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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why Detroit could use RoboCop

The Detroit News reported today that, after an internet campaign, $50,000 has been raised to fund a city statue of RoboCop, the cyborg Detroit police officer character from the science-fiction action film made in 1987 by the same name. Some have criticized the move while others have found the use of a character from a movie in this way to be a silly endeavor.

Movies are a part of our culture, and often movie heroes fill the same role as mythological figures once filled for the ancient Greeks, for example. The famed comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose research inspired Star Wars and countless tales since, focused on the power of myth and would agree that the works of our popular culture today can have a mythical function in society.

While this project has been privately and charitably funded, would anyone scoff at a statue of Odysseus placed in the center of an ancient Greek town by its government? He was a character out of a poem and play; the movie-equivalent big entertainments of their day (not to expunge the still-current importance of poetry and plays, of course). These public stories refer to events and themes we all know and their mythical characters embody virtues and values we hope to inspire in each other and in our communities. This embodiment and encouragement works the same, whether the heroic figure be someone from religion, politics, social movements, or fiction. And, sometimes, the fun of sharing in the joy of a fictional character can add much-needed color to our world.

Critics have said this would not reflect well on a city that already has many problems. At first I thought it an odd choice myself, since the Detroit portrayed in RoboCop was a crime-ridden corrupt wasteland. However, Robocop's directives had been to protect and clean up the streets so it could undergo a rebirth into a flourishing new city; or so that was the line given by the greedy executives and officials that created him. But ultimately, Robocop turned against those corrupt forces and eventually gave hope that the promise for Detroit might one day be true. Even the birth and physical nature of RoboCop is a symbol of the dream of technological innovation so needed to revitalize Detroit.

It's important to face problems in order to solve them, and perhaps admitting that the Detroit in the film might be closer to the real Detroit than we are comfortable with may be a first step. RoboCop is a dark story, but it's protagonist is not. He was a beacon of light in the darkness - and maybe that's what Detroit is looking for today.

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Thanks to my wife, Julie, and to the Houston Chronicle for making me aware of the article referred to.

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