Tube City Almanac

January 07, 2013

A Few Words on 'Ruin Porn'

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

Someone wants to know what I think of a blogger at the Huffington Post, who recently came to McKeesport, took pictures of a bunch of vacant storefronts, and concluded that "the city looked like it had been evacuated in 1979."

First of all, I'm not linking to the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post makes its money by selling advertising and not paying its contributors, or else paying them fractions of a cent per word. So I avoid reading the Huffington Post if at all possible.

Second, this kind of thing is called "ruin porn." It's the equivalent of staring at a car accident, or watching "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," and "oohing" and "aahing" at the carnage or cracking morbid jokes about the people depicted.

Some may say "ruin porn" highlights the problems faced by communities such as McKeesport. But what solutions do galleries of abandoned storefronts offer? None. It's just gawking.

Ruin porn does provide a good way for middle-class hipsters to feel enlightened as they sit in their comfortable loft apartments, surf liberal blogs and say, "Tsk-tsk, the unions/corporations/Democrats/Republicans/Masons/illuminati ruined McKeesport." Then they go to Target and buy Michael Graves-designed crap made in China.

One problem with all of these galleries of ruined storefronts in McKeesport or Detroit or wherever is that I can go anywhere in the Northeast and find the exact same kinds of scenes of abandonment in Dayton, Cincinnati, Toledo, Buffalo, Wheeling or Camden, N.J.

Hell, I don't need to go that far --- I can go to Monessen or Donora or Clairton or Duquesne or Beaver Falls or New Kensington. All of these places have been victimized by deindustrialization.

It isn't some problem unique to McKeesport. In fact, I've written about this before: The United States is becoming a nation of McKeesports.

Twenty or 30 years ago, we needed a major shift in U.S. industrial policy. Instead, we got "free market solutions" and were lectured about "creative destruction."

Well, we got the destruction. We didn't get so much of the creation. Factories were closed with the vague promise that if we were retrained, then "high-tech" or "service" jobs would move in to replace manufacturing work. In fact, communities got nothing, or (as in McKeesport's case) they got minimum wage call-centers that moved away as soon as the tax credits dried up. Now the high-tech and service jobs are moving overseas, too.

Ruin porn galleries prove nothing, offer no context and provide no exit from the problems faced by people who live in the communities depicted. Instead, ruin porn is a perverted form of nostalgia ("Gee, that building must have been nice before all the windows were busted out") and the Internet equivalent of a freak show, and I say to hell with it.

You are previewing your comment. Be sure to click on 'Post Comment' to store it.

Feedback on “A Few Words on 'Ruin Porn'”

Well said…I grew up in Duquesne/West Mifflin years ago, Mckeesport was a very active place back then, we would take the bus from duquesne to McKeesport and go shopping there every saturday that was when Mckeeport was a thriving town. My dad grew up in upper tenth ward on reynolds ave/street (not sure which) I have a brother who still lives in Duquesne and it saddens me everytime I go there, seems like more businesses are being closed down and more houses are being torn down. I worked in the Duquesne Steel mill back on the late 70’s early 80’s, in my opinion once the mill went down for good so did all the towns around it… People need to start buying American made again and bring the jobs back home
vickie - January 07, 2013

It is truly sad what happened to McKeesport. I have some memories of when I was a little girl. My mother and I would take the bus downtown, go to Isaly’s for a milkshake then look around the stores. Even though I never saw it in its prime, the difference from when I was little to now is drastic and sadness me. I too believe that loosing the steel mills definately affected the economy. And that outsourcing jobs is what is ruining many towns and this once great nation. I often wonder what we can do to breathe life into this once great city. Perhaps a new way of looking at what types of businesses to bring in would help. Perhaps we need to look at what is needed in the city. What businesses would flourish. Start small and build slowly. For example, looking at what is needed/wanted by those that,live in the city. Fulfill basic needs, while bringing in smaller companies that have products at affordable prices. For example: Plato’s Closet, and Once Upon a CHILD would bring in reasonably priced goods and while these two comanies wouldn’t bring in hundreds of jobs, they would bring in some jobs. Start small, build from there. I’d love to take a crack at convincing small business,to e nter the,city.
Christie (URL) - January 07, 2013

I would maintain that there is no place in as much ruin in southwestern Pennsylvania as McKeesport, at least not on such a large scale.

I grew up in New Kensington and can say for certain that New Kensington is nothing like McKeesport. The sheer number of abandoned homes—no, whole city blocks—is shocking. And not only blocks of homes, but the streets themselves are nearly abandoned; some are grown over completely with brush and trees.

More importantly, if we were to see such poverty, suffering, and squalor occurring in another nation, we would be sending in relief workers and billions of dollars in foreign aid.

Those who know me know that I chose to move into the city of McKeesport because it is a community in need of residents willing to work for positive change, even if that means taking on great personal and financial risks. But one thing that must be overcome is the attitude of denial in this city.

Things are bad here—very, very bad—and extreme measures need to be taken to save this community from abandonment, ruin, and violence. We must have strong community spirit and truly believe that things can change for the better, but we also cannot deny reality.

I agree with much of your assessment of “ruin porn,” but the problem here is, I think, that those who have realized how bad things have left, and too many of those who still live here (and could leave) remain because they are in denial.
Brian - January 07, 2013

Three words: Camilo Jose Vergara.
Seeing Eye - January 07, 2013

I agree with everything you say here, Brian … with the exception that I still don’t think McKeesport is an outlier, especially not after having seen Detroit. (Of course, “We’re just as bad as Detroit!” is not much of a slogan.)

Jenny Lind Street, Bailie Avenue, Stewart Street are eye-popping, but they aren’t unique in the U.S. Our abandonment of cities such as McKeesport is a national disgrace.

I think one issue that no one wants to confront is that McKeesport has become the regional dumping ground for other communities’ problems, ranging from drug abuse to people with mental health conditions to cheap rental housing. Let McKeesport deal with those problems so that wealthier suburbs of Pittsburgh don’t have to.

The pattern seems to be abandon McKeesport, move elsewhere, and then complain from your new location about how bad McKeesport has gotten.
Webmaster - January 07, 2013

I guess if I thought photo essays about the decline of McKeesport (or Detroit) were focusing attention on the problems (and thus attracting money and efforts to solve the problems) I wouldn’t mind them.

Instead, my reaction is along the lines of, “Either send help or STFU.”
Webmaster - January 07, 2013

I lived on Jenny Lind St. Circa 1948-1952. Revisited a few years ago and could not believe the condition of McK. It’s an american tragedy that is happening in many cities and town like McK. Glad a followed Mr. Greeley’s advice and moved to San Diego.
bernard revak - January 09, 2013

McKeesport PA has quite a history…
Lewis Paul (URL) - January 10, 2013

8QaQTY csraqwpoufpd, [url=]jgoagrytojeg[/url], [link=]pgxhoxqrabrg[/link],
uuxdhlnsjjt (URL) - May 27, 2013

One or more comments are waiting for approval by an editor.

Comments are now closed.