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Beautiful Wasteland

The Rise of Detroit as America’s Postindustrial Frontier

2016
Author:

Rebecca J. Kinney

Beautiful Wasteland

What is the “new Detroit” that everyone keeps talking about?

Rebecca J. Kinney reveals that the contemporary story of Detroit’s rebirth is an upcycled version of the American Dream, which has long imagined access to work, home, and upward mobility as race-neutral projects. She tackles key questions about the future of postindustrial America, and shows how the narratives of Detroit’s history are deeply steeped in material and ideological investments in whiteness.

Rebecca J. Kinney's sophisticated and compelling study demonstrates the centrality of race-making to contemporary narratives of urban decline and revitalization.

David M. P. Freund, University of Maryland

According to popular media and scholarship, Detroit, the once-vibrant city that crumbled with the departure of the auto industry, is where dreams can be reborn. It is a place that, like America itself, is gritty and determined. It has faced the worst kind of adversity, and supposedly now it’s back. But what does this narrative of “new Detroit” leave out? Beautiful Wasteland reveals that the contemporary story of Detroit’s rebirth is an upcycled version of the American Dream, which has long imagined access to work, home, and upward mobility as race-neutral projects. They’re not. As Rebecca J. Kinney shows, the narratives of Detroit’s rise, decline, and potential to rise again are deeply steeped in material and ideological investments in whiteness.

By remapping the narratives of contemporary Detroit through an extension of America’s frontier mythology, Kinney analyzes a cross-section of twentieth and twenty-first century cultural locations—an Internet forum, ruin photography, advertising, documentary film, and print and online media. She illuminates how the stories we tell about Detroit as a frontier of possibility enable the erasure of white privilege and systemic racism. By situating Detroit as a “beautiful wasteland,” both desirable and distressed, this shows how the narrative of ruin and possibility form a mutually constituted relationship: the city is possible precisely because of its perceived ruin.

Beautiful Wasteland tackles the key questions about the future of postindustrial America. As cities around the country reckon with their own postindustrial landscapes, Rebecca Kinney cautions that development that elides considerations of race and class will only continue to replicate uneven access to the city for the poor, working class, and people of color.

Beautiful Wasteland

Rebecca J. Kinney, who grew up in metropolitan Detroit, is assistant professor in the School of Cultural and Critical Studies and Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University.

Beautiful Wasteland

Rebecca J. Kinney's sophisticated and compelling study demonstrates the centrality of race-making to contemporary narratives of urban decline and revitalization.

David M. P. Freund, University of Maryland

Beautiful Wasteland

Contents
Introduction: Building a Beautiful Wasteland
1. It’s Turned into a Race Thing: White Innocence and the Old Neighborhood
2. Picturing Ruin and Possibility: The Rise of the Postindustrial Frontier
3. Fanning the Embers: Branding Detroit as a Phoenix Rising
4. Flickers of the American Dream: Filming Possibility in Decline
5. Feeding Detroit’s Rise: Provisions for Urban Pioneers
Conclusion: The Strait: A Tale of Two Cities
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index