As many of you may have noticed, and when I say ‘many of you’ I mean my mom, this blog as little direction other than a gossamer string of my own photography that links the posts together. It is a photoblog, after all, but it is sometimes travel photography and sometimes not. It is random, driven completely by the whims of my mood, and I’m tired of throwing the dice and hoping people like it. Funny enough, I started blogging so that my family knows I’m alive when I’m in a distant foreign land. I don’t call home very often. I hate talking on the phone.
This growing annoyance of non-direction conveniently coincided with a conversation with a fellow interesting person. We were discussing failed states around the world – what they are, where they are, and how they came to be – and he nonchalantly managed to mention the most fascinating thing I’ve heard in at least two weeks – no. Three weeks.
He told me there is a failed state in DC. A small neighborhood that fits the political, cultural, and social dimensions of what it means to be a state in chaos and dysfunction, where law and order are abstract concepts. He said this area is a place where people live in squalor, a gang-ridden culdesac that the police are too afraid, unequipped, or simply don’t care enough to enter. A place whose King (because when formal governance is gone, someone assumes this role in any way possible) is decided by the amount of his drugs, guns, or reputation. A lawless territory in America’s capital where the rules don’t apply and no one is there to enforce them. A Somalia, a Nigeria, a Haiti, a Burundi, a North Korea, a Chad, a Sudan, a Burkina Faso, a Uzbekistan, a Yemen, a Zimbabwe, only a metro-ride away from my home! This is wonderful news (for people who don’t know that I’m weird yet, this isn’t sarcasm). To think, I was planning on traveling to all those places first, when I can have my own home-grown slice of anarchy in a half-day trip and then head over to Capitol Hill for a burger with onion marmalade and roquefort cheese.
Now. What does this have to do with Squeaky Robot? This topic fascinates me. It brings up uncomfortable questions about the whole of DC’s demographic and society. It’s tough to see this from the Mall, where everything is pleasant and everyone is happy and there is a carousel that I may or may not have ridden once or twice, but this city is crumbling from the inside out. Rich politicians walk to their chauffeured cars and discuss golf next Saturday only five blocks from the poorest and most dangerous neighborhood in the district and America – a place where illiteracy runs rampant and the dreams of small girls amount to little more than landing a role on the show “16 and Pregnant”.
And now I hear about a failed state in bubble form, a neighborhood that society has given up on and in turn has rejected society. This city has too many bubbles. Everyone in DC is trapped inside their own bubble – let’s call it soapy segregation (ha!). Sometimes a bubble is a choice, other times it’s not. Sometimes they can’t just leave their socioeconomic bubble and hop into a different one. Not that easy. Some bubbles are determined by race, language, and annual income. Society and dumb luck may determine which bubble a person is in, but other bubbles are personal constructs, and they’re created with a close-minded, self-centered, naive, or uncaring mindset. These bubbles belong to the politicians on Capitol Hill, but also to the university students in Northwest DC who can’t be bothered to venture outside of their Georgetown and Dupont bubbles, where they consider a day of shopping with their father’s credit card fulfilling and worthwhile. Kids who consider a week in London to be exotic and special and who prance around campus making sure everyone knows about it. Seriously. I don’t have the money or the stagnation of mind to remain in the vicinity of such a bubble. It’s bad for me and anyone with at least one substantial thought running through their synapses.
So when I’m not abroad and I’m in DC, I will be in Northeast and Southeast DC for the purposes of this photojournalistic endeavor, capturing this crooked society for what it really is. Portraits, stories, street scenes of real people with real problems. I’m doing this not as a social experiment or some kind of perverse trip to the zoo, I’m doing this because for a person who values substance as much as me, I’m surrounded by shockingly little of it now. People have forgotten what matters (this is where tumblr comes in to help prove a point). I’m tired of being surrounded by bubble-wrap. And what should you do with bubble-wrap? You pop it.
Hours of googling and research has left me with no information about this failed state within DC. Nothing. But with some cleverness, determination, and a few guy friends, I will find it. I’m not sure if I totally believe everything my friend said. But if I find it to exist and find everything to be true, then that’s another story.