Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"And we've waited through the suffering and pain..."

Mumblin and whisperin is what I hear
When B.I.G. appear on the scene niggas get scared
Why? I'm not the stick-up man
I don't want the rings on your hand I don't understand
When I come thru the avenue I must know voodoo
Cause all eyes are on you know who
And my so-called friends beg for ends for me to lend
But this bankroll they won't spend
Open your eyes and realize ain't no sugar in my tank
Out of all my friends, there's just one I want to thank
My man Big D taught me a lesson that was great
That good things come to those who wait
And we've waited through the suffering and pain
And bitches ride the dick like the A-train
That's why I flip
Keep a burner to my hip
Take a hooker to the crib, you know she got to strip
Stay dip, take out-of-state trips
Don't drink a lot of Hennessy, I only take a sip
I'm not a paper gangster of no sort I don't smoke newports
When I get stressed I grab my vest
Damn, tried to give you the warning sign
When I said chill, I wasn't sayin' LL rhyme
I was telling ya not to tear up
Cause he'll rip up, I'm telling you not to erupt
Cause he just as corrupt as a DJ should be 
50 Grand, and I'm the B.I.G.

Friday, September 30, 2016


.40 caliber Glock 23, Generation 4


Thursday, September 22, 2016


"Don't you ever grab me when I've got a gun in my hand."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"You who are so liberal...

" humane, who take the love of culture to the point of affectation, you pretend to forget that you have colonies where massacres are committed in your name."

“Once their rage explodes, they recover their lost coherence, they experience self-knowledge through reconstruction of themselves; from afar we see their war as the triumph of barbarity; but it proceeds on its own to gradually emancipate the fighter and progressively eliminates the colonial darkness inside and out. As soon as it begins it is merciless. Either one must remain terrified or become terrifying—which means surrendering to the dissociations of a fabricated life or conquering the unity of one’s native soil. When the peasants lay hands on a gun, the old myths fade, and one by one the taboos are overturned: a fighter’s weapon is his humanity.”
                                                            ― Jean-Paul Sartre (preface from The Wretched of the Earth)

Saturday, July 23, 2016


"What I call middle-class society is any society that becomes rigidified in predetermined forms, forbidding all evolution, all gains, all progress, all discovery. I call middle-class a closed society in which life has no taste, in which the air is tainted, in which ideas and men are corrupt. And I think that a man who takes a stand against this death is in a sense a revolutionary."
                                                                    -Frantz Fanon

"Violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect."
                                                                    -Frantz Fanon

"The unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps."
                                                                    -Frantz Fanon

"Violence is man re-creating himself."
                                                                    -Frantz Fanon

"A person raised in a middle- or upper-middle-class suburban environment, a place ruled by rationalism in the service of material progress, has difficulty imagining the psychological state of affairs in a society where there is little or no memory of hard work achieving its just reward, and where life inside a gang or a drafty army barracks constitutes an improvement in material and emotional security. Even to encounter firsthand such a society—whose instincts have yet to be refined by several generations of middle-class existence—is not enough in the way of an education, since the visitor tends to see it as a laboratory for his or her middle-class ideals, and thus immediately begins to find ‘evidence’ for ‘pragmatic’ solutions."
                                                                     -Robert D. Kaplan

"Protest is when I say I don't like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don't like. Protest is when I say I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too."
                                                                    -Ulrike Meinhof

"I am quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think vainly, flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done."
                                                                    -John Brown

"This delusionary dialectic of securitized versus demonic urban places, in turn, dictates a sinister and unceasing duet: Night after night, hornet-like helicopter gunships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts, pouring hellfire into shanties or fleeing cars. Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent explosions. If the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression, its outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side."
                                                                   -Mike Davis

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thursday, June 23, 2016

"Haunted and Nervous"

Very rough and nascent "work in progress" paper (dissertation chapter?) presented at the BAA summer conference on Material Culture, Florida International University, Miami, Friday June 10, 2016.

Listening to the Ghosts: Space, Materiality, and Memory in Detroit’s Landscape

In this era that Ernest Mandel has identified as “late capitalism,” ironies, paradoxes, and outright contradictions abound in periods of upheaval and transformation in American cities. Case in point—in the same issue of The Detroit News (October 2, 2014) which ran an editorial by columnist Dale Hansen, rightfully condemning the expurgation of honest but inconvenient historical truths from school curricula, entitled “Sanitizing History in the Name of Patriotism,” editorialist Laura Berman obsequiously extols the virtues of billionaire Dan Gilbert’s campaign of blight removal in the city of Detroit, as an invaluable way to finally “erase...the worst of [Detroit’s] past as a step toward re-imagining the future.” Although this perspective is in no way unique in the growing number of conversations regarding what has occurred, and what is currently occurring in the city of Detroit, it is by all means emblematic of a perspective that treats today in Detroit as if it exists in some kind of a convenient historical vacuum, and it is correspondingly indicative of a struggle that is occurring in the city over historiographical agency and memory. Not insignificantly, Berman is the same editorialist who argued in yet another editorial not-too-long-ago that not only can a complacent newcomer like the upscale watch- and bicycle-maker, Shinola, engineer some kind of image, culture, and product that is “authentic” to Detroit, but that it can do so in a way (and to a degree) that Berman claims only someone or something new to the city can (2013)—however that may work. 

In corresponding processes of late capitalism such as deindustrialization and gentrification, forces of global capital attempting to move into declining urban spaces that have suffered the brunt of what has been called “uneven development,” often insist on conversations regarding “authenticity,” and geographical materialists such as Neil Smith and David Harvey have convincingly recognized these conversations as key in the process of “branding” that is occurring alongside gentrification in city centers, neighborhoods, and districts. Through the engineered fictions of inevitability and fortuity, these processes can often be seen as a kind of fait accompli. In fact, one particularly salient component of late capitalism is exactly that a process like gentrification has lost all appearance of fortuity or chance and been recognized as an intentional and pervasive strategy of what has been called “neoliberal urbanization.” As Neil Smith explains in Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space, “the gentrification which in the early 1980s was still an emergent phenomenon, has become a global urban strategy” which has “moved from an isolated event in select housing markets to a pervasive plank of urban planning policy” (263).  

