Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Grand Rapids Michigan wastes a lot of time and money proving its irrelevance

Yahoo! has a story about a video produced by some people in Grand Rapids, Michigan -- apparently to show they're still relevant.

The video's YouTube page has the following statement from the director:
"The Grand Rapids LipDub Video was filmed May 22nd, with 5,000 people, and involved a major shutdown of downtown Grand Rapids, which was filled with marching bands, parades, weddings, motorcades, bridges on fire, and helicopter take offs. It is the largest and longest LipDub video, to date.

This video was created as an official response to the Newsweek article calling Grand Rapids a "dying city." We disagreed strongly, and wanted to create a video that encompasses the passion and energy we all feel is growing exponentially, in this great city. We felt Don McLean's "American Pie," a song about death, was in the end, triumphant and filled to the brim with life and hope." - Rob Bliss, Director & Executive Producer

*Note: The "NEW WORLD RECORD" designation refers to size and scope, not duration.
So you read something about your city "dying," and your response is to waste a lot of time and money putting together an embarrassing "LipDub" video showing moving their lips along to one of the most tedious, meandering, pretentious songs of all time?

It could have been worse -- they could have chosen Richard Harris's "MacArthur Park." Actually, the Donna Summer version of that song is kind of fun. But then everything Donna Summer ever did is touched by at least some greatness.

Anyway, congratulations, I guess, to Grand Rapids, Michigan, on your "NEW WORLD RECORD." You've shown exactly why your city is dying.

Yahoo has a link to the list of "America's Dying Cities." The reason why they say the city is dying is population decline:
Total Population (2009): 193,710
Proportion Under 18 (2009): 24.8%
Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -2.1%
Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -2.2 percentage points
So this list actually measures population decline, not whether or not the city is "dying?" They also mention:
Michigan dominates much of this list, with several cities experiencing significant declines in population as the state suffered high unemployment rates and above average foreclosures in recent years due mainly to the collapse of the auto industry.
But the list doesn't have any hard statistics on Grand Rapids' unemployment and foreclosure rates?

The introduction to the list offers a bit more information:
In several dozen cities nationwide, the population actually declined significantly as residents presumably began to flee the region’s toxic financial atmosphere, or perhaps in some cases, even held off on having kids due to a lack of resources.

We used the most recent data from the Census Bureau on every metropolitan area with a population exceeding 100,000 to find the 30 cities that suffered the steepest population decline between 2000 and 2009. Then, in an attempt to look ahead toward the future of these regions, we analyzed demographic changes to find which ones experienced the biggest drop in the number of residents under 18. In this way, we can see which cities may have an even greater population decline ahead due to a shrinking population of young people.

For the record, the piece appeared originally, at a place called They have posted a response to the pointless "American Pie" video:
After the story was published on our site (and later posted on, with which we had a content-sharing partnership), several residents began a campaign to show that the city was anything but “dying.”

Multiple Facebook groups launched with titles like “Grand Rapids Michigan Is Alive & Kickin,” and residents including the city’s mayor fought back against the claim in their local papers. Now, several months later, the people of Grand Rapids have turned to YouTube to highlight the city’s vitality.

In the video above, dozens if not hundreds of the city’s residents march through the streets lip-syncing the words to Don McLean’s “American Pie,” with its fitting chorus of “this will be the day that I die.” It’s a remarkable video that truly shows off the sense of community and pride of Grand Rapids residents and we at MainStreet were genuinely moved by it.
It is a remarkable video.

It completely reinforces why it is that Grand Rapids is dying, per the criteria used by to measure it. The population is declining, and aging. So the people chose to dust off a song from 1971 to show just how their "passion" and "energy" are growing in Grand Rapids.

You will note that the statement says nothing about the population growing.

They closed downtown for this. They raised $40,000 for this. This does not inspire confidence. When the city of Grand Rapids feels slighted, the residents get together and do something about it. They do something that does nothing to address the appalling problems they have. They don't look at why it is that people are leaving their city. They don't examine the ways they could make their city more appealing so that people look upon it as a place to raise their children -- a city with a hopeful future. This is a city that looks to the past, to a terrible, boring, overwrought and pretentious song about Buddy Holly's plane crashing in 1959.

That's likely true of most of America. We "accomplish" things that do absolutely nothing of value and don't address the actual problems we all face. (You can insert whatever "actual problems" you like.)

But none of that is really what motivated me to write this blog post. If the city of Grand Rapids wants to publicly embarrass itself, that's its business. I wouldn't care at all were it not for the fact that, via yahoo, we learn that occasional film "critic" Roger Ebert has called this tedious, annoying little exercise in futility "The greatest music video ever made."

Really? It's better than this?:

Our troops in the Middle East, whose patriotism and courage, and their desire to "serve their country," are being exploited by cynical politicians who want to look "strong," and "stay the course" (remember when our current president was still just a nominee, and he was going to bring the troops home?) have real reason to be offended by their mistreatment. The juxtaposition of the frivolous, disposable Lady Gaga song against this frustrating and dangerous backdrop worked in a way that shames the self-righteousness of Grand Rapids' Michigan's waste of time and money.

It is the far greater achievement, and was created for far less than $40,000, which should have been spent on something else. They could have sent care packages to soldiers who are fighting in the Middle East, for instance.

Also better than the Grand Rapids Michigan video:

Amy Winehouse is creepy enough. La Pequeña Amy Winehouse amplifies that creepiness while making us question our own interest in this mildly talented self-destructive woman. It indicts any of us who has ever read a gossip blog, and questions our collective fascination with the idea of celebrity.

Also better than the Grand Rapids Michigan video:

There has never been a bolder statement about popular culture in general, popular music in particular. The acme of prefabricated, soulless autotune.

I could go on, but you get my point. A video created to show how vibrant and alive a city is does just the opposite. It shows shamelessness and thoughtlessness. The fact that it is full of hundreds of people, all of whom should have known better -- any one of whom could have stood up and said, "Is this the best use of our limited resources? Is this the best use of our time?" makes it all the more painful (full disclosure: I couldn't watch all of it).

But, congratulations on your great "achievement," Grand Rapids. In one ten-minute video you've shown the world exactly what's wrong with you -- with all of us. A complete lack of desire to face reality.


A.Jaye said...

Disclosure: I didn't watch any of it.

I'm aware of the psychology: someone points out what's wrong with you (in this case dispassionately) and the reaction is a bout of madness. Eg "who are you to judge?"

Cities are on the decline all over the world all the time - be the national economy good or bad. Reasons can be the decline of industry and/or the surge in services. What saves towns and cities are the leadership and then the people.

The people with any sense have already left. The people without go on Youtube. If mayor George Heartwell was English he'd win his next election.

Ricky Sprague said...

On the one hand, I kind of feel bad for the people of Grand Rapids. I definitely understand your "who are you to judge?" point. I think that type of defensiveness might be ingrained in humans -- if someone insults your pack, you want to spring into action to protect them and, therefore, yourself.

But have we really reached a point where this, this silly video, is considered a proactive response to a perceived threat to your town? If the cavemen had thrown a party when winter came, instead of building shelters for themselves, we'd all be dinosaurs now.

Or something like that. That metaphor kind of got away from me a little bit, but you probably get the idea.