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.