Again, there is nothing particularly unique in the above editorialist’s perspective. What is important to note however is how many of the same voices in and around Detroit that are anxious to “erase” what they consider to be “the worst of [Detroit’s] past,” are often the same voices claiming complacent newcomers such as Shinola and HopCat (a hipster brewery famous for their “crack fries,” which recently opened a location in Detroit, and who claimed in a Detroit News article [December 10, 2014] that the building and the “vibe” were going to be “genuine to Detroit”) are at the same time engineering a culture and product that is authentically Detroit. There is plenty to be lost and gained in conversations over authenticity. As Sharon Zukin explains in Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, "[c]laiming authenticity becomes prevalent when identities are unstable and people are judged by their performance rather than by their history or innate may be enough to claim to see authenticity in order to control its advantages....authenticity, then, is a cultural form of power over space" (xii-xiii). In the process of urban branding, questions of authenticity are by all means inextricably interrelated to issues of history, memory, and—of course—forgetting. The kind of nostalgia around which these conversations are occurring in and around Detroit, is a very selective and myopic one—more times than not focused on a long-gone industrial heyday and white perspectives of what counts as relevant history, vital culture, and important music. What needs to remain central in these conversations is whose memory gets transmitted and whose gets erased. As Andreas Huyssen explains in Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory, “every act of memory carries with it a dimension of betrayal, forgetting, and absence” (4). In the process of branding, claims to authenticity involve what has been called “selective forgetting.” Huyssen goes on to explain how this kind of “selective forgetting” is a crucial step in the “invention of tradition” (4), where “historical pasts are…deprived of their geographic and political groundings…[by] processes of cultural [and economic] globalization” (4). Perhaps the most important question here then is, according to the all-too-common perspective for which the aforementioned editorial is emblematic, what is it exactly that counts as “the worst of [Detroit’s] past”? Put another way, what out of Detroit’s troubled history is most responsible for the seemingly insurmountable social, political, economic, and spatial problems in the city today—especially the glaring incongruities and disparities that are calcifying between the city’s increasingly mall-like center and the city’s seemingly forsaken peripheral neighborhoods? Despite job opportunities and some respite from the racial terrorism occurring in the South, blacks experienced a deeply entrenched systemic racism at both the de jure and de facto levels in Detroit. The most fundamental and enduring consequence of this racism that permeated the city of Detroit in the post-war years—and which corralled, trapped, and confined an entire population of blacks in the city limits as the city hemorrhaged jobs and its tax base—is arguably one of the closest things to total geographic and economic isolation ever engineered in an American city. Is this not the worst of Detroit’s past? Whose memory, most honestly and accurately conveys this history? 

There are a number of things at stake in this conversation, one of the most significant for this project being collective perceptions of the root causes of the crime, violence, and—most importantly—poverty in Detroit’s peripheral neighborhoods. The crime, violence, and poverty in Detroit’s peripheral neighborhoods are more often than not considered to be some kind of inherence of the black population in general—especially amongst much of Metropolitan Detroit’s white, suburban population, which, not insignificantly, represented one of George C. Wallace’s strongholds during his “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” years back in the early 1970s—a consistent outlook of a population that does not believe one needs to look further back than 1967 and the mayoralty of Coleman A. Young to understand Detroit’s problems. In her fine examination of the role of ruin imagery in people’s perceptions of and reactions to urban and industrial decline, Beautiful Terrible Ruins, Dora Apel correspondingly explains that the “larger effect [of all of this] is to isolate Detroit as the nation’s repository for urban nightmares…while also presenting Detroit as an isolated example of a racialized city that is responsible for its own disastrous decline” (78-79). In a city whose population—even after years of gradual flight to the surrounding inner-ring suburbs—is still nearly eighty-three percent black, there are few social, political, economic, or spatial conversations one can have that are not also unequivocally and inextricably racial in nature. Especially considering that the vast majority of Detroit’s black population lives in its peripheral neighborhoods while the increasingly mall-like center of the city—with its skyrocketing rents—is predominantly white.

Before proceeding, it should be stressed that Detroit is not unique in these uneven spatial processes and transformations, although it may indeed be considered a particularly telling example. As Neil Smith explains, 

It is not just that capitalism fails to develop evenly, that due to accidental and random factors the geographical development of capitalism represents some stochastic deviation from a generally even process…The logic of uneven development derives specifically from the opposed tendencies, inherent in capital, toward differentiation but simultaneous equalization…Capital is continually invested in the built environment in order to produce surplus value and expand the basis of capital itself. But equally, capital is continually withdrawn from the built environment so that it can move elsewhere and take advantage of higher profit rates…The pattern which results in the landscape is well known: development at one pole and underdevelopment at the other. (4-6) 

This process of uneven development takes place at all of the different spatial scales. Most significant for this project, Smith’s theory helps to explain the social and economic unevenness that occurs between centers and peripheries. In Detroit, these processes and transformations are being felt by the black population at two different levels. As the center city continues to benefit from investment and new waves of complacent newcomers, lifelong black citizens, tenants, and—perhaps most tellingly—business owners are being forced out and have suffered the brunt of the spatio-economic process which David Harvey has insightfully described as “accumulation by dispossession,” or an “economy of dispossession of vulnerable populations” (53-54). On another more fundamental level though, the vast majority of the still-declining peripheral neighborhoods, defined by—most recently—sweeping water shutoffs, economic isolation, systemic neglect, disinvestment, and some of the country’s worst urban poverty, are the geographical sites where generations of blacks have been corralled, trapped, and confined from past waves of political, social, and economic racism—corralled, trapped, and confined as whites fled and the city hemorrhaged jobs and its tax base. It is to these peripheral spaces and sites of trauma and resistance—such as the Eight Mile and Wyoming Wall and the site where the Algiers Motel once stood—that this project turns in its search for memories of how the city’s center/periphery divide was first shaped. 

