Detroit -- What could be creepier than standing a few inches away from the car where JFK was shot? For one, standing next to that car and knowing the chair where Lincoln sat when he was killed was a few yards away (accompanied by a sketch indicating which stains were blood). For two, reading on a placard that Kennedy's blue convertible was painted black and then used by succeeding presidents all the way until Carter. But the situation wasn’t creepy enough to keep tourists at the Ford Museum yesterday from taking photos of the most infamous four-wheeler in American history.
As I watched families quietly pass through the museum exhibitions with the reverence and passivity reserved for church, I began to think the museum was more of a place of the dying than a tourist destination.
The Ford Museum, a gargantuan warehouse attached to an old brick house, pays homage to work and automation, with great American conveniences such as pink toilets chugging overhead on a track in the ceiling. There’s the flight exhibit, the furniture exhibit, and, of course the car exhibit, where you can see each of the automobiles used by presidents past.
A narrator in the occasional exhibition video might warn about “air pollution,” or illustrated signs next to a display may ask kids to guess the percentage breakdown of wastes in landfills, but the museum's underlying theme is that Ford’s vision of the future was the right vision. Here, we might witness a happy evolution where worker and tool melt into a system of greater efficiency, productivity, perfection.
One placard reads, “these engines represented for Mr. Ford the pinnacle of power, efficiency and beauty.”
Michigan has been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs and no one knows if they’re coming back. The blue-collar, white men and women I saw in the museum are a dying group. In the futurist world of Ford’s museum, they had a place, but not any more. Call it outsourcing. Call it changes in how we live and think. But it's not the same any more. And I felt it strange to stand in a room full of metal and plastic where signs indicate that the Industrial Revolution still churns and where one man’s idea of ordering society still exists. It’s also strange to wonder what world comes after the demise of those beliefs.
What happens to the Democrats when the auto unions die? After all, the United Auto Workers here hesitated to endorse Kerry because they feared his emphasis on tighter Café standards would jeopardize car production.
Who is the heartland any more that politicians reach to? It doesn’t seem those living in Detroit can relate to the two men from Yale who’ve had enough spare change to run companies into the ground or to actually choose to go to war.Posted by Lisa Lambert at October 4, 2004 07:27 AM