Monday, January 05, 2009

Why Does Hollywood Hate the Suburbs?

The Wall Street Journal had a recent in-depth piece on Hollywood's and the "liberal intelligentsia's" long abhorrence for the suburbs. The whole thing is an interesting read, but here are the excerpts that jumped out at me:
There were two overarching reasons for condemning the suburbs, during the '50s and early '60s, as the most rotten locale in civilized life: class and money. Most of the people leaving the cities for the suburbs in the 1950s were tradespeople, modest businessmen, teachers and the like. They were, in other words, members of the middle-class, the impassioned rejection of which has been the chief rite de passage of the modern American artist and intellectual. With the growth of suburban towns, the liberal American intellectual now had a concrete geography to house his acute sense of outrage.

Yet if the suburbs were becoming the headquarters of the American middle-class, they were also becoming associated with the enviable characteristics of upward mobility: a decent salary, home ownership, access to superior public education and services.
...
One of the most glaring ironies of American life is that, a quarter-century later, the cities have metamorphosed into the suburbs -- sans trees and grass. The cities' fabled diversity has devolved into global chain stores and the electrolyte-enhanced water bottle and the branded baseball cap have become the accessories of a universal comfort and conformity. In a social and cultural sea change, the cities' rented apartments, once the guarantor of diversity and fluid, exciting movement, have been converted into exclusive co-ops and condominiums. Yet as the cities have become a new type of suburb, suburb-phobia has become an ever more acceptable cultural attitude. The suburban person is considered too meek, too asphalt-challenged to inherit the earth. In the urban centers, on the other hand, desperate ambition makes bad manners respectable, and the chic of perverse taste covers up Philistine cluelessness. The decent, suburban person is regarded as contemptible because he has not learned to reach beyond his talents and pick life's pockets.
...
Which only means that life's complexity and surprise follow you everywhere, even over the city-line, across the river and into the suburban trees. You wonder why the creators of the film "Revolutionary Road" are blind to such an obvious fact of human existence. But, then, Hollywood is the most illusion-soaked, soul-hardened and materialistic suburb in the world.
Me, I think the city/suburbs fight is simply another proxy for the old Democrat/Republican, Liberal/Conservative, Left/Right, Blue State/Red State divides - and we know which side Hollywood is on.

Thanks to everybody who sent this to me. If you're interested, HAIF has a very long debate thread on it here.

Update: Andrew Dansby's article on the same topic in the Houston Chronicle Zest section.

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23 Comments:

At 2:03 PM, January 06, 2009, Anonymous common_sense said...

One of the best statements on the other board:

“For me the problem with suburbs is that they have all the inconveniences of living in the country (long drives, bad food, nothing to do) with none of the benefits (solitude, privacy, quiet).”

Anyway, I don’t think it is the burbs per se that some people have problems with but it is the related problems associated with the way post-WWII suburbia was developed in the US.

As many stated on the other board, burbs have been here for centuries. But it is the particular way that American burbs have developed in the past 50-so-odd years that people have a problem with. Many burbs in Europe and pre-WWII burbs in the US are fine are wonderful (although a little boring for my tastes). They were in many ways self-sufficient communities with, for example, Main Streets.

The problem is that the suburbia of post-WWII America lacks anything other than car-dependent neighborhoods, perhaps surrounded by the odd strip mall. This type of development contributed to sprawl, contributed to pollution, contributed to our “addiction to oil,” and contributed to traffic, which in turn required the building of more sprawling infrastructure to support such development. This is simply unsustainable and why our country is pollutes more per capita than any other country on this planet. It is also why we must send our young men and women to die overseas to secure a ever constant supply of oil so that we can continue building sprawling car dependant suburb that pollute the environment and eat up more green space…the cycle continues. This vicious cycle and the fact that so many in the burbs simply don’t care or are ignorant about the related effects of their lifestyle choice is the problem and what bothers many.

 
At 2:21 PM, January 06, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the Iraq war is the fault of the suburbs. Saddam Hussein or his previous history of aggression and non-compliance with the U.N. had nothing to do with it.

The cause of the war in Afghanistan, too, was caused by the suburbs, and not caused in any way by the events on 9/11 (or previous events like the U.S.S Cole, Tanzania and Kenya embassy bombings, etc.).

