For decades, celebrity journalists have periodically parachuted into Camden, often producing paint-by-number lamentations like Time's "Who could live here?" cover of the early 1990s.
But award-winner Matt Taibbi's fast and furious "Apocalypse, New Jersey" story in Rolling Stone magazine foregoes handwringing about noble flickers of hope, instead taking readers on a testosterone-guided tour of "America's Most Desperate Town."
Tough cops, bad dudes, guns 'n gadgets and beyond-mean streets are the stars of Taibbi's brawny tale, which often succumbs to the melodrama-itis that typically afflicts visiting scribes ("who could live here?"). But the man's done his legwork, and he writes like a dream -- which makes the macho theatrics and desolate settings he renders so vividly all the more tragic.
The Camden that Taibbi describes is a failed state where a surging criminal subculture and a resurgent police force now duke it out among the ruins. In his CSI-cage match mashup, it's all over but the shooting.