House: 2905 Garland Road and the Tenuous Lines of White Middle-Class Identity  

“Despite the frequency of racial conflict in the city’s streets, postwar Detroit’s violent past remains hidden from history.”

“The sustained violence in Detroit’s neighborhoods was the consummate act in a process of identity formation. White Detroiters invented communities of race in the city that they defined spatially.”
                                                       The Origins of the Urban Crisis
                                                      —Thomas J. Sugrue

Throughout the post-war years, the city of Detroit experienced a severe housing crisis that greatly exacerbated already existing tensions between the city’s black and white populations, but which was especially acute for the former as blacks up to this point had been kept within a handful of increasingly crowded and deteriorating enclaves. The convergence of social, political, and economic forces that were determining these racial boundaries in Detroit’s geography were systemic and experienced at both the de jure and de facto levels. Black families attempting to transcend the boundaries of these few crowded and rundown enclaves—such as Paradise Valley and Black Bottom on the east side—met with a rigid and increasingly violent white terrorism at the de facto level. 

"We hate niggers"
                                                                      —Painted on the front of a
                                                                      house  purchased by a black 
                                                                      family on San Juan Street (1963)

This often came in the form of bottle-, stone-, and brick-throwing mobs of whites that would rally with alarming speed and ferocity, the instant that word spread of a black family buying a home in a specific neighborhood or crossing a tacit geographical boundary. These mobs would often reach into the hundreds and in several cases, thousands, consisting of children, teenagers, men, women, and even seniors, and they would collect in and around the homes of single black families who attempted to move into previously all-white neighborhoods. This is an element of Detroit’s history that is to this day all but ignored, despite the fundamental and enduring ways that it has determined the racial geography of the city today (Sugrue 233). Indeed, in The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, Thomas J. Sugrue identifies this kind of organized white terrorism at the de facto level, as an area of study in American urban history that urgently needs far more attention than it has received (211). “Between 1943 and 1965,” Sugrue explains, 

Detroit whites founded at least 192 neighborhood organizations throughout the city, variously called “civic associations,” “protective associations,” “improvement associations,” and “homeowners associations.” Few scholars have fully appreciated the enormous contribution of this kind of grassroots organization to the racial and political climate of twentieth-century American cities. (211)

Although the roles and capacities of these various organizations often varied from encouraging basic social cohesiveness, instilling and sustaining ethnic and social values, and protecting property and defending property rights (Sugrue 211), the primary and perhaps most defining role these organizations eventually would come to fulfill, was the desperate and violent defense of increasingly tenuous racial boundaries and limits within the city. “In the arena of housing,” Sugrue explicates further, 
violence in Detroit was organized and widespread…It involved thousands of whites, directly affected hundreds of blacks, mainly those who were among the first families to break the residential barriers of race, and indirectly constrained the housing choices of tens of thousands of blacks fearful of harassment and physical injury if they broke through Detroit’s residential color line. (233)

This violent white resistance to even a single black family moving into a white neighborhood, or attempting to cross one of the city’s many tacit geographical boundaries—such as Dequindre Road between Seven and Six Mile-Roads (Sugrue 233)—was facilitated by an intricate and tightly woven network of the aforementioned organizations. It really does need to be stressed that the speed with which the aforementioned organizations rallied massive amounts of whites the day (or even before) a black family was to move in to a house, borders on militaristic precision and efficiency. (It is here where I want to share a few pieces of ephemera that I hope to do further archival research on, which will help to illustrate the kind of language that was being used to create a sense of panic and crisis in white neighborhoods and to rally them. Militaristic terms like “invasion,” “emergency,” and “lines” were often used.)

One of the most well-known moments and sites of this kind of organized mob violence against a black family moving into a white neighborhood, occurred in 1925—so well-known, perhaps, because this was not just a moment and site of trauma in the experiences of Detroit’s black population, but also because it was a moment and site of what was ultimately an act of successful armed resistance by a black family as well. 

A prominent doctor in the black community, Ossian Sweet, and his family moved into the house they had just purchased at 2905 Garland Road—an all-white neighborhood just south of the Edsel Ford Freeway—on September 8, 1925. Despite the reported presence of Detroit police officers to discourage any kind of anticipated aggression or hostility, by late afternoon on September 9 a large mob of nearly 500 whites had gathered in front of and around the Sweets’ new house at the corner of Garland and Charlevoix. Said to have been lead by the Waterworks Park Improvement Association, by early evening the mob had begun attacking the house with rocks, bricks, and bottles. Sensing the threat to his family the day before, Dr. Sweet had a number of friends and family members (including his brothers) in the house on the evening of the ninth, with rifles, revolvers, and plenty of ammunition, and when the mob’s attack on the house reached the point where everyone inside the house began to fear for their safety, Dr. Sweet and his companions fired into the mob outside—wounding one man and killing another. The occupants of the house—nobody from the mob—were all arrested. In a now famous case, Dr. Sweet and his friends and family were defended by Clarence Darrow, and were ultimately acquitted of all charges.

The Ossian Sweet house still stands at 2905 Garland Road today. It is a one-and-a-half story single family bungalow that was quite typical in working-class neighborhoods of Detroit in the early to mid-twentieth century. It is made of red brick, has a full basement, a typical gabled roof, and an open porch that is covered. These kinds of single-family bungalows did far more than simply house workers’ families. They were absolutely central to the middle-class stability and identity that the vast majority of people—regardless of race or ethnicity—sought and aspired to when they came to Detroit seeking manufacturing jobs in the auto industry or in one of its many ancillary industries. As Thomas Sugrue helps to illuminate, the organized and violent racial terrorism that rallied to keep Detroit’s black population out of these neighborhoods, at a more fundamental level, also sought to keep Detroit’s black population out of this tenuous and embattled realm of middle-class identity as well. The house at 2905 Garland road tells a story of the organized racial terrorism that pervaded the city at the de facto level, which has proven to be dramatically and enduringly determinative to the city’s racial geography, to this day. 

It has been convincingly claimed that one particularly important characteristic of the “cultural logic of late capitalism” (Jameson), is a kind of historical depthlessness in the present. One encounters this exact kind of depthlessness—or flattening, or emptying, or hollowing out of history—in the claims and insistences of “authenticity” being made by the various businesses coming to the city to profit from the “branding” of Detroit—or “The D” as many of these complacent newcomers insist on calling it, as if the re-naming process occurring in the city’s various neighborhoods needs to be applied to the city as a whole, as if the title “Detroit” simply carries with it far too much of a historical burden. The various sites of trauma and resistance throughout the city’s periphery, such as the Ossian Sweet house at 2905 Garland Road, push back against the historical depthlessness and selective forgetting upon which the “authenticity” of these forces of global capital in Detroit’s center is contingent. As Michel de Certeau helps to explain in The Practice of Everyday Life, in a palimpsestic landscape such as Detroit’s, sites and structures such as the house at 2905 Garland Road create a “depth within the present.” They play the dual roles of both historical actors and witnesses—or, perhaps more aptly put, material witnesses. “By eluding the laws of the present,” de Certeau explains in this regard,

these inanimate objects acquire a certain autonomy. They are actors, legendary heroes. They organize around them the city saga…They are witnesses to a history that, unlike that of museums or books, no longer has a language. Actually, they function as history, which consists in opening a certain depth within the present….These wild objects…are for us the equivalent of what the gods of antiquity were, the “spirits” of the place….the population of ghosts that teem within the city and that make up the strange and immense silent vitality of an urban symbolics. (135-137)

“Haunted and Nervous”
                                                                        —Sizzla Kalonji

As the rest of the world continues to read and hear about Detroit’s miraculous “rebirth,” and about grandiose architectural exhibits in Venice envisioning Detroit’s extravagant future, and about Detroit’s overabundance of boutique hotel space, and about Detroit’s burgeoning restaurant scene, and how Detroit was recently voted the best city in the country to open a yoga studio, this spring and early summer have been comparatively one of the most violent on record in Detroit’s peripheral neighborhoods. And of course, the threat of water-shut-offs is still a very real one for many of the city’s long-standing residents. It is a bad, dangerous, and shameful time to be conspicuously feasting, celebrating, profiting, and self-promoting in the city that makes this country's disparities between the haves and have-nots so geographically explicit, and so glaring that they are downright nauseating. “New Detroit” in its mall-like center, complacently dismisses the kind of anomic isolation and desperation in its peripheries, and trusts in the illusory boundaries between it and the rest of the city, at its own peril… 

Sunday, May 22, 2016


...You're the maraschino cherry coal (the match of Jerico)?
That will burn this whole madhouse down
And will not throw open like a walnut safe
More like a love that's a bottle of exquisite stuff, yes...

...You just closer to me at the fall
But you don't want, want my hand
You're just closer to me
But you don't want, want my hand...

...When he pushes her back
Like he's gonna have to make me
Saliva peeks from his trail
I gained a lot of advice from him...

...Get off the car
Kick his chain
Kick his pride, get him soaked, hit, run
Lift up your toes
In my mouth
And we can make love
And we can go...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Gary, Indiana...

...shine...gonna post these again...something about the truth in there...

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

decades worth of thank-you

the five-foot assassin
the five-footer
the funky diabetic

...them can't touch me, no them can't touch me
them can't hold me, no them can't hold me...

Monday, March 14, 2016

"Insult her...

...If she's a tramp, she'll get angry. If she smiles, she's a lady."


Thursday, March 3, 2016

"eat it, you stinking pig"

“Wide Streets + Narrow Minds”:

Memory, Margins, and Mayhem in the Suburbs of Jonathan Kaplan’s Over the Edge

There is a reason that human beings long for a sense of permanence. This longing is not limited to children, for it touches the profoundest aspects of our existence: that life is short, fraught with uncertainty, and sometimes tragic. We know not where we come from, still less where we are going, and to keep from going crazy while we are here, we want to feel that we truly belong to a specific part of the world.
                                                                        The Geography of Nowhere
                                                                        —James Howard Kunstler

Two young teenagers are standing on a highway overpass. One is the stereotypical 1970s “burnout” embodied—long hair, bell-bottom jeans, and a matching jean jacket. The other does not fit this description. In addition to this latter teen’s cut-off denim shorts, he has short hair, he is donning a green military vest, and he is wearing—perhaps tellingly—a Daniel Boone-like coonskin cap (complete with tail). The teen in the coonskin cap is taking aim at automobiles with a bee-bee rifle as they drive under the overpass. He gets his sights locked on to a police car that is about to drive under the overpass. The teen fires the bee-bee rifle, the cop’s windshield shatters, and the police car skids sideways blocking the two lanes on that side of the highway. The monotonous diegetic tranquility of the sound of passing cars is shattered by the non-diegetic Helter Skelter-like guitar that begins Cheap Trick’s rock and roll battle hymn, Hello There, as the two teens start jumping up and down and laughing and yelling (similar to the kind of yells of Indians in battle) before they run to their bicycles and flee the scene of the Interstate assault. On the highway below traffic is stopped behind the sideways cop car with the shattered windshield, people are out of their cars and hiding behind their car doors, and the cop has his gun out and he is calling in the assault on his radio. Welcome to the anomic teenage anarchy of Jonathan Kaplan’s cinematic “cult classic,” Over the Edge (1979).

