The Grand Rapids LipDub: A tribute to my hometown
Few could have anticipated a decade or two ago, when I was a kid growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, what kind of toll the decline of the Big Three automakers would take on the whole state; back then, it was a solidly middle-class and blue-collar place to be from, a place where people held solid, secure factory jobs that would support a family and a two-car garage (my mom actually worked as a seamstress in a GM plant for a while after my parents divorced). Times have changed.
That's right, Newsweek.
These days, Michigan's economy is notoriously terrible -- and even though old G.R. hasn't been hit as hard as, say Detroit, where at one point the unemployment rate shot up to 50 percent, times are still pretty tough.
Sometime around when the economy started to tank nationwide in the early 2000s, my stepdad was forced to close down his longtime photography studio and go to work in a factory for Amway, which is pretty much the only big manufacturer in town still going strong, while my mom has struggled to find work cleaning houses for wealthy folks who weren't so wealthy anymore. Accounting for inflation, the property value of their house, which they bought when I was in the sixth grade, has actually declined. My sisters have fared a little better (one works for the county and another is a hair stylist), but Big Three subsidiary plants and all sorts of businesses that have been around since I was young have continued to close, and the unemployment rate is still over 10 percent.
And people (admittedly, like me) have continued to pack up and move to greener job prospects -- the population has been on the decline for over a decade. Nevertheless, people from Grand Rapids didn't take too kindly to a recent Newsweek piece that put G-Rap (its gangsta name) among the nation's top ten dying cities (Flint and Detroit also placed on that list -- not exactly a ringing endorsement for Michigan).
With the cooperation of city officials, several news personalities, two weddings, a marching band and a whole bunch of people, director Rob Bliss roped together $40,000 to make a truly epic lip-sync video set to Don McLean's "American Pie," ten minutes of continuous video with nary an edit, to show that -- on the contrary -- Grand Rapids is very much alive. And make no mistake: It is awesome. Roger Ebert called it "the greatest music video ever made." It's racked up close to 2 million views since Memorial Day weekend -- which is about ten times the population of Grand Rapids, by the way. Ah, it does me proud.
So fuck you, Newsweek. You're dying.