Essay On Area And Country

2424 words - 10 pages

In a crucial scene from Peter Weir's hit 1998 film The Truman Show, protagonist Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), after discovering that his picture-perfect suburban existence not only seems to be the stuff of TV situation comedy but in fact is so, makes a break for freedom. As Truman attempts to escape his imprisoning sound-stage suburban world under the cover of night, his omnipotent foe, the creator/director of "The Truman Show," Christof (Ed Harris), directs his minions to "cue the sun" and flood the area with sunlight, even though it is the middle of the night. A climactic moment of sorts, Christof's order-and the wee-hours sunrise that follows-makes plain the utter artificiality of Truman's universe, while at the same time highlighting the forces massed to keep Truman in his place. Read metaphorically, this sequence in Weir's film depicts suburbia not only as an artificial reconstruction of small-town America but also, more tellingly, as a landscape of imprisonment and control. And while the conceit of The Truman Show may have been clever (if not, perhaps, entirely original-as fans of Philip K. Dick's 1959 novel Time Out of Joint might argue), its thematic message was by no means unique: indeed, American fiction and films from the past half-century that depict the suburbs have painted a consistently negative portrayal of this environment. Almost without fail, the major novels, stories, and films chronicling suburban life have envisioned suburbia as a contrived, dispiriting, and alienating place. Even today, at a time when more Americans live in the suburbs than either the city or the country, and when the success of "gated communities" and "neo-traditional" towns suggests that the process of suburbanization continues to evolve, the major current films about suburbia (The Truman Show, Gary Ross's Pleasantville, Sam Mendes's American Beauty, and Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven) nonetheless represent this environment as an entrapping and debilitating place to live. I will argue that this consistent focus on suburbia as an American dystopia is more than coincidence, and instead reflects our uneasy relationship to an environment heavily invested with, even defined by, middle-class America's cultural aspirations and anxieties.A primary factor behind our culture's ambivalent stance toward suburbia is the elusive nature of suburban place identification. For the suburb, in breaking apart the urban/rural binary that had once characterized the American landscape, presents a third term in this equation, a space which remains an enigma even to itself: economically linked to the city, the suburb nevertheless resists urban identification; and if suburbia masquerades as the country, as a sort of plotted, ordered, endlessly repeating pastoral landscape, its calculated, precise parceling of the natural landscape stands in stark contrast to the abiding contours of the rural terrain it continuously supersedes. In this sense, the suburban landscape presents, in the...

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