Over the Edge is the story of Carl Willat (Michael Eric Kramer). Carl is a young, intelligent, considerate teen who lives in an expensive, new suburban house (so new that it is younger than he is), whose loving parents are seemingly happily married (although his father has a cocktail in his hand in every scene in said house and his mother’s response to Carl’s having been beaten up at one point is to simply offer him money—“combat pay”), and lives in a predominately affluent “planned” suburban community named New Granada—“tomorrow’s city…today.” Over the Edge is also very much about the city of New Granada. And to be more specific, Over the Edge is about New Granada’s “teen problem.” As the prologue to the film states, Over the Edge “is based on true incidents occurring during the 1970s in a planned suburban community of condominiums and townhomes, where city planners ignored the fact that a quarter of the population was fifteen years old or younger.” Carl also has a number of close and faithful friends. There is Richie (Matt Dillon), a reputed troublemaker who allegedly “had to leave the last town he lived in,” and who repeatedly tells Carl and others about the time he broke into a bike shop and the cops made his mother “sign this thing saying that [he] was incorrectible”—which Carl repeatedly reminds him is actually “incorrigible.” There is Claude (Tom Fergus), who to prepare for a test in school one day accidently takes acid when he thinks he is merely taking speed, and who also at one point gets busted with “a gram of hash” by the city’s overzealous police sergeant, Sergeant Doberman (Harry Northup). And finally there is Cory (Pamela Ludwig) who eventually becomes Carl’s girlfriend, and who smokes a lot of weed, burglarizes houses, and is rumored to have run away with a rock group the year before the story takes place. The plot of the film is easy enough to summarize—it is the story of the aforementioned teens and some of their friends trapped in an alienating and demoralizing landscape, who are completely estranged from all adults in the story (except for Julia [Julia Pomeroy] who runs the teens’ “recreation center”), doing drugs, drinking alcohol, breaking and entering, getting arrested, fighting, and vandalizing the environment within which they are confined. The general theme of social and familial crisis in the film follows a clearly escalating trajectory and finally culminates in the legendary penultimate scene when all of the city’s teens lock the city’s parents, teachers, and police in the school (ironically the adults are meeting to discuss Richie’s death and the city’s “teen problem”) and then proceed to destroy the school and blow up all of the automobiles in the school’s parking lot.

Lamentably, virtually nothing has been written about this film, and in academia it has been all but ignored. The film was buried by Orion Pictures upon completion due to the drugs, violence, and anarchy depicted in it, and at least partly due to the fact that there had recently been teen violence outside of theatres at showings of gang films such as Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979). It has been suggested by members of the film’s crew that American audiences simply were not yet prepared to see white suburban teens in affluent suburban communities behaving this way—this kind of behavior is assumedly only supposed to be that of minority youths in urban centers. Fatuously enough, in its attempts to figure out what to do with the film, Orion actually tried to bill Over the Edge as a horror film for a while, complete with posters depicting the kids in the film as zombies basically (blank, red eyes and everything) before completely burying the film outright. It ended up playing in one or two theatres. The film was eventually unearthed, made it to cable in the mid to late 1980s, then made it to DVD finally and has now reached “cult classic” status.

On the film’s thirtieth anniversary Vice magazine published a fairly comprehensive article about the film’s conception, production, and reception accompanied by the subtitle: “AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE GREATEST TEEN REBELLION MOVIE OF ALL TIME.” Though the author of this essay initially cringes at even the suggestion of employing anything from a trite, predictably jaded, hipster rag like Vice, the fact that the article is comprised wholly of commentary from the cast and crew will—hopefully—provide sufficient justification. Beyond providing an invaluable recourse for the regrettable dearth of scholarly and critical material on such an undeniably relevant and telling cinematic representation of teenage anomie—occurring in by far the most pervasive landscape in the United States (the suburban landscape)—the Vice article is useful for two main reasons. First, as stated above, it is an oral history so it provides plenty of illuminating commentary from the cast and—perhaps more importantly—crew as to why, where, and how the film was made. And second, the Vice article is woven together by excerpts from the original article from the San Francisco Examiner chronicling the true events on which Over the Edge is based. The original article was published in the November 11th, 1973 edition of the San Francisco Examiner. Entitled “Mousepacks: Kids on a Crime Spree,” the article begins by describing how

Gangs of youngsters, some as young as nine, [went] on a rampage through a suburban town. One on a bike pours gasoline from a gallon can and sets it afire. Lead pipe bombs explode in park restrooms. Spray paint and obscenities smear a shopping center wall. Two homes are set ablaze. Antennas by the hundreds are snapped off parked cars in a single night. Liquid cement clogs public sinks and water fountains. Streetlights are snuffed out with BB guns so often they are no longer replaced. It sounds like the scenario for an underage Clockwork Orange, a futuristic nightmare fantasy. But all the incidents are true. They happened in Foster City where pre-teenage gangs…constitute one of the city’s major crime problems. (qtd. in Sacks)

As will be explored in detail below, one of the key elements of both the film and the events that occurred in Foster City is the isolation and alienation inherent in the planned, standardized suburban landscapes within which these young people are trapped and confined. Landscapes that “radical geographer” James Howard Kunstler identifies as having “dispensed with all the traditional connections and continuities of community life, and replaced them with little more than cars and television” (105). Since adolescents and young teens who are not old enough to drive are the human beings who are quite literally trapped, isolated, and confined within these suburban wildernesses, who better to look to for the most genuine and unambiguous barometer of what these landscapes and environments do to the human mind and spirit?

