Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Suburb Mentality

A suburb is an upgraded village: a spatially bounded space where people live under the illusion of knowing each other, of feeling protected by their belonging to the community, of fulfilling the middle-class (North-American) dream. You know the dream: a Stepford wife, a little box made out of ticky tacky (hope there are no hurricanes in your area!) in the middle of nowhere (preferably in a gated community, God forbids the coyotes or the immigrants come anywhere near us!), a Bimbo box (can't help but love Neal Stephenson's nickname for the SUV) where the Stepford wife can safely anchor the car-seats of the children (at least two, cause a). it's our Christian duty to reproduce ourselves, b). we 'all know' that the only-child comes with permanent psychological damage...).

One cannot understand the suburb and its mentality until one lives in North America. The suburb is a white, sanitized and monotonous place where everyone
has to look the same, feel the same, behave the same. "We are in the Burbs, where it is better to take a thousand clicks off the lifespan of your Goodyears by invariably grinding them up against curbs than to risk social ostracism and outbreaks of mass hysteria by parking several inches away, out in the middle of the street (That's okay Mom, I can walk to the curb from here), a menace to the traffic, a deadly obstacle to uncertain young bicyclists." (Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, 1992).

A true middle-class individual (and hey, everyone is middle-class in North America, except those who aren't, but even they are middle-class!) dreams of setting down, finding the Stepford wife (partner, to be politically correct) and buy that cardboard house with 5 bedrooms (guest rooms required!) for which they'll pay 10 times the actual price and probably 10 times what they can truly afford. A slave to the bank, a slave to the cardboard house, a slave to the bimbo box, the individual becomes a slave to the suburb mentality. The long commute downtown sucks. So many cars! The downtown sucks too: thank God we have a doorman at work, otherwise we would end up with the homeless begging right at the door of our office on the 100th floor of the prison - oops, meant office - tower. The lunch time rush to the unavoidable franchises sucks too: there are simply too many people, this city can't take any more foreigner, immigrants, minorities! We're already over-crowded!

The suburb is the place where mass hysteria grows out of conformism. Out of sanitized - yet worthless - environments, whose only value derives from the quantification of our middle-class desire: we're willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for an ugly cardboard box that is worth shit just to live in a 'good community', where your neighbors have been selected by banks based on how intensely they desire to throw out of the window the money they don't have. The suburb hysteria comes in the forms of gates, of speed bumps and 30km/h speed signs. It comes in the form of community churches with stupid signs (Jesus loves you!), strip malls along the highway and yellow school buses. And it calms down at the sight of our trusted police buying their coffee at Starbucks; their mere presence, a token of suburb conformity itself, reassures us: they're here, we're protected from the awful unknown outside the suburb.

The suburb mentality is a dangerous one. It is an essentially anti-modern mentality, based on fear and born out of our capitalist desire to segregate ourselves from those who don't have the same earning-potential (under the false belief that earning potential makes us all the same). It's the belief of the capitalist slave, colonized by capitalism so that s/he no longer feels it as an ideological yoke, but as a free choice based on hard work (work hard, and you'll reach the stars; visualize, and you'll succeed).

The suburb mentality breeds fear, ignorance and intolerance. It breeds fascism. It prepares the mind for the radical populist-nationalist politicians who will shamelessly capitalize on the suburb hysteria to propel themselves to power. It makes people afraid, but more importantly, it makes them unable to cope with an urban environment, where good and bad co-exist, where people step on each others toes and parade their difference on a daily basis.

Photo credits: ulybug
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