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Look Closer

Suburban Narratives and American Values in Film and Television

David R. Coon

Publication Year: 2013

In recent years, the media landscape in the United States has followed a pattern similar to that of the physical landscape by becoming increasingly suburbanized. Although it is a far cry from reality, the fantasy of a perfect suburban life still exists in the collective imagination of millions of Americans. This dream of suburban perfection is built around a variety of such ideologically conservative values and ideals as the importance of tradition, the centrality of the nuclear family, the desire for a community of like-minded neighbors, the need for clearly defined gender roles, and the belief that with hard work and determination, anyone can succeed.

Building on the relationships between suburban life and American identity, Look Closer examines and interprets recent narratives that challenge the suburban ideal to reveal how directors and producers are mobilizing the spaces of suburbia to tell new kinds of stories about America. David R. Coon argues that the myth of suburban perfection, popularized by postwar sitcoms and advertisements, continues to symbolize a range of intensely debated issues related to tradition, family, gender, race, and citizenship. Through close examinations of such films as American Beauty, The Truman Show, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith as well as such television series as Desperate Housewives, Weeds, and Big Love, the book demonstrates how suburbia is used to critique the ideologies that underpin the suburban American Dream.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

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pp. vii-viii

I am a product of suburbia. I grew up in Upper Arlington, Ohio, a first-ring suburb just northwest of downtown Columbus. It was here that I first experienced all the benefits and drawbacks of suburbia and ultimately developed a fascination with this strangely complicated aspect of the American landscape...

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Introduction: Welcome to the Neighborhood

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pp. 1-29

In an early scene from the 1999 fi lm American Beauty, the protagonist, Lester Burnham, o? ers a narration that plays over an aerial shot of a suburban neighborhood. The image reveals rows of large, single-family houses, neatly arranged on tree-lined streets. As the camera slowly moves closer to the street, Lester?s narration sets up the fi lm?s story....

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1. Traditional Values: Nostalgia and Self-Reflexivity in Visual Representations of Suburbia

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pp. 30-68

A promotional video for the Village of West Clay, a suburban develop-ment outside Indianapolis, Indiana, opens with a title card reminiscent of those found in silent fi lms. The image shakes a bit, and the sound track features a solo piano along with the sound of a fi lm projector. The title card says, ?Mother has some errands that need to be run.? ...

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2. Back Yard Fences: The Public, the Private, and the Family in Suburban Dramas

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pp. 69-102

In a revealing sequence from American Beauty (1999), suburban father Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is eavesdropping outside his teenage daughter?s bedroom door. Inside the room, Lester?s daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), is trying to ignore the comments of her friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), who is talking about how attractive Lester is, and ...

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3. Suburban Citizenship: Defining Community through the Exclusion of Racial and Sexual Minorities

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pp. 103-140

In the promotional video for the town of Mount Laurel, a new suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, one resident speaks of her family?s decision to move: ?In order to move to Birmingham we had to fi nd a place where we could have a sense of community.? Another resident says, ?It was apparent right o? the bat that this place had a strong sense of com-...

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4. Desperate Husbands: The Crisis of Hegemonic Masculinity in Post-9/11 Suburbia

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pp. 141-178

In her book Gendered Spaces, Daphne Spain examines a variety of physi-cal structures that range from domestic, professional, and educational to civic, commercial, and sacred. She argues that built environments in our society have historically segregated men from women, with some spaces being viewed as masculine and others as feminine.1 Linda ...

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5. Protecting the Suburban Lifestyle: Consumption, Crime, and the American Dream

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pp. 179-211

In an episode of the legal drama Close to Home (CBS, 2005?2007) enti-tled ?Land of Opportunity,? a real estate mogul is being interrogated by a district attorney regarding some questionable business practices that allegedly caused home buyers to default on their loans and lose their houses. Proclaiming his innocence, the man says, ?I?m in the busi-...

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Conclusion: There Goes the Neighborhood

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pp. 212-233

I began this book with descriptions of the opening moments from two prominent suburban narratives: American Beauty and Desperate Housewives. These two examples, along with the other films and televi-sion programs discussed throughout the book, have much in common with respect to their depiction of suburbia. They all offer images of ...


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pp. 235-255


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pp. 257-269

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About the Author

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pp. 271-283

DAVID R. COON is an assistant professor of media studies at the Univer-sity of Washington Tacoma. He teaches courses in fi lm studies, televi-sion studies, and video production. He has published essays examining fi lm, television, advertising, gender, sexuality, and space in the Journal of Popular Film and Television, Feminist Media Studies, the Journal of Homo-...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813562094
E-ISBN-10: 0813562090
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813562087

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 863158192
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Look Closer

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Subject Headings

  • Suburban life in motion pictures.
  • United States -- In motion pictures.
  • Suburban life on television.
  • United States -- On television.
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