Friday, 1 June 2012

Week 23: Michigan

"Pull up to the club in a Pinto like it's a Porsche:
 Garbage bag for one of the windows,
 Spay-painted doors with the flames on 'em,
 Michigan plates and my name's on 'em,
 Baby, Shady's here, come get on him..."
 - 'W.T.P.',

On our road-trip around the States we were always going to have to come to the spiritual home of the automobile: Michigan.

So many states are thought of in relation to just one well-known city - Chicago for Illinois, Boston for Maryland, New York for New York. For Michigan that city is Detroit. This is the city that boomed on the back of Henry Ford, the city that gave the automobile to the people, and the city that then brought music to the masses. The Motor City needed workers, many of those workers were black, they brought their music from across the nation to here, and Berry Gordy founded Motown Records. Alumni of his label include Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and the Jacksons. During the '60s Detroit had the world dancing in the street.

But now that industry is sustained only by subsidies and bail-outs. Since the '70s people have been fleeing Detroit; it is now a by-word for urban decay. The collapse of industry is echoed elsewhere across the state - Michael Moore, from Flint, Michigan, first sprang to attention with his documentary Roger and Me which looked at the effects of a local factory closing down. And rather than the feel-good pop of Motown, Michigan's greatest musical export today is Eminem.

But there must be more to Michigan, as a quick glance at any map will tell you. It is a state of peninsulas, with more than its share of coast (in fact Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state). And all this despite being located thousands of miles inland. The main bulk of Michigan is a sort of mitten shape, sandwiched between Lake Michigan to the west (across which are Chicago in Illinois and Milwaukee in Wisconsin) and Lakes Huron and Erie to the east (across which is Ontario in Canada). But there's more. Across the point where Lakes Michigan and Huron join there is another stretch of land, the Upper Peninsula, which is separated by water from the rest of the state and has the mighty expanse of Lake Superior to its north. I find this fascinating. Why is this territory part of Michigan and not neighbouring Wisconsin?

I'm not sure I'll discover the answer to this question this week, but you never know. I've tried to find a range of films to watch here that will hopefully give me some insight into the Wolverine State. They are:
  • 8 Mile (2002)
  • American Pie (1999)
  • Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

So buckle up and let's drive!

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