On Urban Gardens in Detroit and the Zombie Apocalypse

 

You're the salad. Your future employer is hungry.

You’re the salad. Your future employer is hungry.

Rule 1: Read the footnotes.

Rule 2: If you have a “Rule 1”, you need a “Rule 2.”

If you don’t get the joke in the caption, this article is for you.

I’ll have you know this article is for me, too.

I say this because when I first noticed why the egregious branding of the chicken pasta salad was funny, I thought it was just because some writer in the “Naming-Stuff Department” of some corporate mega-store 1 thought “unapologetically gratuitous/meaningless” could maximize sales. He seriously thought that by tacking on a bunch of semantically empty modifiers to what was just chicken, pasta, veggies, and flavored mayonnaise he could change the consumptive behaviors of his customers. 2   

The joke is NOT that some vulgar marketing sleazeball actually thought calling anything you eat with a plastic fork “signature” was okay. Nor is the joke that anything bought in a supermarket, “Cafe”, or even that, for all the flashiness embedded in the name, is $5.99 per pound.

No. 

The joke is I started laughing….after I bought it. “That’s not comedy. That’s tragedy. Don’t you know anything?” But, it’s worse than that, and I’ll get to why, later. I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, but you bought it after the fact and despite the stupid marketing gimmick.” You think you’re protecting me; you’re protecting yourself. You probably have, or are pursuing, or have pursued a college degree. If not, who the hell taught you how to read? Send me an email explaining your condition, please.

I’m serious. Here’s my email:

ADyingRamone@gmail.com 3

II.

I’m halfway through a documentary called Detropia4 and a discounted case of out-of-season beer and I can’t tell which is making my stomach hurt. 

If the title didn’t give it away, Detropia is a documentary film about the socioeconomic toxic waste quarantine zone we call, “Detroit”.  The film opens with a woman who likes wandering around Detroit’s abandoned buildings and documenting the sights on her handheld video camera. This is a great hobby for anyone in Detroit because being a video blogger for squalor in Detroit, I hear, is a lot like being a portrait artist who specializes in male-pattern baldness in Miami.

Earlier in the film, decent working-class people reminisce about the good ol’ days when America was an actual country-type looking thing. Fast forward a little, you’ll see the man who will later be a major subject of the film explaining to his fellow autoworkers that corporate will be slashing wages and that everyone in the plant that isn’t in management (read: everyone in the plant who isn’t black) is lucky corporate was merciful enough not to slash their throats with rusty old power tools collected from the scrapheap that used to be factory down the road.

Fast forward 20 minutes and you’re in a boardroom in which a largely black (and unexpectedly feminine) board of urban planners discuss “consolidation.”

Consolidation, as the documentary explains, is the act of forcibly moving a population from the totally destroyed, neglected, post-apocalyptic peripheral edge of Detroit to the Stalingrad ca. 1946-esque center of the city. What do government officials propose will happen to the space left vacated after consolidation?

Urban gardens.

No. I’m not kidding.

Seriously. Watch the documentary. 

Needless to say the peasants threatened revolt and thought it was about racism. I’m not saying it isn’t about racism. I’m saying racism is the least of their worries, at this point. Also, never mind that everyone in the boardroom was black. 5

Fast forward; “it’s all the Chinamens’ fault.”

True, but that doesn’t mean it’s not everyone else’s fault, too, and that’s not even the point.

The point is: to me, all of this sounds an awful lot like impending feudalism.

III.

The higher-education bubble popped, apparently. I don’t really know what that means, but I do know last time a bubble burst, my dad took me aside in the middle of the night to explain to me how we probably weren’t going to lose our house. My dad is a tough guy, and despite his steel-plated nerves I could still sense a bit of dread and foreboding in his voice.

I didn’t get it back then. I still don’t really “get it” now. I worry our entire generation might be getting it soon.

The last “getting it” can be read many ways here.

