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Rob Bliss’s Lip Dub Sparks Some Questions

May 28, 2011

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:

82 Comments leave one →
  1. Nadira permalink
    May 28, 2011 1:15 pm

    Interesting writeup. I can see your POV. Anyway, please note that a lipdub does not include any editing. Aside from inserting audio, it’s a raw, single-camera shot. Also, please note the correct spelling of Ryan **Slusarzyk’s last name.

  2. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 28, 2011 1:29 pm

    Thanks, Nadira. We’re making those changes.

    I had read that Rob Bliss made 5 takes of this, and didn’t realize that it meant 5 *full* takes. That makes the planning even more impressive; I can’t imagine filming this 5 times in a row.

    Watch for the Forest Hills marching band drummer whose drum rolls away from him in this, which is apparently the fifth of the 5 takes.

  3. KENNJOBBZ permalink
    May 28, 2011 1:51 pm

    Inserting audio is editing. Technically.

  4. May 28, 2011 2:21 pm

    Thank you for putting this debacle into perspective.

  5. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 28, 2011 4:45 pm

    Thanks, bobbie, and thanks for reading it.

  6. Jeffrey permalink
    May 28, 2011 5:19 pm

    Okay…

    The “product placement” was minimal and not distracting (and in fact, the news vans fit rather well into the theme of the video, being as local stations are an important part of the community).

    It’s my understanding that extras were freely allowed to participate as long as they were dressed “classy.” So, any under-representation is much more likely caused by lack of interest than by exclusion. Do you have any reports of minorities being excluded, or was your implication of discrimination pure supposition?

    All of the action takes place in the immediate downtown area because that’s the site the producers chose. The entire video had to be within the area covered by a 9-minute (the length of the song) golf-cart drive in order to be filmed in one shot. If the point is to put the “best face forward,” of course they’re going to feature the downtown area of the city. It’s the most cosmopolitan area and features GR’s most distinctive feature–the Grand River.

    The entire discussion about the cost of the event is misplaced and irrelevant. It’s private money spent by private individuals and corporations. If they wanted to spend $25K on feeding the hungry, they’d do it. If they wanted to spend $25K on filming a community event/setting a world record, then who are you to question their decision? Does simply pointing out that events cost money and then listing what else you could do with that money pass as relevant reporting/journalism these days?

    The author seems to just be complaining for the sake of complaining. There are simple explanations for all of the “issues” she raises. She fails to add relevant commentary or even raise a single verifiable fact supporting her implications of intentional misrepresentation of the city and its residents. In short, this article is BAD and the author should be ashamed of herself.

  7. Angela Smith permalink
    May 28, 2011 7:29 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I was very proud of the video and as we followed the journey, my daughter and I kept commenting on the areas we were familiar with and some we wanted to visit. I think it was well put together and gave me pride to live here. It was a wonderful testimony to see our city like this. I think this reporter may have personal reasons as to why she thought it was a waste of time. This type of video can inspire people to come visit us and see what our city is all about. This will increase revenue. Sure, they could have bought food with that money, but that is like buying fish for a man instead of teaching him to fish. This brings awareness and I hope, with all Grand Rapids is trying to do, we can bring tourists. We are doing great with the Art Prize. Now, to bring people around more often.

  8. Sara permalink
    May 28, 2011 7:30 pm

    I think the author’s comments are extremely relevant. She’s pointing out some details that she (and a lot of us) think are interesting and support some of the reasons why we might not be head-over-heals for the lip-dub production. Of course people can spend their money on whatever they please and yes, this took a lot of organization and effort–I don’t think anyone disputes that. But I agree with the author that this video doesn’t accurately represent Grand Rapids for many reasons–unless the cliche, affluent, less-diverse, with religious-lyric content is the GR you prefer.

  9. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 28, 2011 8:45 pm

    Jeffrey, just a brief comment. You seem to be confusing the reporting of a news story, which this is not, with a review/commentary, which this is.

    This article reflects my opinions and thoughts as I watched the video for the first time. My opinions obviously differ from yours.

