Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Liz Taylor Ends an Era, and Chicago Busts a Move

DAY 15 OF 46

Elizabeth Taylor, the "Last Star," Dies at 79

Perhaps it's a bit incongruous for a person who derides pop culture as much as I do to mention the passing of Elizabeth Taylor even in, well, passing. But although I've never seen any of her movies all the way through, and I consider her private life a tutorial in how not to live, I find myself agreeing with those movie writers who today are heralding her death as being that of the last real Hollywood star.

The last legend. The end of an era.

She may have faded from the silver screen years ago, but like a genuine celebrity, she never really faded from the hollow gristmill of fame by which stardom is validated. After all, wasn't it just last year that Internet chat rooms lit up with gossip about whether she was marrying again? She had an active Twitter account, and despite being confined to a wheelchair, still managed to pull off stunning photo ops with her dazzling jewelry and remarkable eyes.

The point being that it's hard to imagine the celebrity and aura of anybody making movies today lasting into their seventies like hers did. Even though Taylor wasn't the world's best actress, she managed to possess and cultivate everything it takes to be a bona-fide, world-famous celebrity.

Not exactly what every parent wants for their daughter, but oddly alluring, nonetheless. After all, her morality may have been worse than others', but only by category. She was an ardent supporter of Jewish causes after converting to the faith for one of her marriages, and she became the face of AIDS compassion when evangelicals wanted to ostracize its victims. Apparently, all four of her children were at her bedside when she died, which is more than can be said for some parents. And even her explosive betrayal of fellow star Debbie Reynolds managed to dissolve into a considerable degree of equanimity years later.

To the extent that movie stars have become enmeshed into the fabric of Western life, I concede the value in noting that the woman who most fully epitomized the best and worst of the genre has departed this plane of reality. It's to her credit that Taylor became and will probably remain a case study in celebrity glamor. Both because of what it can get you in this life, however, and what it can't in the next.

After all, without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, despite all of her fame and vivacity during her 79 years here, Taylor faces a grim eternity. Not because she wasn't good enough, or had too many marriages, but because she may, like a lot of her fans, never have committed her life to Christ.

I'd like to think that in her final days, the Holy Spirit used the truth of the Gospel to change her heart, and that right now, she's in the presence of God. Maybe we can hope this is the case, but something in my cynical nature tells me the best part of her life was probably the final take that just wrapped this morning.

Which should spell woe to those of us who are unaware that these days on Earth may be the best we'll ever have for all eternity.

When death brings to each of us an end of our own era.

Chicago Busts a Move With Population Decline

With all of the clucking over the spectacular free-fall in Detroit's 2010 population numbers, it may have been easy to notice that Chicago didn't have a much better decade than Detroit. At least in terms of numbers.

From 2000 to 2010, the Windy City lost almost 7% of its population, or 200,000 people. That's about 38,000 people less than Detroit lost.

Of course, Chicago is a much bigger city, and it hasn't lost half its population during the last 60 years like Detroit has. At 2,695,598, Chicago is still really big, even if it hasn't been this small since 1910. It has its problems, but Illinois' largest city enjoys a vibrant downtown, a relatively stable housing market, and temperate race relations. Nobody's looking at Chicago's 7% population decline and predicting the end is in sight.

For a while in the 1990's, Chicago saw a 4% rise in population, it's first growth decade since the 1950's. It seems that during this past decade, however, Chicago couldn't hold onto its gains.

Like other old American cities, the suburban revolution drastically re-shaped urbanized Chicago, which has struggled ever since to maintain its relevance as a place for people to live. Unlike Detroit, Chicago has been able to maintain its corporate allure, and keep well-paid executives ensconced in its high-rise condominiums. Middle class families, however, vacillate between the city's amenity-laden neighborhoods and the less expensive, more spacious offerings in the 'burbs.

In addition, older ethnic whites who stayed in their legendary Chicago enclaves while their kids moved out to suburbia decades ago are themselves passing away in significant numbers, or seeking elder care outside of the city. To top it off, Chicago finished tearing down most of its notorious Cabrini Green public housing complex during the past decade, relocating a significant portion of its residents to poor suburbs, and watching others move out of Illinois altogether.

In fact, reading between the lines of some Chicagoans commenting on the city's population decline, "good riddance" seems to replace the angst Detroiters are experiencing.

One phenomenon that seems to have caught many people by surprise has been the apparent black flight from Chicago back to the South. Not black flight by people forced out when Cabrini Green was condemned, but middle-class blacks who have as much freedom to choose where they want to live as middle class whites.

Cities in places like Georgia and the Carolinas are posting significant population increases from blacks resettling in former Rebel territory from the North. Part of this trend has been traced to stubbornly high costs of living in northern cities, an increasingly receptive social climate for blacks in the South, and better employment opportunities as corporations continue their own migration from high-cost northern states to non-union southern ones.

Yet more proof, I dare say, of racism's continuing decline in the American narrative. Which, even though it may come at Chicago's expense, should be at least a smidgen of good news for us all.

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