Sunday, December 28, 2008

You Say You Want a Revolution

In Friday's "Wall Street Journal" Lee Siegel asked why Hollywood hates the suburbs. And why does it hold suburbanites in such utter contempt. Link here.

Siegel was inspired by the new movie version of the Richard Yates novel, "Revolutionary Road."

Several week earlier Christopher Hitchens prepared us for the movie by reviewing the book in the "Atlantic." He found it to be a fascinating glimpse of the brain-dead tedious world of suburbia. Link here.

Hitchens revels in the chance to exercise his creative muscles by trashing American suburbia, a place where spirituality and creativity go to die. In so doing, he is sharing the views of the cognoscenti who have been more than willing to accept this caricature as fact.

Until recently. Now this much maligned band of pioneers, the group who settled the American suburbs after World War II, has been resurrected by Tom Brokaw and dubbed "the greatest generation."

It is good to keep in mind-- as Hitchens does not-- that the generation that settled in the suburbs was the one that suffered through the depression, went to war, and defeat the Axis powers.

Those who returned home chose to buy houses in the suburbs and to commute to jobs in the America's great urban centers.

Think what you will-- and no one should ever accuse Hollywood of consequential thought-- the greatest generation earned the right to make its own lifestyle choice.

But why did artists and intellectuals shower them with contempt? Because their lives did not have enough art. Because they lacked taste.

According to Yates and other countercultural warriors the suburbs are where art goes to die, where the vitality of the human spirit is crushed under the jackboot of conformity. Life in the suburbs had to be devalued because it did not lend itself to drama.

Yates wrote that the suburbs had not been designed "to accommodate tragedy." He added: "A man running down these streets in desperate grief was indecently out of place."

To buy this line you have to accept that tragedy is the truth of the human condition, thus that good cheer, optimism, bright colors, and manicured lawns are a fraud.

If the men of the greatest generation had already seen quite enough tragedy, perhaps they had a right to some good cheer. And besides, as Siegel wrote, in what kind of town would a man running down the street in desperate grief not be out of place?

Siegel is right to say that our failure to question such bizarre notions is a symptom of the extent to which the counterculture has addled our brains.

You probably know the plot of "Revolutionary Road." Frank and April Wheeler move to the suburbs. Their aesthetic sensibility and youthful idealism have not been entirely extinguished so they decide to bring some theater to the place.

The event goes poorly, as it must. April declares that the only solution is to move to the Promised Land, Paris, France. There she can fulfill herself as an actress and Frank can find himself.

In the end, they do not reach the Promised Land.

The year is 1955. Frank Wheeler is a veteran. Should we not recall, even if briefly, that he belonged to the group of brain-dead men who had rescued France from a fate worse than ticky-tacky.

Critics of suburbia were countercultural warriors before their time. Like good Nietzscheans they tried to disparage the free choices other people made. Their task was to trans-value values.

The men who pioneered the suburban way of life had succeeded in Europe because they adhered to values of duty, loyalty, dignity, and honor. Those were the values they brought to their corporate jobs, the better to rebuild the post-war American economy.

The counterculture wants us to see these as disguises for the horrors that were lurking behind every suburban facade: child molestation, spousal abuse, oppression, and madness.

Why did the literati hate the suburbs and hate the values that had won the war and rebuilt America. Perhaps, as Robert Nozick once suggested, it was because the military and corporate ethos enhances the status of people who are neither creative artists nor serious intellectuals.

They hated the suburbs because they loved their own status more.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Damn right!

For an antidote see The Man In the Gray Flannel Suit for some revolutionary personal ethics and familial virtue.