    As an example, you did not find the “ads” distracting. I did. Several times during my first and even second viewing, I lost track of the action and song because my eye was drawn to logos and slogans on trucks, t-shirts, and chalk drawings. There’s no right or wrong on that issue; we just disagree.

    You feel the way that the money was spent is “irrelevant.” That’s your opinion. My opinion is that the way this money was spent reflects the indifferent way that capitalists behave toward anything that does not advance their own profit motives.

    I’m sure from your assertions that you are not ashamed of your political/social views or your opinions. I am not ashamed of mine, either.

  10. susan permalink
    May 28, 2011 9:32 pm

    this lip dub does NOT show the true downtown grand rapids. it shows fancy prominent buildings that the richer ppl of grand rapids own, so that others will see those buildings and invest in them. if u wanna REAL idea of what downtown grand rapids is like, come see division avenue where the homeless shelters and the soup kitchen is. feature everyone, not just the ppl who r rich enough to have brand name expensive clothes. Or go to veterans park and see the ppl who actually live here in downtown grand rapids. the ones that don’t work here for a few hours and then go home. this lib dub did a hugely great disservice to the ppl of grand rapids. and yeah, the streets were clean. what director in his right mind would let there be dirty streets in a video aimed to make ppl think that grand rapids is a clean and well kept city that tourists should visit? you wanna make a video of downtown grand rapids? fine, i’m all for it. but show the TRUE grand rapids. the one that ppl like me and others who live downtown see everyday.

  11. stelle permalink
    May 28, 2011 9:40 pm

    Thank you, Kate, for your excellent analysis of the lip dub hoopla.

  12. Penni permalink
    May 28, 2011 9:49 pm

    I am not sure why this effort is bothering people. Of course we have our share of social issues. Every city does. However, why criticize putting our best foot forward, trying to attract positive attention and new interest in our city which might result in businesses coming here and creating jobs and helping the economy? And if that’s too far a reach, why can’t we just occasionally feel good about where we live?

  13. May 29, 2011 12:00 pm

    Penni, it’s great that this video makes you feel good about where we live, but not everyone’s boat floats the same way. And that’s cool. It’s no big deal. My thinking this video is a little cheesy and obvious; good for a viral tourist video, but mistaking your “feel goods” with depth is a mistake — that shouldn’t take away from your enjoyment. I don’t mean to sound pissy Penni, but your comment basically translates to “shut up, and agree with me.”

    Also: American Pie sucks! I’ve hated that song most of my life, apart from a brief period from age 16-17 when I didn’t know any better. Since then, I’ve tried using all the powers of my brainwaves to subliminally convince people to hate it as well, so that I wouldn’t have to hear it peripherally every few years when some pop star decides to cover it, or some broke joker tries to virally shoe horn some nostalgia into our lives, whether we like it or not. And it hasn’t worked. That alone should prove my point, that we don’t all have to love the same stuff to get by.

    But to answer your question, Rob Bliss is a divisive person. Many people aren’t as impressed with his various “art projects” or taken by his pseudo-charming attempts at becoming a middle American Family-Friendly Warhol. Many people feel like the only reason he’s been such a success in these parts is because so many people have never left these parts, and maybe don’t see that he’s just ripping off artists and events they’ve never heard of. Would it surprise you to discover that Rob Bliss did not invent the zombie walk? True! They do them all over the place. I’d wager, that other people have done big pillow fights, or thought to throw a ton of paper airplanes off buildings. Music videos have also been doing things like this for years, and repressed teenagers have adored the lost art of lip dub in their bedrooms for generations. It really is great if this video helps out so many people and charities and such, but you’re going to be disappointed if you expect everyone to poop themselves when Bliss does something.

  14. richardkooyman permalink
    May 29, 2011 5:01 pm

    While the meaning of Don McLean’s lyrics have always been debated and never revealed by McLean himself most interpret the song to be a long lament about the music word after the death of Buddy Holly. The song itself isn’t overly patriotic or conservatively political or a feel happy la-la-la song. It’s a heavy nostalgic look back at lose and sentiment.
    So it seems to be a curious choice for a feel- happy commercial for the City of Grand Rapids.

