Collecting the Awful
As I say in my section on Collecting Design, one does not have to own to collect. And some things you can't own.
Well here are things you wouldn’t want to own. Things that for one reason or another, get something so wrong (in my opinion, of course) that they deserve special recognition. And how do I show special recognition? I collect! Yes, another category of my collecting is Collecting the Awful.
Now don’t worry. You won’t find anything truly awful, truly reprehensible here like a Rihanna video or anything like that. Just ads, architecture, and such that should have been better and would have been if anyone had been thinking.
See the before & after pictures at the top. The several incarnations of this structure have each sunk to new depths even while ostensibly “improved.” It is good that it now houses medical offices because I am feeling sick. As you see in the “before” picture, it began as a showplace location of Kresge’s 5 and 10 cent store (the S. S. Kresge company—the folks who later put the ‘K’ in K-Mart). It was on the main intersection of one of the fastest growing cities in America. It is still the main intersection of that town. As in a lot of bad planning and politics, efforts and money are put into new and higher structures of chrome and glass for the power elite (notice the skyline behind) rather than down where the regular folks live. We’re talking Pontiac, Michigan, folks, a town with more scapegoats for its decline than it has population. But a short drive down Woodward Avenue to the cute little town of Birmingham puts the lie to most of them. Birmingham embraced its town as it was. Pontiac tried to make its town into Detroit.
In this black & white ad, the text begins like so: “Quality Time. Your moments together are too precious to waste.” Aww. Yes, you wouldn’t want to waste your time talking to your baby or listening to your baby gurgle and coo and stuff. Not when there's Pat Benatar in the headphones! Yes, friends, our young father is one devoted daddy. “Hon!, baby’s stinky... now where’s my Led Zeppelin?” This insulting tripe from Pioneer Electronics, 1988.
It’s easy to pick on architecture. It’s just right out there in front of God and everybody. Which is exactly why it shouldn’t be awful. The picture you see here isn’t of something being torn down; unbelieveably, it is of something being newly built! Chevron, showing all the respect for the environment you would expect of an oil company, seems to have the intent in our town of tearing down perfectly nice little gas stations and replacing them with these graceless, stucco-and-more-stucco neo-Santa-Barbara petty monstrosities. They’re packed with little stores and replete with what I call the “Girl Scout logo”— the architectural dingbat you see in the picture that is used these days as decoration on every stucco box being built. This dingbat is so far from its original purpose and meaning that no one even remembers anymore. I snapped this picture of this dreadful building while out for a walk near my house one day. I’d been watching it take shape for weeks. That was eight years ago and the thing is today as ugly as ever, only jammed with cars. Apparently, people love it. I was going to say that the people deserve better architecture than this, but perhaps they don’t.
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