By on May 14, 2013


This site has long been distinguished in many ways by what it doesn’t cover. Our founder wouldn’t cover motorsports at all, though that policy has obviously been changed, for the better I might add. We don’t review the latest edition of Forza or other racing games and sims, and we’re not likely to run a post about the latest episode of Top Gear, in either the original British or the various colonial forms. Why talk about what everyone is talking about? Still, there’s a reason why you see ’69 Camaros at every car show. Things are popular because people like them. This video promoting Detroit’s bid to host ESPN’s 2014 X Games, produced by Detroit agency The Work Inc., featuring a Ford Fiesta ST rallycross car racing around downtown Detroit and Belle Isle, and doing donuts on the roof of Cobo Hall, has been making the rounds of the car blogs and not only is everyone raving about the video, the promo is doing it’s job.

Not only are the internet scribes posting  about how “saaahweet” the video is, they’re saying, “The X Games in Detroit? Yeah, that works,” and getting behind the Detroit promoters‘ (Action Sports Detroit, backed by Dan Gilbert) efforts. So, it appears, are most of the folks commenting on those posts. In three days, the YouTube video had over 140,000 views. People seem to dig the idea of putting on the X Games and their attendant partying in the Motor City. Detroit is one of four finalist cities, along with Austin,  Charlotte, and Chicago. Austin may be hip but Detroit is real, so real that it’s becoming hip. Just ask Fossil founder Tom Kartsotis, who is betting what I figure is at least $25 million making Detroit a prominent, foundational part of his revived Shinola brand.


In a way, it’s surprising that I like the video so much, since it includes footage of the old Michigan Central train station and the Packard plant, Detroit’s two signature ruins. I hate ruin porn and the editors, writers and photographers who promote that crap. Not so much because I don’t like my home town being reduced to two urban chancres, but because it’s incredibly lazy journalism to helicopter into Detroit and shoot pics of the train station and the ruins of Albert Kahn’s revolutionary Packard factory and then use them as “metaphors” for Detroit. The X-Games video, though, puts those ruins into context of a city that still lives, still has a beating heart. Rather than shrinking from the city’s grit, the video embraces it as part of the backdrop of life here.

Part, but not the whole. Detroit’s post apocalyptic landscape might belong in a fictional video game, and while it makes for it indeed makes a great backdrop for extreme sports, the video includes footage of a Ford Fiesta rallycross car racing between gleeming new office buildings downtown, as well as bombing down the trails on Belle Isle, an island park in the Detroit River, where there is still undeveloped land inside the city limits of a city that was founded over 300 years ago.

In addition to selling Detroit, the video speaks to the origins of the X Games and in doing so may appeal to X Games organizers. Scott Guglielmino, ESPN senior vice president for the X Games and programming, said: “We love their passion.” In many ways those games’ origins are urban. The Smoking Tire’s Zach Klapman eloquently points out that most of those “extreme” sports started with young people turning the city into their sporting arena:

Airing down an 11-stair in front of a city building, security guards probably scrambling to kick you out. Turning a crumbled building into a kicker. Locals pulling their own dirt bikes out and stunting down the highway.  Donuts in a parking lot, drifting around municipal art. Just kicking around the city looking for obstacles, turning your environment into a playground. That’s where the X Games began. Before there were wooden BMW parks, before Gymkhana was a word, before double-backflips off perfect metal ramps, there were just people trying to have fun, using the world around them. It’s the soul of the X Games, and no place has soul like Motown.

Jesse Ford, of The Work Inc., founded in 2010 and headquartered in Detroit, told me their objective is to “to highlight real people in real environments” with their storytelling.

The Work has, ahem, worked with car makers before, mostly as a subcontractor to ad agencies with the big accounts. They produced some videos for Team Detroit, sponsored by Ford and have done the cinematography for Chevrolet videos and ads for the Corvette, Malibu, Impala and Silverado produced by the Goodby, Silverstein & Partners agency. With the positive buzz that the X Games promotional video is getting, Ford and Chevy might be well served to let The Work take control of an ad campaign or two all by themselves.

Along with ruin porn, another of my pet peeves is memorable advertising that doesn’t end up selling a lot of product. It seems to me that Cleo awards and post Super Bowl buzz are less important than, you know, actually selling stuff. People who like advertising, and I’m one of them, ooh and aah about “Somewhere west of Laramie”, but the truth is that the Jordan car company was out of business less than 10 years after that highly praised advertisement ran. The X Games promo is memorable, but not that kind of memorable, because it really sells the goods, it does its job. Appropriate for a creative group that’s called  The Work.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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10 Comments on “Is Detroit Hip? Check Out The Work’s Work for the Motor City’s X Games Bid...”

  • avatar

    It’s your hometown, and God love you for being loyal… but to me that wasn’t an ad for anything but bulldozers and dynamite.