  15. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 29, 2011 6:23 pm

    Interesting comments, everyone. Thanks so much for them.

    I’ve been thinking about a couple of points that were made re: that the lip dub is intended to draw tourists here (and when Rob Bliss described it as a “gigantic promotion” for Grand Rapids, that’s why I inferred also); and that he had no choice in the way he represented Grand Rapids because he had to work with the extras who showed up.

    It’s true that Rob had no control over the extras selection. But the video could have had a completely different, and more representative-of-GR-look to it, if he’d made a couple of different choices regarding featured performers and featured groups.

    Why did he need all those so-called “celebrities”? Would any potential out-of-town tourist know or even care who they are? Even the ones who are familiar to us from the news, like Bill Steffens, are not recognizable to someone from Detroit or Chicago.

    And I bet there are a lot of people who live here in GR who don’t know the president of Huntington Bank on sight–why would an out-of-towner? (Although I have to say, the man nailed his lip sync performance). What was the point of featuring the marketing manager of the Amway Hotel Corporation or a local public relations executive, or the manager of an upscale clothing store?

    Rob could have had regular citizens in the featured roles instead. A welder…a municipal worker…a teacher…an artist from Division Avenue…a person from one of the shelters…In my opinion, it would have been a lot more interesting to watch if he had cast it that way.

    He made room for two women celebrities in featured roles–a Fox News reporter and a DJ. Why weren’t there more women featured?

    And some choices he made for the featured groups seemed really odd to me. The East Grand Rapids Choir? Come on. East Grand Rapids is a different city. Why not one of GR’s gospel choirs, or kids from the North American Choral Company? Instead of the swing dancers, why not some dancers from Grupo Tarasco?

    With different decisions, the lip dub would have looked more like the real Grand Rapids.

    As for the song choice, Richard, I agree with you. “American Pie” is, in actuality, a dirge. Was it intended to tie into the concept of GR as a “dying city”?

    For a completely different take on Rob Bliss’s project, here’s a link to Revue’s commentary by Stad DiPonzi:
    http://www.revuewm.com/scene/opinion/item/1030-bye-bye-mr-grand-rapids-pie

  16. Sara permalink
    May 29, 2011 7:32 pm

    couldn’t agree more, Bob, well said

  17. Susan O'Neal permalink
    May 29, 2011 10:45 pm

    I saw the video last week on NBC Nightly News. I immediately wondered what GRIID’s take on it would be. : ) They said it cost $40,000 to make, which would make it even a worse waste of money. Love this story about what and who was left out of this video and how the money could have been spent to actually help people, instead of producing a warm and fuzzy publicity stunt. Keep up the good work!

  18. rachel permalink
    May 29, 2011 11:41 pm

    I think a reason not a lot of young 20 something ladies showed up is this: I hear Rob Blizz is a real douche to the girls he dates- so he set off somewhat of a boycott of his events as word gets around that he treats his girlfriends like crap- bad reputation with the ladies here.Also, I read about it, and I wasn’t interested in going. plus MallRats was on tv.
    Friend calling me …”Hey want to go to the lip-dub video shoot?””
    me: “uh, I’m good.”

  19. Maryann permalink
    May 30, 2011 12:28 am

    I see the author has a point of view. My questions are “What was your point?” and “Is there anything positive that happens in Grand Rapids that you are for?” As I used to say to my children when they were four, “I can ‘t hear you when you whine.” or “Get the whine out of your voice.”

  20. Joe Spaulding permalink
    May 30, 2011 12:51 am

    What are the odds I can get the city to block off a few sections of Bemis to shoot a lip dub to Tupac’s Changes or Mos Def’s Habitat?

  21. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 30, 2011 3:43 am

    Maryann, you asked me two questions.

    The first was, what was my point? I think my point in the article is clear, and it doesn’t seem that anyone else in this discussion had trouble understanding it.

    The second was, Is there anything positive happening in Grand Rapids that I am for? Absolutely.

    I’m happy that the city is less conservative than it was when I first moved here. The arts scene here is very strong with a lot of artists doing interesting and innovative work. The acceptance of racial minorities is marginally improving, and there is evidence that the LGBT community is experiencing more acceptance than they were ten years ago; both improvements are thanks to the work of strong and committed activists.

