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Posted by Thomas Shevory at 3:49PM   |  10 comments
Windmill

Thomas Shevory, Ithaca College

This blog is intended to be about all things deindustrial.  A little background first:  I grew up in Jamestown, New York, a factory town in the western part of the state. The year I graduated from high school, it received All-American City designation. By the time I graduated from college, four years later, it was undergoing a nearly complete economic collapse.

Jamestown was not a company town, entirely dependent upon one large employer or industry. Rather, it had a range of smaller firms.  Most made furniture, but there were other enterprises as well. American Voting Machine had its headquarters there; Blackstone Corporation made appliances; Art Metal made office furniture; Marlin Rockwell, ball bearings; Crescent Tool, well, tools.  So civic death by deindustrialization arrived a little more slowly than in some other places, but it arrived nevertheless.

Like most other cities in upstate New York, and along the American side of the Great Lakes, Jamestown still suffers these effects thirty-some years later.  My mom has recently been trying to sell the house that I grew up in, a Sears kit house, and therefore of some architectural interest, for $38,000.  It isn’t dilapidated.  In fact, it’s in pretty good shape. No one looked at it for six months.  The realtor recently told her that she should probably drop the price.  Other houses in the neighborhood were going for about $15,000.  Then she got lucky.  Someone offered $29,900.

Much attention has been given to the housing bust in Las Vegas and Miami. But in large parts of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, no boom preceded it.

A number of years ago, I decided that I would try to track some of the public health and environmental histories and contemporary issues and that exist in this part of the country.  It’s been a pretty wide open field, academically speaking.  While deindustrialization generated a fair amount of attention at the outset, its longer implications and effects have never really caught fire as a field of study. What’s happening in the world’s growth sectors, or failed states, generates a greater sense of immediacy, and perhaps understandably so.

Yet the political, economic, and environmental trends that affect deindustrial America are inseparable from other global systems.   And deindustrial America isn’t a static place, but embedded in an array of changing landscapes.  Deindustrial spaces are a mirror against which the rise of China and India, for example, can be reflected.  Such places, in turn, have their own deindustrial spaces. (See Wang Bin's epic film  on China’s deindustrialization:  West of the Tracks.)

The New York Times recently carried an article about the restoration of old neighborhoods in Syracuse, and the beginnings of what might be a small reversal in long-running negative demographic trends.  And President Obama has been on a tour of deindustrial America: wind turbine factories in Ohio, automobile plants in Detroit. He contends that the green economy can resurrect it.  Whether or not that’s true, it seems like a propitious moment to reconsider the evolving ecologies of deindustrialization in the U.S. and beyond.

 


10 Comments

Good stuff, Tom! I did an extended piece about Paterson, N.J., a city in similar circumstances, as my master's thesis in journalism many years ago.I look forward to following your discussion.

Hi Don,
Thanks for the encouragement. The more things change, I guess the more they stay the same around here, deindustrially speaking. Hope that you are well.

I think that it is always good to bring attention and awareness to towns across the United States, such as Jamestown. The towns are full of life and history, making good subjects for stories as well as films. This blog reminded me of a short film we recently watched in my Film Aesthetics and Analysis class, called Street of Crocodiles. Although I know the extent of deindustrialization in Jamestown is not a likely comparison to that of the town in Street of Crocodiles, the idea of focusing on struggling towns rather than Utopian ideas and concepts creates an interesting topic for films. The contrast to classic Hollywood films with Utopian worlds gives realistic films greater dynamics. Although the film Street of Crocodiles is fantastic and quite unrealistic, its portrayal of daily, difficult work at times seems more realistic and believable than the made up worlds within the genre of classical hollywood cinema.

Bringing attention to towns such as Jamestown enables people to relate much better with the stories behind them, despite how factual or fictional they may be.

I'm going to engage in the film Tom mentioned, "West of the Tracks." This film portrays the decline in the lives of factory workers who were once promised glory during the Chinese revolution. This film has great educational value being both culturally and historically intuitive. This is also true in "Grand Illusion," where people from other countries can see into the troubles of another culture. Both of these films include a diegesis that supports heros and villains. The diegesis of these two movies personalize the horrific situations they are presented with in both a social and domestic plot.

I am going to pull my focus on the movie Tom mentioned, "West of the Tracks" which is an example of deindustrial space. This film is about the struggle of factory workers trapped by economic change, once promised glory during the Chinese revolution. This film has great educational and cultural value. This film can give people of other nations an insight to the endeavors these men endured. I want to compare this film to "Grand Illusion," both films create a perception of there country's stress. Using both a social and domestic plot to pull in viewers to the horrific detail of there situation. The diegesis has both heros and villeins making a world of cinema come alive to inform and entertain.

I am going to pull my focus on the movie Tom mentioned, "West of the Tracks" which is an example of deindustrial space. This film is about the struggle of factory workers trapped by economic change, once promised glory during the Chinese revolution. This film has great educational and cultural value. This film can give people of other nations an insight to the endeavors these men endured. I want to compare this film to "Grand Illusion," both films create a perception of there country's stress. Using both a social and domestic plot to pull in viewers to the horrific detail of there situation. The diegesis has both heros and villeins making a world of cinema come alive to inform and entertain.

Just like the economy it seems like film stylize are always being "industrialized" too. Through the course of this film analysis class we have learned about several film movements such as the Nouvelle Vague, German Expressionist Movement, and the Fifth Generation Chinese Cinema. All of these countries were trying to break out and start their own cinema, especially during the German Movement, and eventually each country created a name for itself in cinema. I am sure Jamestown will eventually come along and become a great town again like it once was.

I think that this is extremely interesting and I am looking forward to reading more from this blog. This isn't something I would generally give a great amount of thought to because, I am sad to admit, I grew up and still live in an economic bubble. Where I live is one of the fastest growing counties on the East coast and the poverty and unemployment rate is extremely low. I'm embarrassed to admit that sometimes I forget how extremely lucky I am to grow up in such a privileged area (and nation). I'm looking forward to reading more from you, especially since this was just recently a topic I discussed with my family.

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