Ed Driscoll

Walking in a Weimar Wonderland

Over the summer, PJTV alumnus Steven Crowder angered some on the left by producing a brutal parody of Detroit’s then-new ad campaign, titled “Detroit: America’s Comeback City,” which — holy horrible timing, Batman! — hit the airwaves about five minutes before the city declared bankruptcy:

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But Crowder’s riff on Detroit as a vacation getaway dovetails rather well with this item near the end of her new book on The Power of Glamour, in which Virginia Postrel spots the most unlikely glamorous destination of all:

“Where I live in the Bay Area,” writes the journalist Alexis Madrigal, “there’s a certain glamour to Detroit.” Detroit? To most people, the beautiful, prosperous, dynamic Bay Area seems far more glamorous than cold, rundown, and bankrupt Detroit. But the Bay Area is crowded, built-up, and expensive. Detroit appeals to the yearning, particularly among the young, for someplace cheap and open enough to allow people to take economic chances, following dreams that may not pay off — the kind of frontier California once represented.

The idea of Detroit is also alluring to those who’d like to reinvent the urban environment without the political resistance of activist residents and property owners. “Detroit,” Madrigal observes, “is the place where Bay Area types imagine an urban tabula rasa, a place where enough has gone away that the problems of stuffing millions of people into a small region can be reimagined, redesigned, remade.” But when he actually visits Detroit, the journalist finds that the emptiness that sounds promising in theory is depressing in person. “The number of abandoned buildings in Detroit— and the feeling they toss into the air — is truly unfathomable to someone raised on the west coast,” he writes. The city’s glamour is an illusion that tells the truth not about Detroit but about Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

No kidding. But Madrigal’s dream of escaping to an urban wasteland sounds very much like Daniel Henninger’s 2005 Wall Street Journal article on arty leftwing New Yorkers longing for the New York of the Taxi Driver/Death Wish era, after Mayor Lindsey had his way with the city in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Who knows, perhaps it too will resemble Detroit if incoming Mayor Bill De Blasio is allowed to go the full Bane:

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And both of the observations on the urban left from Postrel and Henninger seeking a more nihilistic, dissipated culture are a reminder of the lessons the left always seems to learn the hard way, no matter how much the nuclear fallout impacts the rest of us:

Everybody wants to experience the nightlife in the Weimar Republic, but the hangover can be a real killer.

(For my interview with Postrel on her new book, click here to listen.)

Related: Mark Steyn on the Weimar-esque atmosphere masking Japan’s demographic implosion: “Sex at Sunset.