Last week, I bought three old copies of “Life” magazine from a bookshop in Ferndale: one each from 1948, 1958, and 1968. Twenty years of American history, bracketed.
What struck me the most is the weird version of reality presented in the advertisements, and to a lesser extent in the editorial content, of a perfect, white, middle-class America, where everyone's material needs could easily be met and the scope for further technological improvement of domestic life was unlimited. So long, that was, as gender, class, and race roles were strictly maintained. Objective accounts of history present another picture.
What were people thinking? Did anyone really believe any of this? Or was hypocrisy silently accepted as a necessary requirement for an orderly society?
This got me thinking a lot about how far we have come, or how far we have not come. As the media of the 1940's peddled the stereotype of the perfect wife preparing the perfect casserole, we are now bombarded with images of a hyper-optimised, performance- money- and status-obsessed ideal lifestyle.
Detroit is interesting because it is hard to be fooled by such promises here. It is sometimes described as the West's first post-industrial city, but it's post-a-lot-of-things too. I see a life after corporate capitalism here, where the big-name retail outlets don't bother to set up shop, advertising is conspicuous by its general absence, and a generally slow pace of life has taken hold in response to the practical difficulties involved in getting things done – an example of which will follow.
Detroit is the end. But it is also the start of something else.
On Saturday afternoon, unable to deal with the sticky heat on Farnsworth any longer, we headed over to Belle Isle for a swim in the river. We were not the only ones with this idea.
But almost as soon as we were in the water, everyone was told to get out again. There was a storm coming; it is not a good idea to be in the water when lightning hits.
Very soon the water was empty, and most people decided to head home. And so we were left with the beach to ourselves, and a fantastic view of the storm coming in over the downtown area in the distance. Soon the Renaissance Center (headquarters of General Motors) and the rest of the city was invisible, as if it had just melted into the sky.
Then suddenly, without warning, the storm hit Belle Isle beach. We were struck by a wave of hailstones and sand whipped up by the wind, giving us just a few moments to grab our things and run back to the van before everything was blown away. With everybody inside, we slammed the doors shut and waited for the worst of the storm to die down. We could not see more than a few metres outside.
Leaving Belle Isle was made difficult by the heavy rain, fallen tree branches, and the huge number of people trying to do the same thing. As we finally made it back towards the East Side, our way was continually blocked by fallen trees and flooded roads. About an hour earlier, we had been sitting in bright sunshine.
By the time we reached home, an eerie calm had descended, along with a strange yellow glow in the sky. It felt like the end of the world.
Besides the fallen trees, all the traffic lights in the area had stopped working, along with the internet connection of everyone on the block. It was four days before we were online once again.
In the meantime I have been doing a lot of reading, cycling, and sitting on the porch. Here's to the offline life.