Backyard Fiction a.k.a. the Great American Myth of Suburbia

aaron-fagan-suburbia-poetry-huck-2-958x559

Backyard Fiction a.k.a. the Great American Myth of Suburbia

the-pros-and-cons-of-living-in-suburbia

Suburbia is as much a fictional creation as it is a very real geographic place. The idea or myth of suburbia is just as real as the municipalities, shopping centers, living rooms, and schools that represent that idea. My reading of suburbia is framed by the history of suburbia in television, film, literature and music. I think of the Cleaver family, Serial Mom, Edward Scissorhands and The Simpsons.

For the three literary works that follow, the representations of suburbia are extremely familiar to me—I’ve seen them played out thousands of times before. Although I was not alive in ‘50s America, I have a pretty good idea of what the suburbs looked like at that time. Or at least what the myth looked like. The suburb has become an archetype and a fixture in American literature.

Frank Wheeler. Piet Hanema. Frank Bascombe. These are a handful of the suburban men in the fiction of Richard Yates, John Updike, and Richard Ford. These writers all display certain characteristics of the suburban novel in the post-WWII era: the male experience placed at the forefront of narration, the importance of competition both socially and economically, contrasting feelings of desire and loathing for predictability, and the impact of an increasingly developed landscape upon the American psyche and the individual’s mind.

Many critics have referred to suburban novels from this era as works of fiction characteristic of the ‘Age of Anxiety’ the time when men (since males are often the main protagonists) felt like the world was slipping out of their hands. I would argue that every generation feels this. It’s nothing new or significant. It’s just that the anxiety of these characters is deeply connected to a rapidly changing geographic and cultural landscape.

As humans, we look for cultural value shifts in their physical manifestations. The expanding suburban landscape, built upon homogenization of style and structure, represents a cultural need. For a nation in the aftermath of the Second World War and the dawning of the atomic age, it’s a need for control and predictability.

While popular culture has the tendency to reduce much of suburbia to ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’, at the center of the suburban novel is a class-specific dilemma. The troubles of domestic life are intensified by bourgeois representations of success and happiness. The popular associations of suburbia are the result of a society that attempts to find itself in the external, material world. ‘Cookie cutter’ neighborhoods symbolize cultural homogeneity, middle-class morals and values, nuclear familial structure, and attention to appearance. Suburbia is commonly portrayed as class-based state of mind, and a force of logic built upon desire and consumer culture.

Dean Blumberg, popmatters.com, April 15, 2010

suburbia

Original Little Boxes song by Malvina Reynolds:

Malvina Reynolds’ Little Boxes lyrics

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there’s doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same,
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

All Weeds series intros covering the song Little Boxes, originally by Malvina Reynolds:

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s