 
At 3:00 PM, January 06, 2009, Anonymous common_sense said...

This kind of bombastic rhetoric and inability to properly think through a problem is not helpful and indicative of why we have been unable to address so many of the problems facing this country lately.

Certainly I wouldn’t say that the Iraq War was the “fault of the suburbs.” But I would argue that we would have been a lot less concerned about the invasion of a small state less than the size of New Jersey half way across the world, if that small state wasn’t a major oil producer. The Gulf War (and ultimately our entire feud with Saddam) was precipitated by this “addiction” to oil which is great part is based on our lifestyle and development choices. We are forced into these kinds of conflicts because of insatiable need for a continued supply of cheap oil.

As far as Afghanistan, clearly the thing that really set off the likes of Bin Ladin and his ilk was our presence in Saudi Arabia (again which was related to the Gulf War and the protection of cheap oil supplies) and, no matter how irrational or unlikely it sounds, this is part of the justification for Al Qaida’s attacks on US interests around the world, including 9-11.

 
At 4:06 PM, January 06, 2009, Anonymous Mike said...

"Me, I think the city/suburbs fight is simply another proxy for the old Democrat/Republican, Liberal/Conservative, Left/Right, Blue State/Red State divides"

This confirms something I've long suspected about you Tory: that you conflate urbanism with liberalism, and assign to the proponents of urbanism all the beliefs and characteristics you associate with liberalism. This is problematic in so many ways.

 
At 5:05 PM, January 06, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, so you're saying it's not the cause of these wars, but then go on to describe how the suburbs is related to this somehow.

Can we stay on topic? ...about how Hollywood hates the suburbs?

Do you have any reason to believe that Hollywood hates the suburbs for these same reasons?

 
At 5:27 PM, January 06, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's easy...they're liberals who
hates the middle class, or “bourgeoisie”, as Marxist snobs call them. Also, the suburbs are full of people with stable marriages and loved children, people who attend church and have a lifestyle which is the antithesis of that of the libertine leftist elite and the criminal urban underclass. They can't control them. If the suburbanites boycotted their stupid movies, they'd all be in the poorhouse.

 
At 5:50 PM, January 06, 2009, Anonymous common_sense said...

Well, I can’t speak for Hollywood because frankly, a monolithic voice out of Hollywood doesn’t exist, despite the attempt of some of the far-right to build up such a straw man.

I can only speak for myself and my experience with others I have talked to who feel that America needs to seriously rethink its development patterns because of the problems associated with exclusive dependence on the automobile. I am sure some in Hollywood “hate” the suburbs and I am sure others love it. To be honest, LA and Hollywood are Exhibit A as the problems associated with the low density suburban development that relies almost exclusively on the auto (sprawl, pollution, traffic, etc.). Hollywood is essentially a giant suburb; so maybe it hates itself? Does Anaheim love itself? It’s a stupid question based on paranoia of a fringe right-wing in this country that doesn’t want to start to ask serious questions about how we have been “doing business” in this country for the past generation.

But then again, maybe I just haven’t lived in the “real America” long enough to jump on the bandwagon.

 
At 5:55 PM, January 06, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> This confirms something I've long suspected about you Tory: that you conflate urbanism with liberalism

I'm merely repeating known demographic correlations - not taking sides. I see value in the urban, suburban, and rural - and understand why different demographics choose one over the other.

 
At 7:35 AM, January 07, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to why Hollywood hates the burbs, I think Tory has it correct, it's just the same blue state/red state divide issue. A great many people who live in Houston hate the burbs and the burbanites because they see them as simply stupid, ignorant and extremely wasteful. A great many of the burbanites I know don't want to move into the city for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is sheer cost. Buying is pointless because of the property tax rates and renting is outa site. Others I've talked to cite the school problems and the fact that they can't afford the cost of private schools they'd have to send their kids to if they moved into the cities. All of this will change overtime as the "decline" sets in; property values inside the loop will plummet with the layoffs and the final contraction of the oil & gas business. Nothing stays the same forever. I guess that's the way it's supposed to be.