Jonathan Kaplan’s city of New Granada in Over the Edge is a lucid filmic representation of the kind of center-less, centrifugally sprawling, haphazard suburban and exurban development that pervades this country’s landscape. “In these new, exploding suburbs,” environmental psychologist Ann Sloan Devlin quotes David Brooks as explaining in What Americans Build and Why, “the geography, the very landscape of life, is new and unparalleled…there are no centers [and] no recognizable borders to shape a sense of geographical identity. Throughout human history, most people have lived around some definable place—a tribal ring, an oasis, a river junction, a port, a town square” (24). This is increasingly no longer the case. Due to this stereotypical kind of manic and relentless suburban development, the entire landscape of the city of New Granada—“tomorrow’s city…today” as one of the city’s numerous signs advertises—is defined by utter inconstancy, plasticity, and discontinuity. In this sense, New Granada can be seen to be a spatial and geographical embodiment of the very anarchism that the kids’ behavior—perhaps fittingly and inevitably—reflects. Punctuating and mediating the utter standardization and homogeneity of the different patches and tracts of finished houses, townhouses, and condominiums in the landscape of Over the Edge, are unfinished expanses and spaces of land in varying phases and degrees of development. These are generally large fields of dirt and weeds where development has begun but is either unfinished or halted altogether (as Carl tells Cory at one point in the story, “my father says they’re out of money”). In Kaplan’s suburban landscape one finds three primary elements that can be considered conducive—if not downright deterministic—to the kind of anomic and nihilistic angst that leads to the teens’ anarchistic behavior. First, there is the standardized and homogeneous nature of the finished tracts and—dare I say—neighborhoods. These are built environments that are marked by a disorienting “placelessness,” and that lack structures and spaces embedded with any kind of symbolic or historical significance. Second, there is the haphazard, piecemeal, effectively anarchistic nature of the development in New Granada, where the “boundaries” that pioneering landscape critic John Brinckerhoff Jackson insists are essential to a sense of human community and civilization are obliterated and obscured. Finally, there is the fact that a landscape full of spaces and structures that are younger than the kids themselves is a landscape that does not provide young people with any sense of history, tradition, and memory. After first taking a brief look at the significance of landscape in the cinematic medium (beyond some attention to the landscapes in the genre of the American western, this is an area of study that is for the most part yet to be explored), the remainder of this paper will examine the three above elements of Kaplan’s brilliantly crafted and incendiary mise en scène.

In his seminal work Discovering the Vernacular Landscape John Brinckerhoff Jackson suggests that “in the contemporary movie…the set actually creates the players, identifies them, and tells them what to do: a good example of environmental determinism” (5). Over the Edge is an illustrative example of a film whose landscape does much more than merely provide a neutral background or setting. The film’s landscape and geography are a defining and perhaps even deterministic element of the story, embedded with as much meaning, agency, and influence as any character or situation. One particularly clever way in which Kaplan employs the landscape and geography to determine the destinies of the film’s characters, and also to foreshadow events is when he repeatedly has portentous and pivotal moments occur at the very edges where finished and unfinished development meet. For instance, perhaps the most pivotal moment of the story is when Carl and Richie first encounter the handgun that will ultimately get Richie fatally shot by Sergeant Doberman (when Richie points the unloaded handgun at Doberman later in the film as he and Carl are attempting to run away). Richie and Carl take the handgun from Cory and her friend Abby (Kim Kliner) after Cory and Abby have just burglarized a house. Kaplan has Carl and Richie ride up to Cory and Abby (who are literally just leaving the house they have burglarized), and Richie take the plastic grocery bag with the handgun in it from Abby at the exact spot that the sidewalk and the house’s meticulously manicured lawn end, and dirt and weeds begin. Likewise, later in the film, after the group has been “out in the fields” taking target practice, and the two pairs of friends are walking away from each other—Richie holding on to the now empty handgun—which will be the last time Cory and Abby will see Richie alive, the two pairs part ways at the exact place the concrete road ends and dirt and weeds begin.

One way to read this is to see the group’s leaving the sidewalk, manicured lawns, and concrete road as them leaving the order and security of human settlement and entering some kind of wilderness, or uncharted and untamed territory. This latter realm is where most (if not all) of the story’s most poignant moments take place, and where the story’s teenage characters seem to do their most visceral and genuine living. Contrastingly, in almost every scene in his parents’ house, Carl is in the insular and claustrophobic world provided by his headphones and record player listening to bands like Cheap Trick and The Ramones. Since New Granada’s chaotic and haphazard growth and development has created an anarchic landscape with no clear boundaries or points, spaces, or structures of centralizing or symbolic significance, the kids in Over the Edge must pass through these wild and chaotic spaces just to move throughout the story. J. B. Jackson identifies any landscape lacking boundaries as a fundamental debacle for human civilization. Jackson insists that boundaries “exist to ensure order and security and continuity and to give citizens a visible status.”

They serve to remind us of our rights and obligations and of our history….Boundaries therefore, unmistakable, permanent, inviolate boundaries, are essential….[They] stabilize social relationships. They make residents out of the homeless, neighbors out of strangers,  strangers out of enemies. They give a permanent human quality to what would otherwise be an amorphous stretch of land. Those roughly geometrical enclosed spaces are a way of rebuking the disorder and shapelessness of the natural environment… (12-15).

By creating a filmic suburban landscape with no clearly established boundaries, haphazardly punctuated by stretches of fields and stretches of unfinished and abandoned townhouses and condominiums, Kaplan has isolated and trapped the teens in Over the Edge in a suburban wilderness as chaotic as that in nature—and the teens’ anarchic behavior seems to simply reflect this. In fact, Kaplan establishes the suburban wilderness theme socially as well as spatially.