    There are also a number of grass roots organizations that have started up in the past few years–groups for social change, groups and events that help lessen reliance on consumerism, and groups that draw attention to environmental issues, to name a few. I think those are positive things happening in Grand Rapids as well.

  22. Brian permalink
    May 30, 2011 7:11 am

    I have to agree with Jeffrey. The most annoying argument in the world has got to be, “what else could have been done with this money?” No one actually lives by this principal. It’s ridiculous to set a standard that no one abides by. You later mentioned in a reply that the art scene in grand rapids is something positive, yet it’s on par with the grand rapids lip dub for wastefulness.

    Yes, it’s very obvious that this is an opinion, and not a report. However, you are writing for the Institute of INFORMATION Democracy. I’d like to see more opinion pieces take on the stance that if they can’t prove what they’re hinting at, they should probably just leave it out. i don’t think it’s easy in any way to judge the income level of all the people involved, but the issue is carelessly thrown out there.

    Most of the questions seem like ignorance. Asking why the shot was put where it was (a majority of Rob’s projects are held at rosa parks), or why they would use people who are good at being in front of a camera (because they only have a couple tries to get it right). was the video fully representative of all demographics? (it’s volunteer based (imagine if they told people to get out of the shot because they “had enough asians already”))

    The problem comes from viewing the lip dub video as everything it isn’t. it’s not a charity organization. it’s not an unbias, untouched piece of artwork that has to avoid all slogans, advertisements, and endorsements. It’s not a documentary of reality which shows what Grand Rapids is “really” about. it’s not the United States census on demographics. It’s just a big lip dub video with a lot of volunteers that is trying to promote the city in a very mainstream way, because it’s catering TO THE MAINSTREAM.

  23. Brian Sterling permalink
    May 30, 2011 1:36 pm

    Ahhh, the usual GRIID M.O.: raise a bunch of questions and make a bunch of assumptions, but never go out and get the facts yourselves (in this case, talking to Rob Bliss). When someone has a different view than you, respond with overly LONG comments and if someone points out you are wrong, never, ever accept it.

  24. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 30, 2011 3:57 pm

    To Brian 1: So you’re saying that people like Pete Secchia, Jim Murray, Jim Dunlap, and groups like the East Grand Rapids Chorus just showed up on the day to participate? They weren’t lined up beforehand? That’s amazing.

    As for, “No one actually lives by that principle,” you may not. I live by it every day.

    To Brian 2: Why don’t you go online, google movie reviews by John Serba, and see how many times he phoned up a director or actor from a major motion picture and interviewed him/her before deciding how HE felt about the film. What part of “review” do you not get?

    Hope this response is short enough for you. : )

  25. Brian Sterling permalink
    May 30, 2011 4:25 pm

    you proved my point….

    and incidentally, nowhere in the article above do you say “review” (for example, in the title) but that’s right, i’m the one who can’t “get” it.

  26. jay permalink
    May 30, 2011 9:42 pm

    whenever I want to get depressed about anything I go to this blog. It’s a non-stop complain fest because we’re not all far left drones.

  27. Brian 1 permalink
    May 31, 2011 12:35 am

    I’m not saying that. No, they didn’t just show up. they probably rehearsed. I’m sure they actually sought out specific people too. Yes, it would be amazing for someone to think it was all figured out on one sunday morning.

    Again, you say you live by that standard, but when i mention a hypocrisy in your thinking, (supporting the wasteful GR arts initiative), it’s just hard for me to believe it. I know i know, you don’t even know me so who gives a crap, but still. why not just admit that no one lives by that standard?

  28. Joe Spaulding permalink
    May 31, 2011 1:31 am

    Brian, regarding that standard, have you read any Peter Singer (this is mostly a rhetorical question, but I’m open to being surprised)? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famine,_Affluence,_and_Morality
    He talks about how we are ethically obliged to make sure our money goes to the most ethical place possible. There is nothing unique about money which makes it immune to the application of ethics.