    • 0 avatar

      LOL, yeah I can see how one would have that perspective. I work downtown detroit (not for an auto related company) and it is great to see the city portrayed in sort of a hip-postindustrial-apocalypse light. I think the urban decay fits rather well with the xgames or at least with the image I have in my head of those who would be interested in the x-games. Please keep in mind that not all of the city is industrial ruins. I think someone who hasnt been here in the last 10 years might be pretty impressed with all of the development going on. After the city goes bankrupt, which is enevitable it would seem as the unions will not give concessions needed to put the city in the black, I have high hopes for the city’s turnaround. Tackling public safety, education and blight will go a long way toward a revival. Unfortunatly the downward spiral has never left any money to address these issues.

  • avatar

    I’ve visited Michigan on several business trips between 2005 and 2010, then I moved to US and a year ago I moved to Michigan. Over this time it was always easy to find people writing about how Detroit is crappy and a decrepit place that should burn to the ground. I recognize that there is an awful lot to be done in the area, but also there is a lot that already is being done by people that are passionate about their hometown. This is another good example, I hope they make it happen.

  • avatar


    I think it’s a very good idea ~ God knows the City needs the help . just this morning the Mayor of Detroit was saying how they need some thing , _anything_ as a shot in the arm and none of the other Cities being considered needs the help as much .

    Giving young people creative outlets is a very good thing indeed , good for them , the City they live in and America in general .

    I don’t find The X-Games overly interesting but there’s no denying the amazing talent these people bring to them .

    I spent some time in Motown during the summer of 1969 , it’s sad to see it all go down the drain .


  • avatar

    It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

  • avatar

    “Is Detroit Hip?”


    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Check again.

      Detroit is hip. The $500 houses where the police don’t even bother you have attracted a lot of artists from NYC and even around the world. There is almost no place on earth that gives you that freedom and at a price you can’t beat. It’s like Berlin 20 years ago.

  • avatar

    Ronnie, in reference to your opening point about what the site covers and doesn’t… I personally wouldn’t mind some more variety. (Not to say that the value of the Yen isn’t fascinating reading for car nuts and all). I’ll never even pretend to be one of the cool kids who’s too hip to watch Top Gear. I’m not so automotively enlightened that I can’t stand anything but brown air cooled panther wagons manufactured in Chechnya. I like water cooled Porsches and BMWs (*GASP*) Like you said, there’s a reason people like certain things. I don’t want to see this website become Jalopnik 2 but some variety keeps it interesting.

    • 0 avatar

      I like oddball stuff so hopefully you’ll always get some variety from me. Since I started seriously attending car shows to shoot content for Cars In Depth, I’ve realized you can’t take pictures of every car at every event so I have a rule: No ’57 Chevys and no ’69 Camaros, since you can see them at any show, but I’m not stupid and when I saw a real ZL1 Camaro at the Eyes On Design show you bet I took pictures of it. I’d do the same with a “survivor” ’57 in original condition.

      I suppose that a publisher has to find the sweet spot between boring people with esoterica and boring them talking about the same stuff everyone else talks about. With those extremes you either miss the mass market or you miss people who can think.

      I just recently spent some time researching and writing about an experimental engine I saw in Roush’s museum. It’s technically rather an interesting concept and it has a cool backstory involving Roush, Chrysler and Daimler but in the grand scheme of automotive history it’s insignificant. Just because I find it interesting doesn’t mean that others will do so as well. I haven’t decided if I’m going to submit if for publication so I’ll probably let let an editor decide if it has an audience or it it’s your proverbial Chechnyan air cooled Crown Vic wagon in a nice metallic brown. If there’s no audience, writing can be masturbatory.

      Still, in general I figure that if 100 people are writing about ’69 Camaros and I’m the only one writing about AMC Gremlins, I’m competing with 99 fewer people.

      • 0 avatar


        I’d be interested to read the article on the experimental engine. It’s not to say that the obscure stuff isn’t interesting, but I also get bored with the idea that only obscure things are interesting. We all know the guy from high school that was always trying to find the most obscure indy band garbage so he could tell people he listens to them. I think some people do that with cars too.

        It’s an interesting idea really. When does “obscure” just become “bad”. When I was stationed in Oklahoma City every toothless redneck was driving a Mustang, so I bought an M Roadster. But as Capt Mike pointed out the other day, if you were living in Europe a Mustang would be awesome simply because not everyone else has one. You can take that idea to an extreme however and say to yourself “Well, no one drives a fully restored East German Trabant!” Yeah, cause they’re garbage. In a museum: Cool. In your driveway: Petro-Hipster

        I suppose the same concept applies to the articles. Don’t shy away from obscure, but at the same time don’t be afraid of stuff just because people like it. It’s a hard balance to find, I’m sure.

        And for what it’s worth, I never liked the ’69 Camaro.

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