A Well- Dressed ‘Naked City’


Are we so desperate for positive attention that we’ll take a backhanded compliment to heart?

I refer to The New York Times Style Magazine travel story about Detroit being fertile ground for art because rent is cheap, space is plentiful, and devastation can be inspiring.

Nice to know that New Yorkers and others are reading about the creative spirit bubbling up in this “failed metropolis,” as the writer described Detroit.

Failed. Really?

Failed was the most dire of the many ruin-porn adjectives that writer Linda Yablonsky plucked from her stash of clichés. Her depiction included the following descriptors: tatters, vast remains, devastated, aftermath of an earthquake, ghost town, wild dogs on downtown streets, tumbleweeds, corpse, derelict, faltering, desolation, crumbling, decay. She said downtrodden in so many ways that, if her words were people, there would be enough of them to afford shared rent on a New York apartment.

Our artistic community applauded Yablonsky’s piece, which is understandable. Who doesn’t like a crumb of the cultural cake?

But writing and reporting, like the visual arts, should be clear-eyed. That means carving a new path, steering around the minefield of tired phrases. Detroit’s woes have been chronicled ad nauseam.

Faded beauty is alluring. And in a world of digitally enhanced imagery, genuine flaws can have a stunning — if not shocking — effect. The only time I’ve heard someone gasp at a naked body on a movie screen was in the theater during a showing of About Schmidt, the 2002 film in which Kathy Bates drops her robe to expose a full view of a naked and decidedly non-starlet bod.

But the shock value of this “naked city” is getting played out. In that spirit, we offer Detroit’s Best Dressed. Grime gawkers may “fail,” to notice, but this is a style-minded town.

Our fashion plates take note of the details, even if those who write about our shabby appeal don’t. Yes, The Times story “failed” on the details scorecard. Some examples:

Highland Park is a city, not a neighborhood. Brewster-Douglass is spelled with a double “s,” MOCAD is an acronym (hence, all caps), and we do have high-end downtown hotels (the story said we lack on that score, naming only the Omni downtown and the Inn on Ferry Street, while omitting the Westin Book Cadillac, for one). Maybe the next media fly-by will shine a light on our other assets. And we should be ready for our close-up.

As this issue goes to press, our fingers are crossed for the rescue of the Chilean coal miners, men who have displayed (mostly) remarkable spirit. Images of the scene inside the fossil-fuel cavern have revealed men who are clean-shaven, well-organized, self-determining, and singing — against all odds.

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