Perhaps the clearest manifestation of the suburban wilderness theme in the film can be found in Mark Perry (Vincent Spano)—the coonskin-hat-sporting, would-be frontiersman and revolutionary who carries out the aforementioned Interstate assault. In almost every scene in the film involving Mark Perry he is either shooting police cars from highway overpasses, brutalizing other teens in New Granada (at one point he and “that gorilla” he hangs out with beat up Carl as a warning against giving their names to the cops), and in general causing utter havoc in New Granada. Mark Perry’s bicycle has a gun-rack on the handlebars for his bee-bee rifle. One also finds out later in the film (after Richie has been killed and Carl is on the run) that Mark Perry is living in a tent out in one of the fields. In this sense Perry is in exile from the community of New Granada, and he appears to be the only character that freely (and without consequence) crosses the boundaries between the developed and undeveloped spaces in and around New Granada. Spatially he has been relegated to a similar wilderness to that which J. B. Jackson further explores when he writes of how the Romans created, defended, and maintained boundaries—or Limes—to “isolate and protect” the community or city, “and when possible to prevent contact” with who and what inhabited the mysterious and dangerous wilderness, or with conflicting political or militaristic forces. Perry can be seen to fit either of these categories, especially considering the subversive significance of the assault of a police car on an Interstate highway. The character of Mark Perry—in his Daniel Boone-like coonskin cap, military vest, combat boots, and armed with his bee-bee rifle (and ultimately with a real rifle which he gets out of the trunk of a cop car when the kids attack the school)—is a modern day cinematic representation of what historian Mark Bloch describes when he writes about the Middle Ages. Perry exists in the spaces outside of the tenuous order of New Granada; the spaces “Beyond [it], enveloping [it], thrusting into [it]—immense wilderness, seldom entirely uninhabited by man, though whoever dwelt there as a…hermit or outlaw did so only at the cost of a long separation from his fellow man” (qtd. in Jackson 50-51). Or in actor Vincent Spano’s own words, the “coonskin hat was my idea…It represented a time in America when people were living off the land. Fast-forward to the present, and these kids were plopped into a fabricated community and not really tied to the land at all. There was no place to go and nothing to do. It was bringing a symbol from the past into the present, and making it really perverted.” The haphazard development and construction in and around New Granada has already blurred the aforementioned boundaries (or Limes), which do not exist in any clear or significant way. But further exacerbating this, Kaplan uses the character of Mark Perry to obscure the already nebulous boundaries between the real wilderness around New Granada and—for the kids—the equally unwelcoming suburban wilderness of highways, strip-malls, and condominiums. The suggestion that the aspiringly utopistic landscape of America’s suburbs were—to the kids and teenagers trapped within them—as alienating, isolating, and treacherous as the natural wilderness, is perhaps one of the film’s most relevant historical implications and interventions.

As stated above, these patches of undeveloped and unfinished land mediate and punctuate patches of completed development that are marked by utter homogeneity. In one of the few scenes in Over the Edge where Carl actually vandalizes property himself we first see him wandering by himself on his bicycle through a subdivision of uncannily and eerily identical tan and brown townhouses. One wonders how someone could possibly find his or her way in such a place. “Texas millionaires” are in New Granada checking out the land across from the teens’ recreation center (or, “the rec,” a tin airplane hanger of a building surrounded by dirt, an old airplane, and some shoddy jungle gyms which is the only place the town has allotted for the teens to congregate)—land that was “supposed to be a drive-in and a bowling alley.” But as Carl’s dad admonishes Carl at one point after Carl has found out that this parcel of land is now going to be used to build an industrial park: “the city’s gotta make money on that property. Besides we need more of a reason for people to move here than the bowling alley.” The Texas millionaires are driving around in a Cadillac from Carl’s father’s Cadillac dealership. When they are in the townhouse they are being provided as they stay in New Granada, Carl puts a bunch of firecrackers in the engine that explode when the Texans get in the car later. The subdivision that Carl is riding through in this scene is the quintessence of the kind of disorienting standardization indicative of this country’s built environment, and an apt example of what seminal urbanist Jane Jacobs critiques in her invaluable tome, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Though it is easy to assume that this kind of standardization provides a sense of order and predictability, and thus enhanced ease of maneuverability, Jacobs argues that its effects are quite the opposite. “Superficially, this monotony might be thought of as a sort of order,” Jacobs argues,

But esthetically, it unfortunately also carries with it a deep disorder: the disorder of conveying no direction. In places stamped with the monotony and repetition of sameness you move, but in moving you seem to have gotten nowhere. North is the same as south, or east as west. Sometimes north, south, east, west are all alike…It takes difference—many differences—cropping up in different directions to keep us oriented. Scenes of thoroughgoing sameness lack these natural announcements of direction and movement, or are scantly furnished with them, and so they are deeply confusing. This is a kind of chaos (my emphasis). (291-292)

The tracts of housing that are actually developed and occupied throughout Kaplan’s suburban landscape follow this exact paradigm—they are all identical colors, identical designs, made of identical materials, and dizzyingly enough, surrounded by identically manicured lawns and yards. Kaplan ingeniously highlights the rigidity and placelessness of this standardization to an even greater extent by sharply contrasting it with the weeds and dirt of all of the unfinished and undeveloped tracts that punctuate and mediate these finished and developed subdivisions. As James Howard Kunstler laments, this kind of mind numbing, discombobulating architecture and geography “represent[s] a triumph of mass merchandising over regional building traditions, of salesmanship over civilization” (166). These structures and the spaces they comprise “might be anywhere. The places they stand are just different versions of nowhere, because these houses exist in no specific relation to anything except the road and the power cable” (166).

The target practice that takes place in the scene of the “Sunday picnic with a gun” occurs on a dirt road, out on the undeveloped peripheries of New Granada. The entire background of the scene is comprised of a sprawling horizon of homogeneous suburban architecture and strip-malls. The scene begins with a slow tracking shot of Carl and Cory peacefully walking through a field of waist high grass. After Cory asks Carl if he would “like to live up here,” Carl tellingly answers that what he wants more than anything is “to live in a real old city.” This alludes to one of the defining and perhaps most deterministic elements of Kaplan’s suburban landscape—the fact that none of the spaces or structures have existed longer than the kids themselves. In this way, New Granada is emblematic of the modern American suburb, bereft as it is of any kind of history, tradition, or memory. Screenwriters Tim Hunter and Charles Haas went to the planned suburb of Foster City, California where the actual events of the “Mousepacks” article in the San Francisco Examiner took place. “Everything was new,” Haas explains in Vice’s oral history, “Nothing was older than the kids themselves. The place made everyone feel disposable.” Continuing in this vein, and with regards to the actual city of Greeley, Colorado where the film was shot, the film’s cinematographer Andrew Davis explains that the city of Greeley was “literally building this sprawling suburb around us as we shot Over the Edge. Houses were going up right next to where we were shooting."

