by the isolated artist himself. Artists usually have problems with religion, politics and convention. If they’re any good, they can show us beauty, bending our imaginations within the scope of their imaginations through their chosen medium.
You probably recognize the theme these days: The beautiful city, raucous and ruined, corrupted and decayed. The isolated, flawed characters making their way tragically through that city, casting long shadows. You can hear echoes of romanticism, modernism, and postmodernism throughout.
Personally, I doubt some form of soft collectivism or communalism (anti-corporatism) which is being attached to this nihilism is a good solution to such problems between the individual and his institutions in our society. A lot of liberals are entertaining it these days, in cities like Detroit and post-Katrina New Orleans.
I suspect such an approach will eventually make it harder to defend individual freedoms against the institutions such liberal ideas can actually create, which don’t work so well in the real world. Our freedom as Americans to make art and engage in free speech are central to our lives, but they are also intimately connected with our political and economic freedoms as well.
This makes for more culture wars, I suppose.
Related On This Site: Two ways around postmodernism, nihilism?: One is Allan Bloom Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’… Here’s a suggestion to keep aesthetic and political judgements apart-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment…
Is the same definition of ‘community’ connected with one that can stifle economic growth through political means?: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?… some people don’t want you to have the freedom to move to the suburbs and are attaching creativity to political goals: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’… From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar Man…
From Strange Maps: ‘Crime Topography Of San Francisco’… What about the victims of crime, not all this romanticization of criminals?: Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘Radical Graffiti Chic’..sometimes religion works for cities: Repost-William Stern At The City Journal: ‘How Dagger John Saved New York’s Irish’