David B.




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January 25, 2006
The Party at the End of the World

The Super Bowl is to be played in Detroit this February.


It would be funny if it weren't tragic.


Never mind the worthlessness of the pseudo-event itself. The Super Bowl is to actual sports what Fox News is to actual journalism - a blowsy, boorish, pug-ugly exercise in fakery and spectacle - the penultimate tale told by an idiot, full of fury and bluster, signifying nothing, notable only for the national statistical increase in wife beatings that it spurs annually. In Detroit, the Super Bowl means business. And business, as we all know, trumps all comers: Never mind whether it's good for the community, good for children, good for people, or good entertainment - if it's good for the bottom line, it's automatically good.


Thus the tortured logic which spurred this once-proud hulk of a city to prostrate itself before the NFL and beg for this stale, sour, flavorless crumb from the master's table. The Super Bowl, we were told, would mark the economic and cultural rebirth of the city of Detroit, spurring a massive cash infusion into its economy, a tide of new city residents, an abundance of positive - for a change - media attention. The Super Bowl, we were told, was Detroit's make-or-break bid to emerge from its tar-pit torpor and re-emerge on the national stage as a vital, vibrant city. All thanks to the beneficence of the National Football League. Lucky us.


It hasn't quite worked out that way. Oh, preparations are on track for the "big game" all right; derelict historical landmarks such as the Motown Records building and the Statler Hotel have been demolished at a record pace; surveillance cameras have been installed in every possible nook and cranny; the formerly ubiquitous homeless population, the true downtown denizens of "The D," have been shuffled to other locales, and thus out of sight and mind. (How this has been accomplished is an interesting question in and of itself.  In at least one instance, the methodology for removal included the police spraying a man with mace, beating him, and unceremoniously dumping him outside of the city limits.)


This is not, of course, the picture of Super Bowl preparations which is painted on the six o'clock evening news. The television holds that this wondrous once-in-a-lifetime event is marked by smiling businessmen shaking hands, earnest volunteers picking up litter, and preparations for star-studded parties where rail-thin supermodels and burly quarterbacks can comfortably cavort to the delight of hordes of worshipful local admirers. Everything is colorful, glittering and nice.


A quick walk of the city's streets, even in the relatively immediate proximity of the stadium where the bacchanal is to take place, shows how little of the glitter has landed beyond the view of the camera's lens. Though seldom openly acknowledged, Detroit remains a city hurtling towards the abyss - spiraling unemployment, rampant blight, an unending procession of layoffs and plant closings, a ubiquitous drugs trade, and a near-bankrupt municipal government are taking their toll upon a population already battered by decades of adversity. Detroit's population, once over 2 million, is now well below a million and falling. The people, the jobs and the economic lifeblood of a major urban metropolis continue to drain away unchecked, leaving a wasted landscape and human misery behind.


So what does it mean for the steroid-pumped athletes and silicone-injected starlets, the cameras and businessmen and party people and banner-waving buffoons, to saunter into this ground zero of middle-American economic meltdown for their annual exercise in self indulgence? What does it mean that millions worldwide will see the ossified husk of Mick Jagger beamed into their living rooms from the comfortable thousand-dollar-a-seat confines of Ford Field, while this city's desperate population linger just outside of the camera's view and security cordon, uninvited, unacknowledged and unwanted at the party?


Well, according to the most blithely optimistic prognostications, $300 million - the amount of "local economic activity" that the NFL's gaudy dog-and-pony show claims to generate. Sure. $300 million, approximately zero of which will wind up in the pockets of the people sleeping underneath the I-75 overpass. And approximately 100 percent of which will wind up safely in the hands of the restaurant chains and beer manufacturers, the team and facility owners, the multinational hotel chains and other parasitic barnacles clinging to the underside of Super Bowl XL.


As for everyone else at ground zero: Let them eat cake.


2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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