A Short Culture Wars Essay-Two Links On Detroit & ‘Ruin Porn’

This will be a slightly longer post, so thanks for hanging in there with me.

From Land That I Live: In Defense Of Ruin Porn:

‘So what is ruin porn? Take yesteryear’s environments, our forgotten factories and collapsing hospitals, and airbrush them for public consumption. Here, devoid of their context, we can revel in the beauty of these crumbling sanctuaries.

And they are beautiful – but in ruin porn, the beauty is exaggerated and presented in a way that precludes any thoughtful interaction with the subject.’

For some examples, see Time Magazine’s photo essay by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre (less porn-like, more thoughtful).

Our author’s defense here is: Stick to your subject. Be true to your art.  Make it beautiful, but don’t make open to criticisms of art as porn, giving too fleeting and superficial a pleasure.

She goes on:

‘Little thought is given to how to reuse as much of our resources as possible, except when it is economically advantageous to do so. The ecological repercussions of our actions have also been largely ignored until recently.’

Here’s where we can argue more clearly over ideas.  Some reflection on the fact that industry has consequences is useful when staring at such decay.  We have to face up to some grim facts of our condition, including how our economy is changing.  Some environmental laws can even help clean up cities if those laws get the incentives right (big business doesn’t always have your interests in mind).

That said, I see the creep of this kind of thinking all throughout our society, and it’s usually presented as though it comes without tradeoffs.

Few people talk about how the ethos of environmental sustainability often precludes sentiment for economic sustainability and an understanding of what made Detroit an industrial powerhouse in the first place.  We live in a world of scarcity and lack of resources.  There are costs to economic and political freedoms that result from simply relying on politicians and environmental activism to shape the world.  It seems to have become a platform of the Democratic party.

On that note, I wanted to further dip into the culture wars:

Ed Driscoll at PJ Media discusses ruin porn extensively (you pesky nihilists are leading us to Hitler!), and quotes Robert Tracinski’s ‘Why The Oscars Were So Bad.’:

‘This is the dead end of Modernist culture, which sought to break down traditional values and rules but was unable to replace them with anything better. It left us in a cultural void where, as the New York Times piece puts it, everyone is afraid that “serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst.” In the second half of the 20th century, this corrosive Modernist skepticism brought us the ruling concept of contemporary popular culture: the “cool.” Remember the original meaning of the term. To be “cool” is to be emotionally cool, to refuse to be caught up in enthusiasm. Early on, this could be taken to mean a kind of manly reserve, the ability to be calm, cool, and collected in the face of strife, or to refuse to be carried away by momentary or trivial emotions. This is the sense in which James Bond was “cool.” But by the end of the 20th century, the culture of cool increasingly came to mean a studied lack of response to values. It meant refusing to be carried away by enthusiasm about anything.’

I can understand why many conservatives and traditional thinkers are upset about the decline, as they see it, of our culture.  They arguably control much less of it than before, and have much less influence in the public square than they used to, as does organized religion.  Many people with conservative views feel targeted by Hollywood and the media generally, as though it’s turned against them, espousing ideas which undermine the virtues and duties which maintain civil society.  Even the technology sector tends to vote non-Republican.

Enough! goes the refrain.

Perhaps we could take a look at hipster culture for some clarification (about much I will invariably be wrong):

Instead of how many conservatives might want individuals to live;  looking for meaning and group membership through church and civic organizations, intimacy and love directly through marriage, and vocation through traditional means of work, many hipsters (those who can afford it) withdraw into a bubble of irony, seeming to lack outward enthusiasm for anything.

They tend to seek meaning and group membership (while remaining totally individualistic) through the arts, fashion, music and popular music.  There is some real drug-use there, and a few real artists.  There are definite counter-cultural undercurrents as well.  Intimacy and love are explored further away from marriage, but maybe not terribly far (gay marriage is now the hot topic).  Vocation for hipsters often incorporates ideas of the local, communal, environmentally sustainable, and more often anti-corporate. Sometimes it can veer into the collectivist.

Haven’t we seen these folks before?  I’ve heard the argument that they are less radical, and milder copies of the beats and original hipsters.

On the conservative view presented above, we’ve gotten sick on Continental philosophy.  We’ve been sick for a while, and there are larger, Western forces at work. Just as the Western artist has become increasingly isolated over the past few centuries from his society, so are individuals increasingly isolated in American life from the traditions, civic culture and religious virtues that conservatives think should unite us once again.  This drifts us Europe-ward over time.

Continuing this line of thought, the 1960’s in American life were a rough time for conservatism.  We broke out into a postmodern flu, which started out as just a modernist tickle in the back of the throat after many long-past nights of romanticism and nihilistic revelry.  This flu involved a nasty outbreak of full blown New-Left radicalism which buried asunder the old liberalism.  The fever eventually subsided and the patient recovered, but the 60’s generation, including the hippies, feminists, environmentalists and old counter-culturalists have become institutionalized in the media, academia, and in our culture.

During the current progressive administration, under the ascendency of racial issues (progressivism has been around much longer, obviously) the same 60’s groups are now forming larger voting blocs and more powerful lobbying and interest groups seeking to extend their reach through politics and culture.  Unions, feminists, rent-seekers, a few crony capitalists and environmentalists all benefit to the exclusion of many others.

All this during a near recession!

In short, conservatives have good reasons to think they are losing the culture wars, and some are thinking there is a larger vortex leading us towards Europe.  Detroit ruin porn, hipster culture, the isolated individual, the overall drift of culture, all have conspired to make this a darker time for conservative principles.

I have to admit that upon writing this, it’s clearer in my mind than ever that neither political party has all the answers to our problems, while many people are looking for political solutions to solve many of our problems on the old “greatness” model.  This will make for interesting times ahead.

***Meanwhile in Detroit, despite all this talk, it’s declaring bankruptcy.  We’ve got problems with municipal bond  defaults across the country.  Some reflection is necessary.

Poor Detroit:


Related On This Site:  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’

What about the popular arts and culture?:Update And Repost-From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’…A Few Thoughts And A Tuesday Poem By Philip Levine

GM is not a municipality, but good money got put in, probably after bad and it reeks of politics: From The Detroit News: ‘How The Treasury, GM Stock Deal Got Done’

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

Institutionalized feminism, multiculturalism, moral relativism and environmentalism:  From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’Repost-From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?