Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy have built a podcast empire on being wholesome good guys. They come off to their fans as three brothers who are down-to-Earth, goofy, and will never do anything to hurt people. This has connected with podcast listeners worldwide, helping them build a massive fan base.
But at some point, businesspeople and celebrities make mistakes. For the McElroys, this mistake has come in the form of them trying to find ways to make money off the success of their podcasts. Prior to 2018, the McElroys had sold merch for their podcasts, gone on tours to do live recordings of podcasts, and had a brief TV adaptation of the podcast “My Brother, My Brother and Me” on the failed streaming platform Seeso, which was owned by NBCUniversal.
Then came the graphic novel adaptation of “The Adventure Zone,” which shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller’s list. The graphic novel, while illustrated by Casey Pietsch, features a gallery of fan art at the back of every volume. Given the relationship the McElroys have with their fans, it seems reasonable they would pay tribute to the fans and the artwork they create by including a gallery of artwork tied to the events of that volume.
Among the many technological changes in the 2010s was the rise of podcasts as a form of entertainment. Average people were able to purchase microphones and record conversations with their friends, family, or experts in a field, and then upload for people across the world to listen to.
Three brothers, Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy started recording the comedy-advice podcast “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” in 2010. After that podcast’s success, they went on to record several other podcasts, including “The Adventure Zone,” in which they play tabletop role-playing games with their father, Clint. This podcast has been done in three main storylines: “Balance,” “Amnesty,” and “Graduation.”
“The Adventure Zone” appears to be the most popular podcast released by the McElroys. Thousands of fans follow subreddits and Facebook pages and groups. “The Adventure Zone” has been adapted into a best-selling graphic novel, licensed for a tabletop role-playing game, and is currently being adapted for a possible animated show for the streaming platform Peacock.
With this fame has come devoted fans, some of whom make fan art and then sell it. This practice is largely disapproved by the McElroys, although they have not taken any legal action against creators of unauthorized merchandise. Justin McElroy has implied on Twitter that he is okay with people commissioning artists to draw characters from “The Adventure Zone.” This detail is lost by the fans, who treat all fan-creations for sale as bad. While the McElroys have created a podcast, which they appear to make money from, and they have a right to protect their creation from people seek to unscrupulously profit from it, there are challenges facing them, as well as other podcast hosts.
When I lived in Chicago, I would always turn my head at a certain point while riding the Brown Line to go home. I knew there was a place where I could look and see the remaining towers of the Cabrini-Green high-rises. The buildings were built post-World War II when the Public Housing Administration decided to invest more money in slum clearance and providing housing for low-income residents. I would marvel at the light buildings as the sun shone on them, cutting down Division.
Cabrini-Green, at its peak, was a sprawling complex consisting of rowhouses and 23 high-rises. The last of the high-rises was demolished in 2011 and the buildings have been replaced by mixed-income housing developments and businesses.
At the time the public housing high rises of Chicago were demolished, they were remembered for crime, poor maintenance, urban blight, and possibly the time then-Mayor Jane Byrne lived at the tower at 1150-1160 N. Sedgwick for 25 days. The end of the high rises for the Chicago Housing Authority, and many other public housing high rises in the Midwest, largely came about as they had become the very thing they meant to replace; they had become towering crime-filled “slums” filled with some of the most vulnerable and marginalized people in those communities.
In “’The Projects’: Lost Public Housing Towers of the Midwest,” one of the pieces in Midwest Architecture Journeys, Michael R. Allen examines the disappearance of the public housing high-rises of the Midwest. While some will point to Cabrini-Green as being the most notorious public housing project, St. Louis was home to Pruitt-Igoe. Pruitt-Igoe had Minoru Yamasaki, who would later design the World Trade Center in New York City, as its lead architect and featured windowed galleries that would be filled with light. Yamasaki had attempted to have mixed-rise buildings in the project but was forced by the federal government to build high-rises.
The planners of public housing in the Midwest would repeatedly run into the problem of being mandated to build high-rises but would still build what would seem nearly utopian. Allen writes in his piece about Pruitt-Igoe having playgrounds and the St. Louis Housing Authority initially planning on having a detailed landscape plan. Pruitt-Igoe was completed in 1956 and all thirty-three towers were demolished by the end of 1976.
Pruitt-Igoe, Cabrini-Green, as well as Robert Taylor, another Chicago public housing community, have become synonymous with the failures of attempts to create large communities for low-income residents. The New York City Housing Authority, which also features numerous high-rise housing communities, has not faced the same form of mass demolition under HOPE VI, and had its successes examined in Public Housing That Worked by Nicholas Dagen Bloom. It is the architecture of these public housing communities that is often attacked as it worked with the bold vision of urbanism. (Having walked through enough NYCHA communities during the time I lived in New York City, there has been planning regarding having playgrounds and community centers, but the tall red and brown brick buildings are not particularly inspiring.) Allen’s piece addresses the vilification of architecture in relation to public housing, in particular the lack of a desire to address the government policies that allowed public housing to fail.
As in Allen’s piece, an important consideration we as a society must make is whether to confront the policy problems with public housing and implement more affordable housing as rents rise throughout the country, or do we continue to blame architecture as skyscrapers continue to rise, including in Milwaukee — assuming The Couture is ever built. If we were to ever attempt the post-World War II public housing scale, could we do so while addressing the governmental and social issues in the most impoverished communities?
How do you properly write about the Midwest? Since 2016, the Midwest and the Rust Belt are often lumped together as an area some people refer to as “Trump Country,” an anonymous area filled with diners of people who cling to guns and Bibles. There is nothing remotely interesting, other than possibly Chicago, and an article about how an area previously dismissed by coastal newspapers is up-and-coming because of places that will look good on Instagram. Belt Publishing, a small press in Cleveland, OH, was started in 2013 with the purpose of publishing the work and voices of those from the Midwest, Rust Belt, and elsewhere.
Midwest Architecture Journeys, released in October 2019 from Belt Publishing, examines a diverse range of spaces that would possibly be overlooked in a survey of the buildings of the Midwest. Among the topics covered in the book are the Cahokia Mounds in southern Illinois, flea markets, Lillian Leenhouts’s work in Milwaukee, Fermilab, public housing towers, mausoleums, Iowa rest areas, parking lots in Flint, and a post office that became a public library in Waterloo, Iowa. The Waterloo Public Library is the subject of a piece I contributed to the book, “Please Return Again.” Continue reading “The Process of Writing About Your Childhood Library”