 
At 11:10 AM, January 07, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike said...
"This confirms something I've long suspected about you Tory: that you conflate urbanism with liberalism,"

He's not the only one, and most thinking people agree. Google it in and see what you get instead of killing the messenger. Urbanists are liberals and they hate people they can't control.

 
At 11:26 AM, January 07, 2009, Blogger Robert Boyd said...

Leaving aside filmmakers like Sam Mendes whose work really is anti-suburban (tiresomely so), I think the premise of this article (and so much similar conservative kvetching about left-wing Hollywood) is simply wrong. Usually, when Hollywood portrays the suburbs, it does so affectionately or at least neutrally. For example, the Brady Bunch (and about a million other sitcoms and sitcom-like movies). For some reason, no one seems to count these as "pro-suburb" productions. Likewise, Hollywood very often portrays urban areas as very bad places indeed--dangerous and crime-ridden and hopeless for many who are stuck there. Entire swathes of crime movies have to be ignored to say that Hollywood generally portrays urban areas more positively than suburban areas. So making a big deal of obvious exceptions to the norm in portraying suburbs like Revolutionary Road is a case of selection bias used to prop up the WSJ's long-standing dislike of liberal intellectuals.

However, I do agree that Hollywood seems (on balance) to prefer urban settings to suburban settings. Why? Because urban settings are more exciting. Jason Bourne just seems more plausible in the city, for example. I think there are literally no politics involved in most of these decisions--it's about money.

 
At 1:52 PM, January 07, 2009, Blogger Mike said...

"He's not the only one, and most thinking people agree. Google it in and see what you get instead of killing the messenger. Urbanists are liberals and they hate people they can't control."

Serious question: Were you drunk when you wrote this?

 
At 1:58 PM, January 07, 2009, Blogger Mike said...

"I'm merely repeating known demographic correlations - not taking sides. I see value in the urban, suburban, and rural - and understand why different demographics choose one over the other."

I understand that there is a demographic correlation, but that's all the reason that you should be careful not to equate these things or substitute one for the other. It leads to emotional, uncritical thinking, as is evident in some of the other posts here.

Most of the great ideas in history were originally voiced by people who didn't fall neatly into any of the broad, major categories of the time... the fact that there are so few urban conservatives, or suburban liberals, makes their ideas all the more worth listening to since they are more likely original thoughts that don't fall in with the herd.

 
At 2:42 PM, January 07, 2009, Blogger ian said...

"Jason Bourne just seems more plausible in the city, for example."

No way! Jason Bourne would kick just as much butt fighting superagents in cul-de-sac home after cul-de-sac home after cul-de-sac home. And in strip malls, too. That man is just a badass, period. You can take the man out of the action, but you can't take the action out of the man!

 
At 3:14 PM, January 07, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Mike: agreed. All I'm saying is that when you read about disdain for the suburbs, in most cases what your reading is disdain for middle class Republicans. Similar for urban disdain, which is usually just disdain for lower class, union, or elite Democrats.

 
At 4:38 PM, January 07, 2009, Blogger Robert Boyd said...

ian said...
"Jason Bourne just seems more plausible in the city, for example."

No way! Jason Bourne would kick just as much butt fighting superagents in cul-de-sac home after cul-de-sac home after cul-de-sac home. And in strip malls, too. That man is just a badass, period. You can take the man out of the action, but you can't take the action out of the man!
===============================

Well, personally I'd watch The Bourne Identity or a James Bond film even if it were set in Sugarland, but it just doesn't feel right, you know? Or setting Taxi Driver or Boyz n the Hood in Scottsdale, AZ.

 
At 7:39 AM, January 08, 2009, Blogger Mike said...

Robert - I think Ian was being sarcastic.

 
At 8:39 PM, January 08, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Tory Gattis said...
Mike: agreed. All I'm saying is that when you read about disdain for the suburbs, in most cases what your reading is disdain for middle class Republicans."

-----------------------------

I think the disdain is for the suburb itself and not for the suburbnites. In other words is the disdain for this wasteful way we go about bulding cities. I am not a fan of suburbs at all, but I might end up moving there due to the cost of a buying or renting a place in the "city".

 
At 11:38 PM, January 08, 2009, Blogger Chris K said...

