Robocop statue: A youthful lift for Detroit or a monument to blight?
Could a Robocop statue do for Detroit today what the sci-fi movie hero did for the dystopian Motor City of the future? Critics of the proposal dismiss its pop-culture pop as Rust Belt chic.
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“The artist communities bring exactly the kind of young, energetic energy that these cities need,” says Syracuse University pop culture expert Robert Thompson, adding “it’s what many cities from New York’s Soho to New Orleans have done and done well.”Skip to next paragraph
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An “image” is composed of everything we know about a place, filtered through our value systems, he says via email.
“There are many ways that we “know” about a place – news media coverage (including the hapless Detroit Lions), fictional portrayals (the movies, “Robocop” “Grand Torino,” and TV’s “Detroit 187”), messages created by city, spotlight events that draw public and media attention,” he points out.
The real trick – and the reason why the Super Bowl spot struck a chord around Michigan and beyond, he says, “is to tell the story of how the city is trying to claw back.”
The meaning from this comes subtly, he adds, “to the extent that these messages spur conversations about what’s next for Detroit, they’re meaningful.”
To the degree that they sentimentalize and overlook the ravages of displaced workers and manufacturing flight, they are what John McCarthy, a professor of urban history at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, calls “Rust Belt chic.”
He maintains that viewing blighted cities as blank slates for outsiders to compose upon – artists or not – is arrogant and undermines genuine progress towards renewal. “I don’t see anything in the Robocop image that is positive for the city of Detroit,” he says, noting that the primary message it sends is at best, “an ironic one.”