Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Entertainment: Where's The Work?

This week the Guardian ran a preview of Bruce Springsteen's upcoming album, Wrecking Ball, including an interview. What is Wrecking Ball about?
[I]t is as angry a cry from the belly of a wounded America as has been heard since the dustbowl and Woody Guthrie, a thundering blow of New Jersey pig iron down on the heads of Wall Street and all who have sold his country down the swanny. Springsteen has gone to the great American canon for ammunition, borrowing from folk, civil war anthems, Irish rebel songs and gospel. The result is a howl of pain and disbelief as visceral as anything he has ever produced, that segues into a search for redemption: "Hold tight to your anger/ And don't fall to your fears … Bring on your wrecking ball."

Bruce Springsteen: 'What was done to my country was un-American'
One of the songs the Guardian article featured was "We Take Care Of Our Own", in which Springsteen talks about the abandonment of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the Rust Belt after the steel industry evaporated, and rest of us generally as America slowly slides into decay, using an old motto of how people pull together to show how little that phrase means in America anymore:

In the middle stanza, he asks:
Where's the love that has not forsaken me?
Where's the work that will set my hands, my soul free?
If you're familiar with his music, Springsteen's career serves as a chronicle of the decline of the American economy. From the urgent plea to "get out while we're young" in "Born To Run" to the plaintive lament of "Gypsy Biker", his songs have told the story of how good jobs have left town, followed closely by the will to look after each other. For those who still don't understand the difference between the mean and the median in the American economy, Springsteen's stories of bitter decline are the perfect soundtrack for those graphs and charts.

Caption: The rusting steel plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the minor league baseball stadium authorities brought in for "economic renewal". From making pig iron to watching Iron Pigs, the Lehigh Valley's transformation is a microcosm of America's.

Image credit: Composite image by Cujo359 (See Note)

Maybe it was my own proximity to Springsteen's home town when I was growing up that gave me the ability to see things as he does. I grew up in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, which is about an hour's drive down I-78 from where Springsteen grew up. When I was a boy, we made things there. We made steel, trucks, and semiconductors. We mined limestone and turned it into cement. Perhaps I should point out that by "we", I mean my parents' and grandparents' generation did that. By the time I graduated from college in the late 1970s, most of that industry was already gone. Nowadays, the Lehigh Valley mostly profits from its location near the cities of New York and Philadelphia as an inexpensive place to live while working in those cities. Nowadays, they make the trucks down south somewhere, where the labor is cheap. They make the steel and semiconductors in Asia. Most of the cement plants are closed, too.

As a young engineering graduate, I realized there wasn't much work for me there. I moved to the Pacific Northwest, partly because there were still jobs out here. There was still a steel plant and a truck plant out here, and there were lots of aircraft factories and sawmills. Over the years, though, the same thing I'd seen in the Lehigh Valley has happened out here, too. The aircraft factory (NOTE 1) I worked in is mostly gone, replaced by shopping centers and apartments, the jobs either overtaken by automation, or moved to places where the labor is cheap. Someday soon, the rest of the plant will probably be moved. The steel plant and the sawmills are mostly gone, too. The truck plant is somewhere else.

We stopped being people who build things in America. We've become poorer as a result, both economically and spiritually. If you don't know that by now, I suggest you get caught up on your Springsteen.

Have a good Saturday.

NOTE 1: This is was a copyrighted image from the Renton History Museum. I've requested permission to use it, and feel fairly sure that this will be granted, since it's a small version of a print they're selling. Still, it may have to be taken down later.

UPDATE: Since then, I have heard from the Renton History Museum, and they do, in fact, charge for their pictures, even the small fuzzy ones like the one I had up here. I've taken it down, since I can't afford to spend $15 a picture. I've left the link, though. This was the original caption I had posted along with the link:
A photo of the Boeing Renton plant from the 1970s. Today, just about everything below the curving road in the middle of the photos is either apartment buildings or shopping centers.
Maybe when I'm making thousands of dollars a week from this blogging thing I'll be able to afford that kind of money and the time or money it would take to manage the copyright issues, but right now I can't.

In contrast to the case of WMG, I don't think of the Renton History Museum's policy as greedy. They're a nonprofit organization, not a government agency. Maintaining photos, and allowing even limited access to them for research purposes, costs money. This is how they make part of their money. I do some work with a nonprofit organization, so I understand this. Unfortunately, though, by charging even for images that are barely web-quality, they restrict the potential benefit of their photos to those who can pay the freight. Which, in the blogging world at least, is just about none of us.


Expat said...

Seen recently that Boeing had closed its Wichita Kansas plants after making promise to retain production. The expertise drawn to that city supported a major number of other aircraft production facilities. Once those having expertise and experience are driven from the economy of Wichita, there is nothing economically capable of taking that industry's place (how to turn a metro area population of over 600,000 into paupers). Uncounted in the calculations is the stupendous investment in education and training of productive people in that industry. Its like will never be assembled again.

Cujo359 said...

To a lesser extent, that issue has played out in any of a number of cities in America in the last few decades. As the jobs leave, not only are they not coming back, but they aren't going to be relocated anywhere in America.

The flip side of Boeing closing plants in America has been its demented policy of trying to subcontract major portions of the work of building airliners overseas. This was the major reason for the unprecedented delay in launching the 787. Boeing management, to torture a metaphor, thought it could replace computer chip factories in America with potato chip factories elsewhere, and no one would be the wiser.

Curiously, they were wrong.