For reasons too trite to recall, I found myself the other day meandering about the suburbs of Oakville, Ontario. These are much more developed suburbs than the one that Claire and I inhabit; if the suburbs are a style, this was High Suburban. Our neighborhood has people smoking on their front porches all evening, we do our own lawn work; it's a vulgar Low Suburban enclave.
The High Suburban style is very clean plane geometry. The grass looks frosted on and the houses have a military regularity to them. This is the triumph of central planning over environmental contingencies. The landscape has been rationalized, standardized, and stripped bare (by its grooms) of anything eye-catching. It is an amazing accomplishment. These houses are very well-maintained, often by various crews of day laborers. They're as much homes as they are enterprises.
There is also something uninhabitable about this neighborhood; like living on a golf course, it doesn't seem possible. These people feel like tenants in a vast hotel that would as easily exist without them. The place seems somehow sterile and inhuman; alien even. Overplanned.
People often talk about the "conformity" of the suburbs, but the homes tell you nothing about how these people live; the landscaping is what conforms. What is more noticeable here is a sort of vast, oceanic boredom leveling everything out. Life is done here. You can leave if you so choose. There is, literally, nothing to see.
The suburbs often represent normalcy in art, but nearly as often artists use them as ciphers for some sort of hidden evil. The psychotic is supposedly always ready to strike here, like a sleeping adder. On one hand, this often strikes me as the snobbishness of urban artists portraying a world that many of them avoid at all costs; American Beauty struck me as false.
On the other hand, when you wander through a landscape denuded so completely of anything remotely fascinating, the mind turns quite easily to thoughts of violence and perverse sexuality- in order, I think, to assert its selfhood, as well as avoiding imaginative brain-death. Sex and violence jolt the central nervous system. J.G. Ballard wrote that "The suburbs dream of violence". What else is there to think of here?