OK guys, I think you’re old enough to handle this. We need to talk about porn.
It’s a controversial topic, even among the staff here at Go Go Go. I’m of two minds about it, myself. On the one hand, I don’t want to be exploitative or in any way mock or condescend to people and cities and whole ways of life that have been negatively impacted by wave after wave of economic change and collapse in this country. On the other hand, I like to see things for myself and experience new and different places. And the desire to do that wins out most every time.
After all, it seems like our problem with ruin porn–the trend of (mostly well-off, mostly young, mostly white) people visiting and taking pictures of falling-down, burnt-out, returning-to-nature buildings in (mostly poor, mostly black or Hispanic) urban settings–is really the problem of “too soon.” No one complains if someone visits the Parthenon or takes photos of Chichen Itza. Those, too, are the remains of once-great civilizations brought to an end by the forces of history. The wreckage of beautifully constructed buildings from the various Golden Ages of the industrial centers of the United States, like Gary, Indiana, and perhaps more famously, Detroit–the turn of the last century, the 20s, the 50s–is no different, only much more recent and much closer to home. It was our moms and dads getting laid off from their union factory jobs. It was the centers of our hometowns that were boarded up and left for dead. And so those become harder images to see, harder stories to tell.
And I’ll be honest. I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian. I went to Gary just as a traveler. I wasn’t there to help or tell stories. I was there just to look. And I’m not going to pretend I’m not liberal-guilty enough to feel totally comfortable with that. But the buildings were beautiful and haunting, and moving around in those spaces was that combination of fun and scary that good travel feels like, and it reminded me of those buildings you see in Europe–most often churches–that are left as bombed-out memorials to the trauma of World War II. The battles that took down the mighty buildings of Gary were quieter and slower, but the result looks eerily similar.
Coming Friday: more pictures, and my tips for how to do urban exploring properly.