Detroit residents hate it when people come to their city to take pictures of urban squalor and decaying, abandoned buildings; “ruin porn,” they call it, and not in a good way. Baltimore’s nowhere near as bad off as Detroit, but we’ve still got our share of bleak-looking cityscapes — like the one above, which the Huffington Post used to illustrate a front page story about “joblessness, near-poverty… [and] deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.” And the story does not mention Baltimore at all.

The HuffPo article is a depressing one, centering on the newly-released fact that 80 percent of Americans will struggle with economic hardship (defined as joblessness, near-poverty, and/or reliance on welfare) during their lives. In a country where the vast majority of Americans, from the very rich to the pretty poor, consider themselves “middle class,” it’s important to point these things out. Public money for anti-poverty programs seem a lot more appealing when you realize that the vast majority of the country might benefit from them at some point in their lives.

But does Baltimore have to become an icon of blight? I can’t articulate why exactly, but something about taking a photograph of a city street completely out of context and splashing the headline “AMERICAN NIGHTMARE” across it rubs me the wrong way. Sure, Baltimore has problems — a lot of problems — but there are also exciting experiments going on all across the city (don’t believe me? Check out this, or this). Ruin porn drools over the parts of a city that are abandoned, dead, or dying — while glossing over the fact that Detroit (and Baltimore) is full of people working and living and enjoying themselves, too. It’s no dream, but it’s no nightmare, either.

One reply on “HuffPo Uses Baltimore As Emblem of the “American Nightmare””

  1. Really interesting, Rachel! This is something that we see time and again with Baltimore, and it drives me nuts. I have nothing but love for shows like Homicide and The Wire, but I think they contribute to this misunderstanding of Baltimore as a massive urban slum. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the issues depicted on both shows are representative of a side of Baltimore, but just one side. Yes, crime numbers are among the highest, but as someone who grew up in Baltimore and has lived in Boston and Los Angeles, I can tell you that crime is everywhere and so are neighborhoods like the one above. In fact, in an article also published by HuffPost last month (although I doubt they were aware of the overlap since they have so many different moving parts), Baltimore didn’t even crack the top 5 most dangerous cities (Memphis, St. Louis, Oakland, Detroit, & Flint, MI as #1).

    So, that’s just a longwinded way of saying I agree and thank you for pointing it out!

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