    I’d argue we should even be hyper-ethical with our money decisions (compared to our other choices) because cash is the basis for maintaining a system of differentiation of ownership of the means of production within the capitalist symbolic order. I don’t mean this in just a personal way. As a society, it is even more important that when we have the collective ability to exercise economic power, we do so in a way which actually makes us better, not simply something that makes us appear better (especially to outsiders). Here is an animation with Slavoj Zizek talking about this a bit. http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/07/29/rsa-animate-tragedy-farce/

  29. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 31, 2011 2:54 am

    Brian, I’m not sure what mean when you talk about a wasteful “arts initiative.”

    I was referring to the various artists who live here in Grand Rapids, who support each other through group shows, who sell their art on Division Avenue and at other street fairs, who rent studio spaces together.

    I think we’re talking about two different things.

  30. Adam permalink
    May 31, 2011 4:55 pm

    I think it’s a little strange that in trying to point out that different people can like different things, you mention how you’ve been desperately trying to convince the world of your point of view for years, as if others’ appreciation for the song somehow pains you. The irony is just too thick yet unacknowledged that I just can’t tell whether you’re joking or not.

  31. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 31, 2011 6:19 pm

    Joe, that is an amazing video. Thanks for your comments and for the link.

  32. Brian permalink
    May 31, 2011 7:21 pm

    How does a painting sitting on your wall feed the hungry?
    How does a music show shelter the homeless?
    How does any piece of art help the destitute any more than a lip dub video?
    Find the answer to this, and you’ll find the answer for the lip dub video at the same time. They’re both equally frivolous.

    I agree, in part, with Singer’s theory. We should all take more responsibility for the troubles of the world. but i would never scold a parent for buying a toy for their child, since they could have donated to charity with that money. and that’s pretty much what’s going on here in my opinion with this video production.

    my older brother has a friend that likes to think of himself as very spiritual. He recently just bought a $100,000 car. I get mad at this because i think, as someone who likes to identify as someone so spiritual, that he should have donated that money to charity. People say he already does donate to charity. At that point, i realized that he donates more than i do. You should judge someone’s kindness based off of the things they do which are kind, not on neutral actions such as buying a fancy car. You cannot expect someone to act holy in every instance. As far as i’m concerned, as long as you aren’t being negative, be as neutral and good as you want. art is certainly neutral, and so is this lip dub.

  33. James Schillim permalink
    June 5, 2011 11:17 am

    Excellent article. I also was a little miffed that they could’ve used the money they raised for something better than a stupid viral video.

  34. June 5, 2011 3:05 pm

    Well done, Grand Rapids! YouTube shows almost 2.5 million hits as of this morning.

    This article just goes to show that there’s a critic for everything. I did not see the promos of sponsors as distracting. In fact, I didn’t even notice many of them until follow-up viewings which tells me that there’s so much action going on throughout the video that people aren’t nit-picking the details.

    I liked the pillow fight scene and had no idea it had something to do with an earlier work from this director … it was just another of the many activities going on along the street.

    The fact that someone took the time, energy, found sponsors, lined up the city, lined up volunteers, perfected choreography to the song … and that volunteers showed up not just once but for practice (which must have been extensive) and then FIVE filmings is absolutely mind-boggling. To have the entire video filmed in one non-edited take is also mind-boggling. To see so many happy people in one place, obviously proud of their city, is refreshing.

    As to the negatives of not showing various areas of the city, demographics, etc. — the video was to show Grand Rapids was NOT dying, as reported in Newsweek, and to encourage fellow Americans to stop by and stay a while. Visitors to D.C. don’t venture to the inner-city neighborhoods … they want to see the monuments and historical sites. What you suggest would be another video for another purpose.

    My hat is off to the young man involved, Rob Bliss (whom I had never heard of before this), and to the citizens, sponsors, and the city. Job well done!

  35. Arcartis permalink
    June 7, 2011 9:24 pm

    This is an excellent article and addresses the REAL issue of the homeless/food insecurity problem in Grand Rapids, and what could be done with the kind of money that was coughed up to present a very limited representation of downtown Grand Rapids and the people who REALLY come from and support this city (READ: Not Ada, Cascade, Forest Hills). I have to wonder how many homeless/under-privileged were herded off of Monroe Mall so they wouldn’t “ruin” the scenery.

