Monday, February 07, 2011

Selling Rust Belt Chic

Rust Belt bloggers are buzzing about Chrysler's Super Bowl ad starring Eminem. I've only encountered positive reactions. I'm sure a Marxist critique can't be long in coming. Tim Logan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gets to the heart of Detroit's iconic power:

Detroit, the ad's gravel-voiced narrator reminds us, is a proud American city, distinct from New York City or the Windy City or Sin City, "and we're certainly no one's Emerald City." No, it's a place where real people make real things, and make them well. By extension Chrysler - which along with Ford and GM is so synonymous with Detroit - is a company where real people make real things, and make them well.

There is glory in grit and Detroit owns that brand. The city is more than unique. It is the anti-Portland. Governing on Rust Belt Chic:

Part of it is the scruffy, industrial look. It may also be a rejection of cities with gleaming condo towers, bistros and boutiques that were once so trendy yet now seem so frothy and fake in the wake of the economic meltdown.

Chrysler's ad is a rejection of emerald cities. The Rust Belt, as is, sells. Levi's figured that out with its promotion of Braddock. Anthony Bourdain tried to explain the appeal to his fans:

I think that troubled cities often tragically misinterpret what’s coolest about themselves. They scramble for cure-alls, something that will “attract business”, always one convention center, one pedestrian mall or restaurant district away from revival. They miss their biggest, best and probably most marketable asset: their unique and slightly off-center character. Few people go to New Orleans because it’s a “normal” city — or a “perfect” or “safe” one. They go because it’s crazy, borderline dysfunctional, permissive, shabby, alcoholic and bat shit crazy — and because it looks like nowhere else. Cleveland is one of my favorite cities. I don’t arrive there with a smile on my face every time because of the Cleveland Philharmonic.

The last to realize the power of the Rust Belt brand to attract talent will be the shrinking cities themselves. They aspire to be the next Emerald City, an oasis in a desert of blight and abandonment. America's urban frontier is the future of this country, not the utopian escapism of Portland.

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