Part Three might address the question of Suburbia and Car-Culture: symbiosis or addiction, what's the diff? The seductions of car-culture; Problems of scale in urban sprawl; Next stop Hell: suburban planning in a space without a future; Rush verses Ani DiFranco: expressions of suburban angst in pop lyrics...
AniD vs. N.Peart: who will prevail?
Automobiles are fascinating devices: they offer to their users the mythology of freedom; but like the forbidden fruit, this freedom, when indulged, reduces us to a form of collective slavery.
I know. I like cars. I like cars in an abstract and aesthetic sense. I especially feel a sort of fondness for awkward inefficient old Detroit monsters like the Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs of my youth... (In my opinion the dark ages of automobile styling was the 1980's, and the current trends of revisionism and nostalgia are a good thing, and that most of the cars being produced today are somewhat prettier than those of previous years... but that's another essay).
However, aesthetics aside, I acknowledge, on a practical level, that the filth and mayhem cars produce is responsible for much of the ugliness in the world we live in, and that it appears obvious to me that in spite of our superficial technological sophistication, future generations will look back at us condescendingly as ignorant barbaric savages for allowing this ugliness to dominate our world, in defiance of any common sense.
The conundrum which chains cars to the city's ankle like a stone is sad economics; The Oil for which Americans strive is merely the vanguard of this metaphor, our entire system and way of life is inextricably fueled by car culture; The livelihoods of the inhabitants of the city are bound to this construct, and the banality we suffer as a result is merely the price we pay.
My aesthetic sympathies might delude me into suggesting that cars might not be so bad after all, if only people were mature enough to use them responsibly, but I presume you perceive the oxymoron here... Only the most idealistic among us dream of a way of weaning man from this addiction; The only real breakthrough envisionable would rise from the ashes of an apocalyptic pre-Cambrian-style shift in consciousness: "The only way to change behavior is the threat of disaster"-Wittgenstein.
So recently I was a passenger (in a rented automobile) returning from a weekend in the country, when we drove by an extremely distorted new subdivision of bloated monster homes squeezed onto grotesquely tiny plots:
"If I grew up here, I would do lots of drugs, all the time."
"I would vandalize and destroy things, whenever possible."
"I would do drugs... and destroy things!"
(We have omitted a brief preface speculating about how much American military technology would be required to level this subdivision).
The developers who designed this complex have neglected to include more than an arms-width yard-space between homes, much less any trees or any perceivable green space in general; they have also neglected to include sidewalks or bus-stops. Whoever lives here is at the mercy of automotive transport. Urban sprawl has evolved beyond a tragic parody, to something even worse than what we feared: an experiment in self-inflicted banal stress, an incubator of alienation, petrie dishes cooked to overflow with a generation of potential zombies.
Who are these beings who buy homes here and perpetuate this madness? Humans much like ourselves, thirsting for space and independence, who are seduced into this illusion. My associate LH suggested the theory that 70's soap operas such as 'Knot's Landing' inculcated the concept that monster homes were a normal right and privilege of the responsible consumer, and developers offered a shoddy version of this paradox at an affordable price.
In the aftermath of the Columbine Massacre, Camille Paglia published an essay where she theorized that the absence of formal initiation rituals in American culture was exacerbated by the dependence of young suburban males on their parents for basic mobility, an intriguing concept which I believe may have some validity, as much as I may not be wholly convinced by some of her other more provocative statements.
(ani difranco: RECKONING, track 9)
white people are so scared of black people
they bulldoze out to the country
and put up houses on little loop-dee-loop streets
and while america gets its heart cut right out of its chest
the berlin wall still runs down main street
separating east side from west
and nothing is stirring, not even a mouse
in the boarded-up stores and the broken-down houses
so they hang colorful banners off all the street lamps
just to prove they got no manners
no mercy and no sense
and i'm wondering what it will take
for my city to rise
first we admit our mistakes
then we open our eyes
the ghosts of old buildings are haunting parking lots
in the city of good neighbors that history forgot
i remember the first time i saw someone
lying on the cold street
i thought: i can't just walk past here
this can't just be true
but i learned by example
to just keep moving my feet
it's amazing the things that we all learn to do
so we're led by denial like lambs to the slaughter
serving empires of style and carbonated sugar water
and the old farm road's a four-lane that leads to the mall
and our dreams are all guillotines waiting to fall
i'm wondering what it will take
for my country to rise
first we admit our mistakes
and then we open our eyes
or nature succumbs to one last dumb decision
and america the beautiful
is just one big subdivision
words and music by ani difranco © 2001 righteous babe music / BMI
Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown
Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth
Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night
Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight
Somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights...
lyrics by Neil Peart
If we glance at these song lyrics, that which is obvious is that AD presents a much more politically aware overview than NP, who perhaps wisely usually tends to avoid direct political commentary in his work.
However, NP's interpretation is not without merit, he actually reveals an intuitive grasp of the psychological vulnerabilities of his fan base, one which I have rarely encountered in any prog/metal lyricist. He manages to draw the issues of suburban alienation towards a subjective level, perhaps more sensitively than AD's admirable polemics, which still tend to fall into a pattern which I confess to suffer from myself, that which from a downtown perspective tends to view the crisis of urban rot as the fault of the other, the outsider from the suburbs.
Simply glancing back at the last few paragraphs in this article makes me realize how easy it is to fool myself into dehumanizing individuals merely on the basis of their inhabitation of a plane of geographic otherness, although I regrettably might retain a pessimist's distrust of individuality when submerged in any mass confluence. However, the suburban landscape, for all its superficial banality, often conceals deceptively rich and idiosyncratic forms of expression:
"Sophocles' Antigone runs from July 21 to August 8 at skate parks, plazas, strip malls and basketball courts across Scarborough. 416-452-0195."
It is far too effortless to collapse into a posture of downtownesque snobbery towards the invading hordes of unsophisticated tourists rolling awkwardly towards party central during warm summer weekends, a laziness of presumption which overlooks the realization that many of the most talented and perceptive artists who I know personally are the spawn of suburbia.
One artist who I do not know personally was quoted in a recent interview:
"...I was raised in Scarborough where so few things there are allowed to live. Everything's paved over, uprooted... I feel shame for being part of a culture that's so greedy and destructive..." -S.Boyle/Lola16
The final question might be: does creativity thrive under adversity? A supportive environment might be nurturing during certain crucial moments of development, but the ground from which the universal pool of consciousness springs does not discriminate: the answer remains, as always, intangible and inconclusive.
>>Onward to Part Four