At any rate, I’m scared shitless. I’m scared because I have a liberal arts degree and so does everybody else, and not only is that a symptom of the bubble, it’s exactly why I may very well lose out in the collapsing pyramid scheme every college grad with a non-math-y degree bought into. Thanks to grade inflation, near-universal access to college education, and Viagra-like rises in tuition fees, nearly everyone my age has a college degree, and it often turns out to be a document that indicates a person has a lot of debt to motivate them, and/or is good at doing what they’re told to do within the boundaries of a loosely defined rubric against which a Chinese teacher’s assistant will judge their rushed, Adderall-inspired, schoolwork

Thanks to the above, the college degree is now (especially, now) an empty brand signifier.

Gen Y Hipster Graduate: I have a Justice Studies degree with a focus in Medieval Political Discursive Theology.

Employer: Can you generate and implement a social media calendar for a $10.00 hourly wage.

GYHG: Don’t you want to know what school I went to?

Employer: No. Also, the offer is now $8.75 per hour.

GYHG: I’m going to work at Cartel, you vulgar marketing pleb.

[Next day, same Employer walks into Cartel]

GYHG: Hello, sir. What can I get for you?

Employer: Dirty Chai Latte.

GYHG: I’ll have that right up for you! That’ll be $5.14.

[Transaction occurs. Employer tips $4.86. GYGH does the math, considers suicide, but goes on welfare instead.]

SPOILER ALERT: The movie ends with stupid unambitious hipsters excited to live in Detroit because “we can experiment here–if we fail, we haven’t really fallen anywhere.” This man is an 18 year-old high school nerd in an MFA’s gangly body, and somehow this is Detroit’s only hope. The funny thing is, this guy is basically America’s only hope, unless we start bringing well-paid industrial labor back to the states.

We all have our fantasies.

Also, the bailout saves the day at the end of the movie. Also, a radio personality speaks in the background of an on-the-road montage of daytime scenes in Detroit:

“…there’s much more [presumably global] competition and the burden rests on our education system. We need more education and we need better education if we want to prepare people for the 21st century.”

Cut to a scene of a teenage kid vandalizing the rubble of an abandoned building. (Hope. Change. Amirite?)

“Vandalizing? That’s not a crime. That’s the official sport of Detroit for boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 35!”

Sorry. I jumped to conclusions. I figured Mr. Yuppie Hipster-McWesanderson from earlier was just scrounging for artifacts to use in his newest ready-made artpiece he’s calling, “A Post-Phallic Critique of Industrial Imperatives”. It’s just a working title, for now.

IV.

*I’m not saying feudalism is a bad thing, or that urban gardens represent some sort malicious attempt at re-enslaving the poor.

All I’m suggesting is that if you’re living in Detroit 20 years from now, this picture might be helpful when you’re asking yourself, “what’s my place in the world?”.

Hint: if you're in the urban garden, your kid probably won't grow up to be the Duke of Flint.

Hint: if you’re in the urban garden, your kid probably won’t grow up to be the Duke of Flint, MI.

6

Listen, I don’t think this is a conspiracy and that everything is going according to plan. I think this kind of thing is being considered precisely because nothing went according to plan for American capitalism. Whoops.

V.

Does anyone else notice a strange fascination with zombie apocalypses?

Did anyone else notice America’s fascination with airborne things fucking up national architectural icons just before 9/11?

I’m being paranoid. People’s thoughts and fantasies never translate into actual behaviors, right?

I’m not a psychology major.

Also, I know a lot of people who know a lot about finance.

They’re stocking up on bullets and guns.

“I don’t get it. I don’t buy this idea that the liberal arts majors will turn their dashed hopes of attaining the American dream through education into violent outburst.” People with college degrees are of the upper crust. They’re not like the violent idiotic masses.”

ASU has a 99.99993% acceptance rate.

What’s worse than a zombie with a degree in sociology?

A zombie with a degree in sociology, an assault rifle, and no food in a crumbling economy in a city in which the urban garden hasn’t generated the expected crop yields.7

That guy’s a threat to the system. Not the sociopaths; not the terrorists–they provide the basis for government safeguards against unpredictable explosions of violence, the possibility of which scare the hell out of most people more than college debt does. That’s the point, by the way.

