In “Searching for home: My connection to place is fluid and complex. In a nomadic world, do we still need a home?” Ruth Behar writes, “the meaning of home, I have come to realize, is full of contradictions, and impossible to encompass in a single definition.” As of now, I intend to use space/place of “home” as the focus of my project and attempt to tell a “spatial story” of one of the places I call home: Muskegon, MI. In this “place” of home, then, I want to think not only about some of my own unsettledness in this place, but the various toxicities that have always been present (though I may just be realizing some of them). I want the toxicity to focus on nostalgia, both my own and the narratives of nostalgia communities produce and continue to replicate, alter, and then reproduce.
Thinking with Katherine McKittrick, especially her use of scaling the materiality of specific space to larger historical and political discursive formations, I want to use some of the very grounded spaces I’ve encountered throughout my life to touch on a larger story about the narrative or space of nostalgia. Right now, I’m thinking of using the Pure Michigan campaign and its emphasis on the state of Michigan as “timeless and true” to think about nostalgia and the conceptualization of purity more generally. Just thinking very superficially, purity could easily be placed in opposition to toxicity. For something to be pure means for something to be free of contamination. But how can we trouble that a little bit? Could something be purely toxic? I think I can use very specific sites within the state to trouble the narrative of purity, especially because many of the sites in the photos are tied to the toxic political culture of the Michigan State Legislature and even the Trump White House’s push to defund conservation efforts in the Great Lakes region.
I think this campaign might be a good window into thinking through some of the larger conservative and right-wing discourses that I’m interested in for my broader research project. Nostalgia--our comfort with the familiar and our longing for a simpler past--is tempting, but fraught with danger. Michigan is a unique place because it’s considered a “purple” state. In recent years Michigan elected Trump in 2016 and an all-red state house and senate, but in 2018 a democratic governor took back the office. My home county, Muskegon, has been identified as one of the top ten counties in the United States that “will decide the 2020 election.” Thinking about the Pure Michigan campaign is particularly timely because its been caught up in budget disputes since December 2019. The start of 2020 was the first year since 2008 that Pure Michigan ads won’t run on television. Thinking in terms of time and probably one of the most formative moments of my lifetime, that 2008 start date is significant because it’s the year of the financial crisis and the year of the bailout of the Michigan auto industry.
Ultimately, this space/place will allow me to think through/with concepts such as toxic memories, toxic political structures, toxic silences, toxic traces, forgetfulness, amnesia, toxic delusions, and toxic futures. I think it could also be interesting for me to think about Pure Michigan ads and what they’ve meant to me even as I’ve moved away from home, connecting it back to the Behar’s piece I referenced at the beginning.
Draft proposal for 2020 Visualizing Toxic Places project
Anonymous, "VtP Draft Proposal_Michigan", contributed by Kaitlyn Rabach, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 31 January 2020, accessed 25 September 2021.