James Howard Kunstler correspondingly laments, “Eighty percent of everything ever built in America has been built in the last fifty years” (10). New Granada represents but one microcosm of a land plagued by built environments that lack any kind of continuity with the past, and in this respect, few if any spaces or structures to bridge the generations. In the section entitled “Place as the Locus of Collective Memory,” from his tome Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference “radical geographer” David Harvey provides an invaluable explication of the necessity for genuinely livable landscapes to possess and convey a sense of history, tradition, and memory. “Place is space which has historical meanings,” Harvey quotes Walter Brueggemann as arguing, “where some things have happened which are now remembered and which provide continuity and identity across generations” (304). New Granada’s lack of this necessity can be read as an explanation for the seemingly unbridgeable generational gulf between the kids and the adults, and for the kids’ consequently nihilistic and anomic abandon.

In addition to its inability to facilitate bridges between the generations, a landscape without a memory or history robs its inhabitants—especially those trapped and isolated within it like the film’s teens—of the foundational sense of both tradition and place on which to envision and create a future. Examining the sacred interconnectedness of the landscape with Apache history and cultural identity Harvey goes on to explain that North American Indians in general “engage in a moral act of imagination that constitutes an understanding of the physical world at the same time as it constitutes an understanding of themselves. From this it follows that losing the land is equivalent to losing identity” (305). This sense of a shared identity with the past provided by spaces and places embedded with a memory and history is indispensible as one moves towards a future. Or as Harvey goes on to explain, “memory of the past is also about hope for the future…the preservation or construction of a sense of place is then an active moment in the passage from memory to hope, from past to future” (305-306). In this regard, Carl’s aforementioned confession to Cory of wanting “to live in a real old city” is one of the most telling lines in the film. It is a desire for the feeling of belonging that comes with the collective memory and identity intrinsic to an “old,” firmly established site that possesses its own clearly and concretely established sense of place. Trapped in a brand new suburban wilderness (in fact, it is being built around them) bereft of any kind of memory or history, and lacking what Kunstler in the epigraph to this paper identifies as the indispensable knowledge “that [they] truly belong to a specific part of the world,” Carl and the rest of the teens in Over the Edge are existentially adrift and act accordingly. Or as Mary Gordon warns, “There is a link between hope and memory. Remembering nothing one cannot hope for anything” (qtd. in Harvey 305). In this respect it is quite fitting that director Jonathan Kaplan was coming from having just directed the fabled punk rock film Who Killed Bambi (1978) for the Sex Pistols—a band who coined the nihilistic anthem: “No future…no future for me!”
As Richie and his mother walk into the inner courtyard of the low-income suburban apartment complex in which they live, after his mother has had to retrieve him from the police who detained him and Carl for both a case of mistaken identity (when Mark Perry and his accomplice were fleeing on their bikes from their Interstate assault), and for a pocket-knife he was carrying (or simply for being poor in the suburbs), they walk past the following graffiti starkly spray-painted in white letters on one of the courtyard’s walls: “Wide Streets + Narrow Minds.” This little cleverly placed and easily missed protest concisely conveys the prominent and crucial spatial and geographical component of Over the Edge. Although Richie is not as far removed from the order and security of New Granada as Mark Perry is, Richie is nevertheless part of the poorer section. Kaplan illustrates Richie’s class status socially as well as spatially. As stated above, Richie’s single mother (who commiserates with what is clearly her son’s continuous harassment by the police) picks Richie up from the police station. “Well did they at least read you your rights,” she asks. “What rights? You kidding me?” Richie answers. To this, Richie’s mother laments: “I’d like to see them go after some real criminals sometime.” Carl on the other hand, is picked up by his father (Carl’s mom is at home being a good housewife), who has had to lie to people at his Cadillac dealership (by telling them that his silly wife has ignored a bunch of parking tickets) so nobody will know that Carl has been arrested. Unlike Richie, who lives in what is essentially high-rise housing projects for poor white people, Carl and his father pull into the driveway of a brand new house and right into a garage whose door automatically closes behind them.

Despite the marked differences in the familial and socioeconomic circumstances of Richie and Carl, Over the Edge ultimately illustrates that the power of the landscape—more times than not—has the capacity to effect anyone trapped or confined within it, whether they be rich or poor. In the preface to the second edition of Landscape and Power W. J. T. Mitchell writes, “If one wanted to continue to insist on power as the key to the significance of landscape, one would have to acknowledge that it is a relatively weak power compared to that of armies, police forces, governments, and corporations” (vii). This seems almost self-evident. But it also seems to perhaps underestimate an almost omnipotent power that landscape wields that is so constant, ubiquitous, and insidious that it is essentially invisible. As stated above, perhaps the key to understanding this power is to see it from the perspective of those who are utterly confined within these spaces and places—children. The formidable power of landscape effects young people in affluent, exurban gated communities as much as it effects young people in blighted urban centers. It is—for instance—the six-lane arterial roadway that a child from the former category must daily cross just to get to a friend’s neighborhood. This will often eventually convince this child not to bother leaving his or her own street (which probably does not have any sidewalks anyway), and in doing so, arrest the child’s development and maturation. It is the two miles a child (and many adults as well) in a distraught city like Detroit—for instance—must daily traverse just to get to where he or she can purchase food. Which will only then be corn chips and microwave burritos once they get there anyway, as gas stations and liquor stores are often all that he or she has access to for food. 

In this way, the power of the landscape can be seen as analogous to what Mahatma Gandhi was trying to convey when he suggested, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” When one considers violence, one generally considers it to be some kind of act, with a beginning and end and thus some kind of duration. But what Gandhi suggests is that poverty is an act of violence that takes the instantiation of a single act with a limited duration and extends it indefinitely to the point where it simply becomes a condition of life, without a clear aggressor to confront. The power of landscape as suggested above takes on this same ontological perpetuity and ubiquity. It takes the instantiation of an act of oppression or coercion and stretches it out indefinitely. It is the cinematic representation of this form of ubiquitous, constant, and in a sense invisible power of the landscape that confines and isolates the teens in, and determines the events in Jonathan Kaplan’s Over the Edge.