Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hey Suburbia!

Apparently, artists aren't much better at portraying suburbia than they are at portraying the white underclass. According to Nicholas Hune-Brown:

"Despite its relative youth, suburbia is already a thoroughly mythologized landscape with its own set of clichés and conventions. The word brings to mind a number of images and associations, many of them negative. The suburb is a land of white-picket fences and well-trimmed lawns, of teenage angst and mindless materialism."

Of course, the worst thing one can really say about the suburbs is that they tend to be boring. Lurking behind the manicured lawns... are well-swept front stoops. Kept hidden away behind the shiny doors... are middle-aged couples watching television. Their deepest hidden perversion is... on occasion they enjoy oral sex. What's weird here, again, is how many artists treat the suburbs as strange and exotic when 50% of the country lives there. A few notes:

1) Hune-Brown is remiss is not mentioning Steven Spielberg's portrayals of suburbia which were likely more influential in shaping how a generation saw the suburbs than any film he mentions.

2) He does mention the really hellish part of suburbia- you have to sit in traffic to go anywhere. Sprawl is not exactly an interesting topic for art, but it's central to understanding the suburbs.

3) But, he does not mention the very-noticeable resentments of suburbanites about things like sprawl and parking fees. There's an (admittedly quite passive) angry and downright anti-social streak to middle-aged suburbanites that seems to escape most writers. I was amazed when visiting my mother how many of her neighbors (and honestly her too) were mad as hell and not going to take it... for too much longer. About what? Well, lines at the mall, traffic jams, constant fees and bills... all the negative aspects of civic engagement. That was genuinely interesting.

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