Transformer Ire


(NOTE: See an update in the comment thread, as well as a link to my blog about another recent time Mayor Daley sold out Chicago commuters for a film shoot–that time in 8-degree weather…)

Where is the civic pride in accepting money from a Hollywood production company to film a movie that will glorify the destruction of your city’s downtown and the death of many of its rank-and-file citizens? This is not a rhetorical question, it’s one I’d love to ask the Daley administration since this summer, several major Chicago Loop and West Loop streets have been cordoned off and given over to the Transformers 3 movie shoot.

Sure, Chicago’s budget has lately teetered on the edge of the abyss, and director Michael Bay and star Shia LeBeouf could just as easily be setting siege to midtown Manhattan right now instead of forking over $20 million for the right to disrupt Chicago’s pedestrian, automobile, and bus transit traffic every weekend from now until Auguat 23. Is that the going rate to cede all control over how your city is portrayed by major media? Twenty million in exchange for letting a movie studio make money off of images of a destroyed LaSalle Street littered with the bodies of dead Chicago office workers, shoppers, and visitors?

Yes, according to local news media, which have been fawning over the shoot since it began last weekend, not to mention the crowds of locals who flocked to the barriers blocking access to LaSalle, Randolph, and Washington. Hurray, burned-out cars littering a burning, apocalyptic streetscape! Yippee, screaming hordes of terrified extras running for their lives!

This is obviously not your father’s Blues Brothers shoot.

Our town’s done a lot to become Hollywood-friendly since the bad old days of Daley-pere when the idea of closing a street to film anything was an anathematic idea. And we sure can use the money. But is this really the way we want to portray Chicago to the world?

As a kid, I loved disaster flicks. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tended to shy away from films where senseless violence is the main attraction, and I’ve seen enough of the Transformers franchise to know how well this film series fits that bill. But I know many, many other people love entertainment like this and they have a right to it, too.

I also know our town’s seen cinematic death and destruction before, though usually as a stand-in for somewhere else. New York in Spiderman 2. Mythical Gotham City in The Dark Knight. But this time, the mayhem will be fully owned–lock, stock, and gory demises–by the City and citizenry of Chicago. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something about the idea of the Windy City being laid to ruin that makes me feel uneasy.

My reticence to see my fellow Windy Citizens chewed up and spit out by exploding machines has nothing to do with my 9/11 experience, as I’m sure some readers might think. However, I’ll fully admit there may be some sour grapes at work here. If I had a nickel for every weekend that Danny Devito or Helen Hunt had my Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhood turned upside-down in the 1990s for a film shoot, I’d be able to afford the old ‘hood again.

Like New York neighborhoods that get hit with frequent movie shoots, Chicago neighborhoods deserve to have their pedestrian access protected and their transit routes unimpeded, too. There are currently half-a-dozen time-wasting reroutes of major east-west CTA buses planned every weekend from now until late August affecting thousands of downtown residents and visitors. Most of them are taking the delays in stride for a chance to see a real-live film shoot. I happen to resent City Hall making money off of the glorified destruction of the city I love and the death of innocent Chicagoans like me and, likely, many people reading this post.

I’m reminded of the episode of Bugs Bunny where Daffy Duck drinks nitro glycerin, swallows a match, and explodes in order to show that he’s the better showman. As he said when his ghost was floating up to waterfowl heaven, “I can only do this trick once.” The same can be said of several other things City Hall has sold-off lately. The Chicago Skyway. Parking meters. Midway Airport (almost.)

Does Mayor Daley have to attach a dollar value to civic self-respect, too? That’s a hard thing to get back once you blow it.

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What do you think?