The metaphor is so obvious that explaining it feels wasteful. Drones capture footage of ghost towns: drones and death, drones and abandonment, drones and societal disintegration. Sadly, we’ve seen this morbid movie before.
Well, not exactly this movie. Mic’s Max Plenke has collected examples of drone footage of ghost towns and, as the headline puts it, “the results are haunting.” That is not untrue. Filmed from any angle with any device, Chernobyl and Auschwitz-Birkenau will always be haunting. The same goes for Tomioka, Japan, which was abandoned after the Fukushima radiation leak. Insofar as the list counts two radiation zones, the abandoned Satsop Nuclear Power Plant cannot help but feel haunting. Context matters. There’s also Craco, an Italian town that has been abandoned since the 1960s due to earthquakes and landslides. Plenke’s list also includes Detroit’s abandoned Packard Automotive Plant because, well, who really knows?
This drone footage of Detroit, which was taken by cinematographer John Marton, “look(s) more like an extension of the Chernobyl footage,” writes Plenke. This, it should be noted, is an artistic choice and not a positive claim. Detroit is not Auschwitz or Chernobyl or Tomioka. Nevertheless, the conflation of Detroit and genuinely deadly sites is not an accident. As Kyle Chayka noted in his Hyperallergic essay on the roots of Detroit’s ruin porn boom:
“The idea of momento mori jumps to mind when thinking about Detroit’s ruin porn; literally translated as “Remember you will die,” the genre uses a symbolic language of dead things, skulls, skeletons, wilted flowers, to communicate the inevitability of death and the importance of living a just life.”
The conflation of tragically literal and largely figurative death is, in other words, not limited to Plenke’s list. It is an artistic choice that is made on a regular basis. The additions of drones to this equation only make things more macabre. If a city didn’t already look like death, a drone will do the trick. That is what drones do. It is not their only use—far from it—but drones remain macabre vehicles. Gloomy locales don’t need the drone’s help, but it will do the trick.