Monday, February 11, 2013

The "Going-est": In The Suburbs



This 20-minute video was produced by the editors of Redbook magazine in 1957. I love images of suburbia immoderately, especially such industrial shorts as a window onto an era. The window, of course, is narrow. It's too easy to lampoon the cultural naivete and ideology of mid-century suburbia—that's been done and done, from The Crack In The Picture Window, through Cheever, Updike and The Ice Storm, to Mad Men. What I can't resist doing is imagining the dark doppelgänger for each carefully scrubbed image: the town drunks we don't see; the racism in theory and deed occurring off-screen; the ennui on the faces of haggard parents in long lines. Redbook was less interested in literary realism than in subscription-hawking, but the short does give mild lip-service to suburban malaise and its complexities and sorrows:
What are young adults like from an editor’s point of view? Well, they’re not so much highbrows, or lowbrows, as wrinkled brows! They’re serious, and no wonder. To give these serious young adults the substance they want, to build a durable relationship with each reader, Redbook edits for one person at a time. Having established a personal relationship with its readers, Redbook then talks to them so they recognize their own living situations in its pages….
Just as the realities of family life are thoroughly woven into Redbook, so are the realities of community life. Many young adults come to the suburbs as ex-apartment renters. So: what about the roads? The schools? Will somebody please explain what a bond issue is? Writing for young adults, Redbook’s editors have to keep learning and analyzing.
Between the solemnly announced "They're serious, and no wonder" and "Redbook’s editors have to keep learning and analyzing" there's a montage of grim, if carefully-selected, World War II newsreel footage, head-for-the-shelter nuclear panics, and scenes of social unrest, from religion in schools to sexual issues, that recognizes the chaos behind and amidst the placid surfaces of suburbia, but only with a brief, unhappy shudder. Then it's back to the mall!

I'm especially taken with the references at the end of the video to the next generation of purchasing, eye-to-the future"young adults" as viewed through a crystal ball:
Redbook’s editors have to keep an eye to the future. There’s a whole new generation coming, soon to be young adults, a bigger-than-ever market of people who have a history of their own, who remember all the way back to Eisenhower, who probably never aw their mother use a ringer, think automobiles are household appliances, and have reserved seats on the next rocket to leave the earth!
Teenagers hop into convertible jalopies and peel off down Center Street past young, manicured lawns and I think: these kids will come of age in the 1960s, and deal with their own prophesied, surprising, sold-to mid-20s amidst the Vietnam War, civil rights movement, the rising tides of recreational drug use, and the yawning generation gap, epoch-defining movements barely hinted at by the Redbook editors.

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Better to simply frame the present through a picture window, and hope for the best.

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