Main Street and Empire
The Fictional Small Town in the Age of Globalization
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Thinking and writing are social processes, and I’ve been blessed to have so much individual and institutional support over the many years this project has developed. First and foremost, I want to thank Scott Shershow for his intellectual rigor, unlimited patience, and guiding hand. Colin Milburn, Richè Richardson, and Evan Watkins...
Introduction. The Small Town as a Modern Nation Form
From 2006 to 2008 the Smithsonian National Museum of American History closed its doors to the public in order to undergo a two- year renovation. The museum’s director, Dr. Brent D. Glass, identified this renovation as a “major transformation” (“Opening Remarks”). A significant portion of the world’s third busiest museum removed itself from the public eye...
Chapter 1. Sacred Islands in Modernity: The Prehistory of the Dominant Small Town
In this chapter I focus upon and analyze the small town’s ideological form. This formal analysis follows the methodology of Marx and Freud, each of whom privileges form over content in analyzing the commodity form and dream form, respectively. For both Marx and Freud, “the point is to avoid the properly fetishistic fascination...
Chapter 2. An Unfinished Revolution: "The Revolt from the Village" Reconsidered
Two decades after situating the village as the nation’s foundational form, Woodrow Wilson became president, the United States entered the first recognized global war, and Sinclair Lewis published Main Street (1920). Lewis’s satirical novel makes visible and critiques the reified cultural logic that positions the small town as an authentic American space. ...
Chapter 3. Mapping the Modern Small Town: A Circular Imaginary
In a capitalist modernity, there are no more island communities. Instead spaces become radically relational and inextricably entangled within capitalism’s globalizing system. As Marx theorized, capitalism functions because of an increasingly complex and transnational division of labor in which production, distribution, exchange, and consumption...
Chapter 4. A New Machine in the Small-Town Garden: Periodizing an Automodernity
In the early twentieth century a new machine appeared in the smalltown garden: the automobile. In response, a popular U.S. narrative emerged that this new machine was destroying the nation’s home. The film scholar and critic Emanuel Levy observes that the trope of the automobile catalyzing the demise of the small town is pervasive...
Chapter 5. The Formation of a U.S. Fascist Aesthetics; or, Welcome to Main Street
In Main Street, Sinclair Lewis satirically writes that the small town is “our comfortable tradition and sure faith” (2). Reflecting on this passage in 2009, the information and linguistics scholar Geoffrey Nunberg observes that this position remains unchanged: “80 years after it was coined, ‘Wall Street vs. Main Street’ is still a potent political slogan. ...
Chapter 6. Staging and Archiving the Nation: Pedagogical Theater, Thornton Wilder's Our Town, and U.S. Imperialism
The United States is in the midst of a neoliberal regime committed to privatization, and in the process gutting all public spheres and shared commons. One of the effects of this regime is the evisceration of public schools (Giroux and Pollock, University in Chains; Segall). Due to a lack of funding, Manuel Dominguez High School in Compton, California, has not had...
Chapter 7. "One Happy World": The Postmodern Small Town and the Small-Town Postmodern
For the past few decades postcolonial scholars have stressed that the categorization of places as “anachronistic” is underwritten by the intertwined projects of Western imperialism and Western modernity. In Time and the Other (1983), Johannes Fabian argues that anthropology discursively produces anachronistic places and people by projecting...
Chapter 8. Global Belongings: The Small Town as the World's Home
At the beginning of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, the protagonist Carol Milford fantasizes about living in a small town while attending the fictional Blodgett College (7– 8). Several years after graduating, she marries a suitor whose chief appeal is that he comes from a small town. Rather than inquire about and reflect upon the specificity of Gopher Prairie...
Afterword. The Global Village
The dominant small town in late capitalism has become a global image, a global form, and a global ideology. To appreciate the ideological force of the dominant small town, it is useful to move from Main Street, U.S.A. to another section of Disneyland: the ride “It’s a Small World.”1 This movement, I want to suggest, is from the small town imagined...
About the Author
Ryan Poll teaches in the English Department at Northeastern Illinois University. His next project, entitled Narrating Oil, collects and analyzes literary and cultural texts from multiple geographies, including the United States, Mexico, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, to make visible...