    The video is sort of cool, but a bit of a joke if you have actually walked these streets and interacted with the whole spectrum of our population and seen the underpasses, long lines at the homeless shelter, Monroe Mall all day long, the Veteran’s Memorial, and the list goes on and on.

    Who cares that “Newsweek” called GR a dying city? We’re alive and well and don’t need some dorky kid from an upscale suburb and his goofy video purporting to represent the true, hardcore people who have been through all of the ups and downs that come with living an urban life. The politicians and media outlets should really wake up and quit drooling over projects like this and get down to the nitty-gritty of fixing the real problems in this town. Just goes to show how out of touch the “elite” are.

    Elsewhere on the Web, this video has been touted as having “saved” Grand Rapids. Please! The real saviors of this town are the people working the soup kitchens, homeless shelters, community programs, hospitals, and the regular Joes who work hard, pay taxes, and stick around because GR is worth it, and not because they need convincing from some a viral video flash in the pan. I wonder how many of those people in the video actually LIVE here and don’t just commute from a Stepford-like suburb where the worldview is as narrow as the demographic in said video.

  36. Arcartis permalink
    June 7, 2011 10:05 pm

    Is this the same Brian Sterling who anchors at WOOD TV? *crickets*

  37. Kate Wheeler permalink
    June 8, 2011 12:53 am

    Arcartis, this is a great response, and beautifully written. Thanks so much for posting it.

  38. maureen permalink
    June 17, 2011 8:53 am

    to acartis— wow your my hero. Everybody listen to this guy. He has his eyes open and head out of his ass; unlike everyone jabbering about art spending. etc As for me personally I dont give a flying ### that Newsweek said we were a dying city. I could make a video 10 times cooler then that about grand rapids on 3 dollars and with a less lame song then american pie. but im going to show the abandoned buildings, schitzo’s at the shelter, and kids on the bus. Robs video was so fake and to me it make grand rapids look boring and all old people.

  39. G. Babbitt permalink
    June 17, 2011 5:17 pm

    I’m an outsider and would like to present that perpective. To the issue of local “celebreties” the fact that I didn’t know who they were had a kind of quaint touch. The product placement was slightly noticible, but compared to most movies etc. it was not distracting. The whiteness of the townsfolk did catch my notice and made me think that visible minorites are not as integrated into the power structure of the community or someone thought the promotion of the city should accent white middle class tropes.

    That been said it is a promotional video and it succeeds at that level. As for the cost at the risk of sounding like someone telling an assault victim, “You’re lucky you weren’t murdered,” my city spent $50,000 on a video that was seen by under 5,000 people and scanned like an 1950’s sex ed video.

  40. Kelly permalink
    July 10, 2011 9:03 pm

    I realize I’m late to this discussion, having only just seen the video yesterday, but in reading other reviews and articles, I came across this from businessnewsdaily.com which describes how people were chosen to participate:

    The video, which has been viewed on YouTube more than 3 million times and has received media coverage from around the world, was designed to promote the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., by having local actors, musicians and Grand Rapids residents lip-synch to Don McLean’s iconic song, “American Pie.” What makes the video especially effective is the fact that it was shot in one single take with no editing.

    The ability to organize such a complex shoot — which involved more than 5,000 people — combined with the team’s PR and social media skills, meant the video was already positioned for success when it was released in May.

    “To create a successful video, we had to identify a hook and frame it as such,” said 26-year-old Barrett, whose background is in social media, marketing and advertising. “You can’t do it by yourself. You have to have network of influencers to help you.”

    In this case, influencers included the actors and performers chosen to participate in the filming.

    “The talent was picked because they are citizens of the area and because they had the ability to promote and get a crowd to come out and have a public role in the filming,” said 22-year-old Bliss, who specializes in event planning, social media and developing sponsorship relationships.
    _____

    BTW, not being familiar with Grand Rapids, I did not recognize any of the participants as being local ‘celebrities.’

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