For better or worse, Hollywooders consider themselves artists, and modern artists believe they have to be subversive to be authentic, and the suburban lifestyle with its off-the-rack everything is philosophically opposed to "Art".

 
At 7:49 PM, January 11, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just saw a preview for Revolutionary Road attached to Slumdog Millionaire. If I were the studio (Dreamworks, I think?) I would fire whoever made the decision to attach the trailer to Slumdog. A movie that depicts pretty much any aspect of urban life as it really is here on planet earth makes RR's complaints the meaninglessness of having the same trashcan as your neighbors seem a little silly. Other adjectives would apply.

 
At 8:30 AM, January 24, 2009, Blogger Peter said...

To me, a suburbanite, it matters not one whit what Hollywood believes about the suburbs, nor whether Hollywood hates the suburbs.

What matters to me is what we suburbanites believes about the communities where we live, and particularly how frozen or flexible our thinking is in regards to how we are going to rise to meet the challenges of the future.

I am concerned that the urban / suburban split is just another oversimplified front of the so-called culture war... Red vs. Blue states, evangelical Christians vs. The Damned, with us or against us, Gay vs. hetero.

I genuinely believe that if you decompose transportation and land use matters down to the things that people really care about... like the ability to get to work efficiently, or to be able to walk or bike to the store or to school, that people are non-partisan and seek real answers to real problems.

But our public debate spaces have been so tainted and abused by officials who want to gain political power by "lumping and splitting" factions of voters into "my base" and "not my base" that people are afraid to say what they really think about these issues.

Suburbanites are mostly conformists, and there is a tremendous acceptance need in them to try to fit in and "go with the program".

So when right-wing opinion leaders on talk radio and other places start dissing different ways of thinking about land use and transport in America, I think suburbanites mostly just obediently fall in line behind them, even though they *hate* the local street congestion, they *hate* not having walkable / bikeable neighborhoods (everyone I've talked to has tried biking or walking around here... ONCE, my mental problem is I never stopped doing it), and they would love having a train to ride from Cy-Fair to Dwontown or Cy-Fair to their job at BP or Shell or ConocoPhillips in the Energy Corridor.

Suburbanites will take transit. Just look at Park & Ride bus usage. Phenomenal. If we had well-designed routes on major arterials, dedicated BRT lanes with nice looking stations, State Highway 6 would be a transit corridor full of transit-oriented development from Sugar Land to Champions.

Mark my words!

 
At 1:50 AM, January 26, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you! I just got back from Revolutionay Road and found it insufferable. I even became one of those disgusted screen talkers. I mean come on! Hasn't anybody else had it with thirty somethings acting like adolescents?!

Kate Winslet seems to have a penchant for playing priviliged whining malcontents with no real problems-with oh so generous sprinklings of feminist mystique BS. While Winslet herself personally gushes about the joys of motherhood-having herself escaped the brutal consequences of feminism. Think "Little Children's" suburban bashing; or Kevin Spacey's tiresome character in American Beauty for the male version. The bad guys in these films are always the husbands who grow up and "oppress" their wives by supporting them and their children.

I just watch these Winslet characters and can't believe Hollywood creates fake realities that turn women against themselves, their lives, their spouses, their homes and their children.

This movie pretty much presents pregnancy as tragedy. And gives the clearly mentally unbalanced Winslet character the bizarre fixation that the French truly "live." (Funny I stopped talking like that in college at the latest. But grown up responsibility is the stuff of villainy in Hollywood.)

I'm glad I am not the only one who experiences such cognitive dissonance. I Watched "RR" and marveled over just how good their life was and could not understand why this couple was so unhappy. Seriously if you can't be happy in paradise then you can't be happy anywhere. And truly the Amercan middle class lives in paradise. I think of all the immigrants who give their lives to come here, and dream of living as the couple in Revolutionary Road does, and I just don't get the ingratitude.

Isn't there a quote about how the right propaganda can turn heaven into hell and vice versa. Isn't this what the left has been trying to do to the American dream for how long now?

 
At 11:33 PM, May 23, 2013, Blogger Goldenrush Apple said...

common_sense: China pollutes more than USA. You better change your user name because it's embarrassing. And Robert Boyed -- hoo boy.

 

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