Consider the way you think about the zombie apocalypse and then imagine the way people in Paradise Valley, Phoenix think about it. When you’re done, ask yourself which is more likely.

In your fantasy about the zombie apocalypse, you’re not a zombie, but a lucky holdout–a lone wolf survivor in a motley crew of others like you, whose lives were spared, in an against-all-odds kind of way, by the gods whose will determine the fates of all those living in the zombie-verse.

Even within your own fantasy the odds are against you. Seriously consider that. That’s the kind of thinking that led you to believe that degree in Philosophy would earn you a spot at The New School brushing shoulders with Zizek. Stupid.

When people in gated communities think about the zombie apocalypse, they’re not actually thinking about the zombie apocalypses. They’re thinking about scoping you out and taking you down from the steel-reinforced window of their three story prefab-house-turned-paramilitary-compound. You’re not a zombie. You’re just hungry and looking for food because the financial sector collapsed under the weight 60 years of perverse political and economic conditions.

How do I know that’s what they’re really talking about?

Because I always ask.

VI.

This is getting long, so I’ll tie this together in one shot:

Over-branded pasta is like someone with a liberal arts degree. The consequence is that consumers (and employers) have little incentive for considering the branding when making hiring decisions the same way the word “Signature” isn’t really informing my purchase as far as I can tell.

Everything in the store is over-branded, and everyone has a fluffy degree in nothing.

So, I just pick based on whether or not it looks good and doesn’t have pork in it.

Employers will just pick based on who has qualifications and isn’t a minority or a woman, or worse, the descendant of a serf.

The day it becomes shameless once again to simply pass your estate and rank on to your offspring, we will be in full-scale zombie apocalypse and/or feudalism mode.8

Here’s the upside:

When this happens, you won’t notice.

Also, it’s easy to take feudalism and package it as something less evil like “communism” or something fun like “social democracy.” All you have to do is convince the slaves there is no master, and that shouldn’t be hard to do.9

I know this because I was alive in 2006 and most liberals I knew had a bone to pick with President Bush over Guantanamo and corporatism. Things are more-or-less the same, and the liberals claimed a victory in 2012.

At least Kony didn’t win.

I bought a pound of Signature Cafe Parmesan Chicken Pasta Salad.

Hopefully my noble overlords will be kind enough to consume a pound of my flesh on salary.

Oh yeah, the fact I laughed after I bought it is tragic.

The fact I can find humor in this kind of thing largely because of an overvalued hyper-brand liberal arts education is the funny part.
Enjoy feudalism. The service economy, re-imagined.

———————————————————————————————————-

Footnotes

1. I could tell you the name of the store, but it doesn’t really matter, and that’s super fucking important.

2. The proper name of “Signature Cafe Parmesan Chicken Pasta Salad” is “Chicken Pasta Salad”

3. I’m not serious. Don’t e-mail me. That is my real email though.

4. Watch it. It’s on Netflix. Subscribe to Netflix. Also, Netflix, sponsor me.

5. I understand the “black folks in the urban boardroom” scene was probably a staged dramatization, but the invisible machine of white oppression is not what you fight when someone is about to destroy your house. You fight your district representative.

6. No joke, a major advocate of urban garden initiative is called, “The Council on Agriculture, Science and Technology”, or CAST. Lawl. Get it? CAST(e)? Get it? Okay. I’m not funny.

7. At least when a clerk with a GED is put in a fiscal/existential corner, he will either 1) convince himself he deserves his poverty for making  “wrong decisions in life”, 2) collect SSDI and fade away, or 3) learn a new skill that makes him valuable in any market that pays no matter how unbecoming it would be if he had a sociology degree.

8. I heard Game of Thrones is gaining popularity these days….

9. Don’t worry, Chad. It’s not welfare; it’s “Artisan’s Relief Income.”</span

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