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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

A Repurposed Life

Air Date: Week of

The Burton theatre inhabits a closed school in Detroit's Chinatown.

A Detroit movie theatre made from salvaged parts causes Living on Earth and Planet Harmony’s Cambrey Thomas to think about second chances for trash.


YOUNG: Living on Earth has just launched a new online initiative called Planet Harmony, and each week we’re featuring stories from PH. Planet Harmony’s a place for young people who have often been left out of the environmental debate to report on the issues impacting their communities. Today, Planet Harmony’s Cambrey Thomas brings us a story about second chances in Detroit.

THOMAS: I recently saw Examined Life. The movie follows eight modern thinkers as they move through various cities. The thinkers each had ten minutes to give their thoughts and philosophies to the camera. It was showing in a once abandoned school that’s been repurposed as an independent theater in Detroit’s nearly empty Chinatown. During the previews I studied everything around me because, like the theater itself, everything had a previous life.

The bright red velvet seats were salvaged from a nearby remodeled theater. The projector was an old cast off from another movie house. Even the popcorn machine was an obsolete model from a city-based popcorn company. The funny thing about the whole situation was that I once attended the school before it moved away. I also sat in the seats before because I used to go to concerts at the theater they came from. And I’d probably seen movies from the projector too because I used to trek out to the cinema it came from to see midnight showings.

My observations faded as the movie cued up and the house went dark.


THOMAS: Princeton Professor Cornel West came up first.

The Burton theatre inhabits a closed school in Detroit's Chinatown.

WEST: It takes tremendous discipline; it takes tremendous courage to think for yourself.

THOMAS: He was sitting in a moving New York City taxi

WEST: The unexamined life is not worth living Plato says in the line 38A in the Apology. How do you examine yourself, what happens when you begin to interrogate yourself. What happens when you begin to call into question your tacit assumptions and unarticulated presuppositions? And begin then a different kind of person.

THOMAS: The unexamined life is not worth living. I settled back into my seat with my popcorn and listened to the ideas of a few more philosophers. But my repurposing thoughts returned when Slovenian theorist, Slavoj Zizek, appeared on the screen dressed like a garbage collector.


ZIZEK: Part of our daily perception of reality is that this disappears from our world.

THOMAS: He was wearing a fluorescent orange vest while pushing around garbage in a giant warehouse of refuse. Zizek spoke about the environment and ecology, but what struck me was his saying that trash does not disappear.

ZIZEK: Of course rationally, you know, it’s there in channelization and so on but at a certain level of your most elementary experience it disappears from your world. The problem is that trash doesn’t disappear.

THOMAS: Trash does not disappear. It seems obvious but it rang even truer coming from a philosopher standing next to a mountain of garbage. He ended by pointing to one of the trash heaps.

ZIZEK: We should learn to love all this.

THOMAS: We should learn to love all this.

ZIZEK: True ecologists love all this.

THOMAS: Zizek could have been pointing to the projector, the seats, the popcorn machine or even the school – they would have been just trash if someone had not loved them enough to rescue them. For Living on Earth and Planet Harmony, I’m Cambrey Thomas.

[MUSIC: Timewarp Inc “I Feel Lucky (Mellow Edit)” from Dub My Funky Groove (Timewarp Music 2005)]

YOUNG: Cambrey Thomas reports for our brand new online offering Planet Harmony, which welcomes all, and is designed to have special appeal for young African Americans.
Check it out and join the discussion at My Planet Harmony dot com. That's my planet harmony dot com.




Check out Cambrey's blog at

Learn more about the Burton theatre here


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