Matt Archibiold discusses Sam Mendes’ latest anti-suburbia flick:
Essentially, Mendes seems to adopt the view of literary urbanista types that the suburbs are a death filled wasteland. I find this attitude weird firstly as a business decision because it seems to me that mocking where most people live isn’t the way to make a lot of money. But more importantly, I don’t know what the big look-down-your-nose issue is that people have with the suburbs. I live in the suburbs because it’s near the city where my wife and I work. But we like having a lawn and a little space. I’m just not getting the soul sucki-ness of it all.
I think I’m the bizarro Sam Mendes. I’ve embraced everything he fears.
The question sometimes comes up in conversation with old friends. What was the best time of your life? And I’m sometimes embarrassed to admit it but right now is the best time of my life. Truly. And I’m a short chubby bearded dad living in the suburbs. I mow my lawn. I pay bills. I talk to my wife about what she did that day. I change diapers. Lots of them. Sometimes we go get ice cream. I do all those things that angsty pubescents jeer at.
I resemble those remarks. As someone who used to mock the very notion of living in suburbia, I’ve come to enjoy it. Sure, it takes an hour to get to the mall (for me that’s the one with the grass and the monuments, not the stores), but at the same time I’m older and not looking for the same things now that I was when I was in my twenties. I’m perfectly content with my yard, my cigar, and a book (and maybe a little bit of scotch).
Of course my experience is slightly different. Those of you familiar with DC know your options are: (1) pay a lot of money and live in what is essentially the suburbs (Friendship Heights, Tenleytown, etc.), (2) pay a lot of money and live in a small apartment on Dupont, (3) pay a medium amount of money and live in a transitional neighborhood that you hope transitions enough by the time your kids are old enough to go to school, and (4) pay a small-to-medium amount of money and live in a neighborhood that requires you to carry a gun for protection. The DC suburbs are really the only place a middle-class guy can find a house that will not break his bank. And, frankly, my neighborhood is probably more diverse than most sections of DC.
That said, I can understand some of the antipathy towards certain aspects of suburban life. I’m not a big fan of the new developments where the houses all look the same and your options for eating out are all at the strip mall a mile away. But that’s a personal preference. Like Matt, I do not understand the sniveling, jeering attitude taken against the suburbs—an attitude that is not exclusive to teenagers and hipsters in their twenties.
Most of this antipathy is overwrought and based on an ungenerous evaluation of people’s reasons for choosing to live outside the city. Some do it because of economic concerns. Others might just want a little more space. Whatever the reason, I don’t think we’re all a bunch of lily-white, anti-social people afraid to deal with unlike people.
Finally, you almost get the sense from certain quarters (read the first two comments on Matt’s blog post) that to live in the suburbs is somehow anti-Christian. I just don’t get it. I must have missed that encyclical calling for all Christians to live on top of each other in small apartments that barely fits a family of four. Considering the call to be fruitful and multiply, I would almost think it a Christian’s duty to move beyond the city and find that house that can accomodate those ten kids you’re supposed to have. I jest of course, but as long as you take an active part in your community, does it matter if your community consists substantially of houses with white picket fences or of several fifteen-story apartment buildings manned by doormen?