Rob Bliss’s Lip Dub Sparks Some Questions
It’s released. It’s a big hit on YouTube. And even Newsweek, which called Grand Rapids “a dying city,” has taken notice of Rob Bliss’s gigantic lip dub of Don McLean’s song “American Pie.”
Bliss told the Grand Rapids Press that the lip dub video was intended to promote Grand Rapids as “a growing, fun place to live.” And boy, does it ever look fun. The streets are so clean you could eat off of them. Everyone is cheerful, upbeat, waving and smiling. (Requirements for extras were that people who showed up for the event “dress classy” and “bring a good attitude to represent the city.” “Help us look the best we possibly can,” Bliss stated.)
To give credit where credit is due, the amount of organization and planning that went into this one-take video is mind-boggling. It looks like the filming came off without a hitch; the editing is great; and it certainly is spirited.
There’s nothing here to trouble or raise questions. Just lots of brisk energy and grins and people in the background sitting at café tables, swaying back and forth, or having pillow fights. (Well, that last one might trouble some people who don’t know it’s a homage to an earlier Rob Bliss event.)
Your eye might be jarred from time to time to Bliss’s version of product placement. The line of Fox, WZZM, and WOOD-TV trucks traveling side by side down the street…the bus with the Downtown Grand Rapids slogan on the side…grnow.com and Metro PCS t-shirts…chalk graffiti galore extolling various Grand Rapids boosters. It’s not subtle, and it gets distracting.
Otherwise, Grand Rapids looks like Oz. And the people look like they’ve been reincarnated from those peppy family-style 1970s musical acts from Disney World or Knott’s Berry Farm.
GRIID raised some questions about this Bliss project earlier this month. Now that it’s available for viewing, this writer has a few more.
Although the lip dub promotes Grand Rapids, how well does it represent the people of Grand Rapids?
As was noted earlier on GRIID, the interests of capitalists are definitely well represented by appearances of “movers and shakers,” as the Press called Paul Jendrasiak, Ryan Slusarzyk, George Aquino, Bill Holsinger-Robinson of Rick DeVos’s Pomegranate Studios, plus plenty of local media people. These included featured performances by WOOD-TV people, where Bliss works in the sales department.
Who’s underrepresented here?
Nearly 25 percent of Grand Rapids residents live below the poverty line. The average income in the city is just over $37,000.
There are more women than men living in Grand Rapids—for every 100 women, 92.5 men.
Racial make-up of the city is 57 percent White, 18.9 percent Black, 13 percent Latino/a, and 1.62 percent Asian-American.
As I watched the video, I had to ask myself how well the featured “celebrities” and the extras represented our city’s demographics. Check for yourself.
How well does the lip dub represent the actual city?
All of the action in the video takes place in the immediate downtown area. There are places a stone’s throw away—such as Heritage Hill, the Division Avenue area, the warehouse district—that aren’t shown. Instead we see the cleanest store facades, the most upscale businesses, and the Amway Grand Plaza (twice). We don’t see areas that offer small start-up businesses, alternative art galleries, or any housing other than the downtown condos owned by local real estate power brokers. And I guess it was a given that areas like the Black Hills neighborhood and Heartside don’t make an appearance, either.
How else could the money to make the “American Pie” lip dub have gone to benefit Grand Rapids?
If this video is supposed to help us here in Grand Rapids, then it just begs the question: how else could that $25,000 filming cost have been spent?
According to Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, the organization is able to buy 33 pounds of food for every dollar donated. That means that the fund to make the Grand Rapids Lip Dub could have bought a staggering 825,000 pounds of food for the food-insufficient families in Grand Rapids.
If you buy all your seeds for a vegetable garden, the annual benchmark cost is usually given at about $50 to yield $1,250 of food. Attending seed exchanges at programs in Grand Rapids like Our Kitchen Table lowers the seed cost a lot. But even using the highest estimate, the cost of this video could have gone toward launching 500 new home or community gardens in the city.
The average cost for a wellness class through the City of Grand Rapids—which teach exercise techniques, offer health information and screenings, and provide courses in organic gardening, is $35. So 714 Grand Rapids adults could have benefited from health advice for the same cost as the lip dub video.
Tuition varies for programs at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, but let’s take an average program cost for a summer session of arts education at $5,000. Rob Bliss’s “American Pie” video could have sent five students whose parents could never dreamed of affording this tuition to one of the best arts academies in the country for a life-changing summer. Closer to home and more cost efficient, a children’s arts class at the Grand Rapids Civic Theater (as just one example) costs $285. The “American Pie” video money could have bought 87 Grand Rapids kids an incredible educational experience in the theater. And they would have learned about a lot more than lip-sync techniques.
One other question kept going through my head as I watched this great social experiment:
Who knew this song was so freaking long?
I’ve heard it ever since I was a child, but apparently, I was listening to some Readers’ Digest condensed version. The entire song seems…well…endless. And suddenly the Disney connection clicked. It reminded me of the time I got trapped on the mind-numbing “It’s a Small World After All” ride at Disney World. What a nightmare.
Take a look for yourself: