Putdown or lowdown?

You might have heard some hubbub over the August issue of Playboy, which contains an article titled “Detroit, Death City.”

The author of the piece, Frank Owen, is a white native of Manchester, England, who married a black woman from Detroit. The nut of the story focuses on his father-in-law and his brother-in-law, now both deceased. The father is described as an intelligent and dignified Black Power revolutionary turned social activist and public servant.

The brother-in-law was blessed with similar intellect; the relatively privileged young man inherited his father’s rebellious streak but allowed it to manifest itself in the hustler persona of a high-rolling drug slinger. The brother-in-law would do prison time and try to turn his life around. But, of course, he’d be murdered in a drug deal gone awry.

Like any Detroiter, the folks behind News Hits tend to get defensive when an outsider dares analyze, let alone deigns to criticize, our beloved, beautiful, fucked-up burg. Hey, those people can’t make fun of Detroit — that’s our job!

A spokesman for The Kwamster dutifully denounced the piece as perpetuating outdated misperceptions. The fabulous DetroitYES! (detroityes.com) discussion group was all over the piece. One poster writes: “Wow, another article about how bad it is in Detroit. How original! Beat that dead horse! No, no hit it again! Awwh, can I hit it just one more time! Go ahead!”

After deciding that Detroit is neither dead, nor a horse, we let our initial harrumphs subside. We sat down and gave the piece a careful reading.

Owen does indeed employ a multiplicity of clichés in describing Detroit, including the terminally sappy “place where the American dream came to die.”

As melodramatic and trite and familiar as his descriptions of Detroit may seem (we hadn’t realized that Detroit was “godless” — many thanks to the pious folk at Playboy for clearing that up), we honestly can’t disagree with much of what Owen wrote. Certainly, Detroit is a place with much more élan and pride and promise than “Detroit, Death City” lets on. There are scores of stories of triumph for every story like Owens’. But this is Playboy, where Sex always runs with its trusty sidekick, Violence.

Bottom line: The piece is reasonably well-reported, and the tragic narrative of the father and son is compelling.

So, the half of you Detroiters who aren’t functionally illiterate (a stat from the piece attributed to Wayne State University professor Jerry Herron) should rush right out and get your August copy of Playboy. Those of you who can’t read (and have the use of at least one hand) might enjoy the pictures.

The article once again strips Motown bare for an international audience. If we don’t like it, we’d be wise to look in the mirror before murdering the messenger. One thing we can all agree on is that there’s more than enough murder here already.

Contact News Hits at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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