As I’ve exposed myself more consistently to conservative and right wing media I’ve been amused by just how much there is an open distaste for cities. It doesn’t just take the guise of articles detailing how violent and unlivable urban nodes like Baltimore and Chicago have become, but also in immediate responses to any apparent positive news involving any city anywhere. It puts me in mind of the attitude I felt when my parents took me through the Deep South where, as northerners we realized that there were people who woke up loathing us because we existed in places which, truth be told, we only contemplated as existing when obligated to do so.
As time has moved on the two concepts have conflated, that is to say that loving what the South represents and hating cities do seem to go hand in hand with some brands of conservatism; which brings me back to my experiences with right leaning media; the zeal with which all cities are attacked is amusing to say the least. If I read an article on a website which brands itself as “city loving” like, for example, City Lab, they might find the nuances in a report about Millennialls and whether or not they are more given to living in cities than Gen Xers or Boomers, the same report at ZeroHedge will read, without too much exaggeration, “Millenialls leaving cities as urban hell-scapes drive them back to suburban life.”
There’s an enormous racial component in all this, to be sure, but almost as much opprobrium is unleashed on hipsters, tech wizards, and gentrifiers of all sorts. The narrative is that all cities are shitholes, but sometimes the shithole takes the guise of really nice restaurants, quaint cafes, loft apartments, and well used bike lanes and the White people who live in urban areas now will regret their choice when the zombie apocalypse occurs and their big stupid brains are the main course.
It was, in retrospect, one of the finest and most nuanced pieces I’d read, from a truly reactionary website, which set me to writing this present essay. It talked about the dis-ease in our society; how the programming of gadgets, pop culture, and social media turns us into zombies, people going about the functions of daily life but without any underlying meaning or joy to give them significance. It put me in mind of the idea that in a sick enough society the truly sane can only feel an alienated sadness.
What I found interesting was how the article sets all of this alienation and despair in an urban milieu not just in his contemplation of the Gary Jules cover of a Tears for Fears song which gave title to his essay, but in his entire analysis of the various crises confronting the United States. In terms of the video he describes these scenes, these buildings, and this neighborhood as “decaying, decrepit, and bleak”, the architecture as nondescript, and the apartments as gray and cookie cutter:
In his descriptions of the people I see what can only be described as the projection of his own world’s ennui to a cityscape where it has no place. I live in a neighborhood not totally unlike the one in these images, but the people here are not the ones who spend their time with their faces trapped in the screens of their iPhones, the children in this neighborhood, just as in the neighborhood in the video, are outside playing; by themselves, not on play-dates, not in structured activities. He avoids using screenshots of the automobile and the suburban home which accompany the “worn out faces” in the images which the children create on the sidewalk.
Listen to today’s adults bemoan the circumstances of “the children of today”, and they are the children of today who live in just this type of home:
As part of the video it’s clearly meant to be in contrast to the sadness of the poetic voice expressing his existential angst. The original Tears for Fears video even has the singer trapped alone inside a suburban home.
Chris Hedges points out in a recent speech that the enormous spike in suicides in the United States is propelled mostly by White men of about my age. These are people who fully believed in and trusted the American Dream and have been crushed by its disappearance. In contrast, Black men have always known that it was nothing but a myth for them, and so there is no increased angst in its revelation as a hoax. Surely this is a condition which holds true for the cities of the Rust Belt as well. As has been said, the future is here already, it just isn’t evenly distributed. My people, like the children in this video, aren’t unaware of the challenges they face, but the descriptions of people running around in circles engaging in meaningless interactions are not those that they see; they see people with a keen awareness that necessities like food and shelter are not guaranteed, not imagining that they will somehow someday manage to keep up with the Joneses…or the Kardashians.
Situating the unease of the age and referencing specific aspects thereof like school shootings, for example, which occur almost exclusively in White, middle class, suburban schools, in cities demonstrates an awareness that there is a crisis, but an inability to recognize that the crisis is one’s own.