Isn’t this a pretty picture?
I took it last week at Cranbrook, a little slice of heaven tucked away in a suburb of Detroit. You know Detroit, subject of network TV documentaries about things like industrial wastelands and economic war zones and cities of heartbreak and hope? The Cranbrook campus, which features a prestigious private school, science and art museums, and 40 acres of woods, fields and garden paths along a small lake and several streams, isn’t part of Detroit city proper. But Detroit is more than what is contained within its city limits. It is a sprawling region made up of a decaying center city as well as its myriad suburbs spread out along the Detroit River, adjacent Lake St. Clair ,and stretching north and west toward countless inland lakes, rivers and streams.
There are trees and parks and boulevards and other interesting things within Detroit city limits. But you won’t see them on a network TV show. What you get is what’s now being billed as “ruin porn.” You get images of despair and decay because that’s what people in California and New York and Florida and Texas think is Detroit. Why clear anything up for anyone outside of the “flyover zone?”
Look at this picture.
This is how Dateline NBC depicted Detroit in its Sunday feature. It’s not as warm and fuzzy as the first. The bare branches suggest death, decay and abandonment. I took this picture minutes before the image of the flowering tree at Cranbrook gardens. This gnarled old-timer crouches over a lake within 1,000 feet of the happy pink lady. Same place. Two different views.
See how easy it is in any given situation to play up the good or focus entirely on the bad? What’s apparently too difficult to do is to craft a report that shows the many layers of a complicated situation. It’s easier to show the same tired images of our abandoned train station, the bums in the gutter, the wayward youth, the noble poor woman feeding, clothing and housing three babies on $200 a week, and, of course, the crazy guy shooting and barbecuing raccoons in his yard.
I was disappointed that Dateline didn’t showcase a wider view of our region and include some images of Detroit’s many preserved neighborhoods and cultural treasures, of the many movers and shakers who work tirelessly to establish smart and innovative programs to reinvent this “city of heartbreak and hope.”
I’m not going to sugar coat things here. The reports themselves are not wrong. We have crime. We have corruption. We have massive urban decay. We have poverty and illiteracy and many other woes. We are the epicenter of the economic collapse. But, the Detroit area is so much more than the gnarled, half-dead tree and the crazy coon man. There are still a few pink ladies twirling out in the open yet they remain invisible to the national media.
Here are a few responses to that show if you’d like to hear the rest of the story:
The mayor of Detroit responds.
Reaction by a former journalist who was interviewed for the story.
A Web site with some beautiful images of Detroit that you’ll never see on a network show about Detroit.