An Open Letter to Stephen Colbert:
Sir, I know you’re a busy man. But take notice: You cannot ignore us forever.
Detroit has had enough of your brand of thoughtless snootiness. It’s so 1990 to take pot shots at our city. And it’s terribly annoying for you to mock our neighboring municipalities. But to completely snub a campaign designed to get your attention? Now, that’s just plain thoughtless.
Haven’t you noticed the “Colbert Does Detroit (And So Can You!)” campaign that has been using your name for the past three months? How could you not? I know you’re comfortably ensconced in the Ivory Tower known as Comedy Central. But even you cannot be so foolish not to have a Google Alert with your own name. Come on…Admit it. You love to see who’s talking about you.
Here’s the deal: A bunch of people over at Detroit’s Little Things Labs heard those nasty little sound bites you created about the city. About how you cannot believe anyone would move here. About how our streets are dangerous and unwalkable. About how a defunct satellite better take aim at Detroit because we don’t have anything here worth saving.
(May I just interject that mocking Detroit is kinda the comedy equivalent of making fun of Kmart? It’s low-hanging fruit. And it’s the old way of doing things. We don’t stand for it any more. Our self-esteem is high enough now that guys like Kid Rock bother to write songs about us. So move on, Big Guy. Just saying.)
Anyhoo, here’s what I know. Little Things started talking about your goofy Conservative-style humor and how Detroit was being thrown under the bus. The group, in case you really live under a rock, is a “problem-solving laboratory that identifies and acts on pressing problems and emerging opportunities in mid-sized and post-industrial cities,” according to its website.
Since I have enough time to pick up a phone (ahem, Colbert, talking to you!) I spoke with Megan Deal, lead designer for Little Labs. She said the idea behind “Colbert Does Detroit” was to get enough people to “like” the Facebook page, sign the petition and garner enough attention to get your eye. Then, the massive reaction would force you to come to Detroit, lead a march through the streets, see our great downtown, notice our resurgence and encourage you to find another whipping boy city.
Well, to be honest, the rush of public support was pretty impressive at first. Within a few days of its September launch, the Facebook page had more than 2,000 followers. Word via social networks and old-fashioned media spread quickly. Writeups about the campaign were plentiful. People even signed a petition. Folks pretended to be you and took pictures of themselves around town. Others held up signs around famous Detroit landmarks, reminding you that “Colbert Wasn’t Here.”
The Facebook page got up to 4,187 followers, including me. But Megan and I have noticed momentum slowing down. Little Labs even said via the site that they’re going to move forward after the end of this month. Because you’re not responding, and attention is waning, they’ve elected to move forward into other areas.
“We haven’t had any direct contact. One woman who had a connection at Comedy Central told us they are aware of (the campaign), but we haven’t had anybody reach out to us – even to say ‘We know you’re there,’” Megan told me.
Little Labs’ greatest umbrage with Colbert was that he mocked Detroit in general. But he also failed to take into account how much the city has changed. And how much people care about it.
“Having a studio in downtown, we disagreed with this notion that it’s not actually a safe place. Now, granted, Detroit has a whole still has its problems but downtown Detroit has seen immense turnaround in recent years and the numbers back that up,” Megan said.
So did your staff of writers think we’d just take it lying down? That we don’t care about what’s said about us? No, Mr. Colbert, we don’t ignore things (or people) like you do.
“Detroiters made (this campaign) what it is,” Megan said. “For us, no matter if we hear from him or not it’s been successful in that we’ve had all of these people participate. … Some 4,000 fans took the time, sent in photos of themselves around favorite spots, showing people in the community that they are proud of Detroit.”
It reminds me, I told Megan, of the “Bought in Detroit” campaign where a young woman asked people to post pictures of what they purchased in the city – mostly to dispel the notice that Detroit is a desolate wasteland with no retail or food options. Turns out, she’s one of Megan’s College for Creative Studies classmates.
So why do I bring this up, Mr. Colbert? Because two young, educated people care enough about Detroit to say something to you. To all of us in Michigan. To the nation. Your pot shots? That’s nothing new. But people loving this place enough to rally in this way? That’s something to talk about.
“You would argue that you’re just liking a Facebook page. But that doesn’t cover it fully. Seeing that outpouring of support – that people love it here, that this is our city – that was the fun part,” Megan said.
The national myth that Detroit is dead is W-R-O-N-G. That’s a dumb joke. We are not a punch line. There’s life here. There’s energy. It’s palatable. It’s detectable.
And you, Mr. Colbert, should take note.