What a Feeling: Flashdance and the deindustrialization of Pittsburgh

Authors: Patrick Vitale*, Eastern Connecticut State University
Topics: Historical Geography, Urban Geography, Cultural Ecology
Keywords: landscape, class, Pittsburgh, Flashdance, the eighties
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Maryland C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The Pittsburgh region was radically transformed during the 1980s. The closure of steel mills decimated surrounding mill towns and a generation of Pittsburghers decamped for the Sunbelt. Meanwhile the city experienced its second “Renaissance”, earning national accolades in 1985 as America’s Most Livable City. This paper explores this extreme contrast between livability and deindustrialization, through an analysis of Flashdance. Pittsburgh plays a central role in Flashdance - it is the landscape against which the movie unfolds and a key character in the plot’s development. Yet an enormous contradiction lies at the heart of its use of Pittsburgh for its setting. While the film ostensibly focuses on Pittsburgh, it either ignores or reduces to aesthetic the social transformations that were transforming the region. Flashdance’s aesthetization of place and class is not unique to the film – it is part and parcel of the revanchist politics of the postindustrial city. The landscape produced through planning and film are the same: the city is spectacle, a series of visual symbols detached from the material conditions that produced them and designed for sale on a global market. These landscapes conceal the daily struggle of the city’s resident’s in favor of slickly produced spectacle.

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