If I tried to combine every thought that came in my head while watching this video into a coherent essay, I would have something book length, so instead, I’m just going to spit it out.
Wow. Mind blown.
First of all, great job, Grand Rapids. Sincerely. The city put together a mammoth effort, even without the help of Kickstarter, and came up with an Internet video that was not only successful, but put others in the category to shame. I tend to think with art of a more casual sort, if you don’t have a concept that in itself is necessarily going to knock it out of the park, at least go big on the effort. Done and done.
And in throwing their hat into the meme, white America reminds the internet that it exists. The internet is not just pro-democracy fronts and third-world music blogs, folks! It is possible to have a good old fashioned Main Street parade online. No taco truck reviews, no workers’ rights, no sex, no militant screen printing hacker collectives. Football, American made cars, and, well, apple pie.
I don’t say this simply to be facetious. Main Street America does exist, and it would only be a publication as idiotically outdated as Newsweek, (see link for back story on that) who thinks that it is somehow more an arbiter of taste, more up with the times and pace of the internet than a city on a river in Michigan. All those “real Americans” you saw in the video have Internet connections, and you better believe they cancelled their subscriptions to Newsweek, if they even had any.
And isn’t it somewhat refreshing, to see the meme of America rescued from hate-filled invective, pulled out of the politics for one minute, to mug for the camera in a way that makes us seem welcome in “real America” once again; to make Chambers of Commerce look like nice community organizations, rather than the money behind union crushing, the propping up of corporate property rights, and anti-gay legislation? I mean, it is almost enough to make me forget the experiences I’ve had being called “fag” while crossing Main Street, USA, and make me think about living in the Midwest again. Almost.
Not that any of these nice folks in Grand Rapids would do something like that. They all look like nice people, with nice lives. And with the sort of effort necessary to put a project like this together, the goodwill and support for the community provided by local businesses, lawmakers, and everyday people alike, they might have a different sort of town that defies the norm, where people band together and form a community, indeed, the only thing that’s ever formed community, unlike many so-called defenses of “family, community, and small business”.
And so I wonder if, after raising $40,000 to make this video, the next weekend they all got together to put in bike lanes. Or to build low income housing. I just wonder, I don’t mean to imply that they should have done this instead. They can do whatever they like with their time, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making a video, any more than there is anything wrong with putting in a statue of Robocop, as elsewhere in Michigan. But a community is defined by what they choose to do with their community. And a definition is not only what is said, but also what is not said. This might be the cornerstone of self-expression, whether you are a city or a person, or any other entity.
This juxtaposition between the little that is said and the lot that isn’t said is not an accusation in my mind, but when I watch two videos back to back (as the vicissitude of the Internet decided for me), the question is automatically posed. And what is the question, anyway? I’m not entirely sure. But when there’s a nice singalong going on in the streets of one town, when somewhere across the world there are beatings and worse going on in the streets of another town, there should be a question asked, shouldn’t there? Even if we can’t quite bring it to our lips.
I wonder if, maybe not unlike in the classic song Grand Rapids decided to sing, this video could be the moment that something died. Not in a fiery plane crash, of course. But in the sense that when something is memorialized, it in its reality is somewhat ceased. You don’t plant a gravestone for something that is still living. Don McLean reacting to the 60s with nostalgia for something that people wanted to believe still existed, even though that sort of Americana was now a ghost. The ghost of Main Street America, in a world of Tahrir squares. And yet they can still sing this song, with help from their platinum sponsors. That’s something, right? Isn’t it? To whom?
Lastly, in a fit of SF splendor, I imagine this clip resurfacing after a number of years, and discovered by some disaffected youth, longing for the way the continent “used to be”. In a saga reminiscent of Damnation Alley, they set off across whatever this terrain will look like then, attempting to find the promised land of Grand Rapids. What is it that they will find? Probably not radioactive, mutated cockroaches. But other than that, I can’t say that I know with certainly in any direction.