Peeling paint, water damage, ripped upholstery, broken windows. In recent years, the internet has seen a wave of images of what, in a 2009 Vice article, James Griffioen coined as "ruin porn." He was referring to the many images of previously powerful and luxurious spaces of Detroit, now abandoned, framed under titles such as Time's "Detroit's Beautiful, Horrible Decline."
Indeed, the images are fascinating to look at. They evoke Detoit's grand and powerful past, but also give the viewer a glimpse into each of our futures if we were to let time and nature run its course. We only hold back the deterioration of our built lives by constant maintenance. One journalist spoke to a French family poking around the ruins of the Packard Plant who had come "to see the end of the world!"
The term "ruin porn" was borne out of frustration with these photographs and the surface they only scratch. The photographers behind the images, according to critics, are not interested in the back stories—the decline of jobs, white flight, the political climate leading up to riots in 1967: the history and story of the city. Lifelong Detroit resident Marsha Cusic says, "Detroit isn't some kind of abstract art project. It's real for people. These are real memories. Every one of these houses has a story." Ruin porn delivers little context.
We are inundated with images every day. How many depict real life? Last week, Shauna Niequist wrote in RELEVANT about the internet being full of partial-truths, images without context, particularly in social media. She notes how it's so easy to "show the fabulous meal but not the mess to clean up afterwards."
We see the high moments of people's lives, but rarely do we see the low moments, or even the ordinary. If some of our relationships have only these levels of interaction, can we really claim "friendship"? What does it mean to "rejoice with those who rejoice [and] mourn with those who mourn," when we only see (and share) half of the story?
I'm rarely a proponent for airing your dirty laundry on social media, and I'm not often one for sharing much of anything too personal on the internet. But I do believe that it's important to not let the ways we interact on social media shape the ways we interact in real life. I hope that those close to me allow me to both rejoice and mourn with them. And, perhaps harder yet, I hope that I am able to let them rejoice and mourn with me. It allows us to keep our lives in context and to build relationships that leave you feeling fulfilled rather than disconnected. It's about knowing the story behind the picture, and maybe lending a hand with the dishes too.