Watching the Super Bowl yesterday I was really struck by one ad in particular. It was officially for Chrysler Motors but if you saw it, it was actually more an ad for the City of Detroit and I think, by extension an ad for the American spirit.
The ad features Detroit native Eminem and Chrysler’s latest luxury car. The voice over speaks of the past generations and of community identity: “That’s who we are. That’s our story. Now its probably not the one you’ve been reading in the papers, the one being written by folks who have never even been here and don’t know what we’re capable of.” The add goes on to say “We’re from America. But this is not New York City. Or the Windy City or Sin City. And we’re certainly no one’s Emerald City.” Then in dramatic fashion Eminem turns to the camera and says “This is the Motor City and this is what we do.” Powerful stuff.
This is about re-inventing our narrative. The media, particularly traditional media is obsessed with loss: murder, death, crime, scandal, the latest crisis and another thing for us to fear. Negativity sells. Detroit has been caught up in that negative narrative. That is not to say that the there are not deep and significant problems in Detroit – clearly there are. But there is something else going on there too.
Out of this crisis is a toughness, resiliency and a sense of opportunity that I have come to know through my friends and colleagues in Detroit. That story needs to told and it needs to be heard by the whole country. If Detroit can embrace its identity – the good, the bad and the ugly of it and build upon that authenticity, then that becomes an example for every community that is trying to figure out its place and its purpose in the 21st century.
Cities like Detroit define us a nation. As much as New York City or Los Angeles may dominate our perceptions of culture and identity, at our hearts we are a middle class nation that believes in making things. Detroit epitomizes that identity and their success or failure is all of our success or failure. We are all Detroiters.