The Suburban Electric Window
The television is a window. It is an electric glass window through which suburban kids can see the things in far away Urbia. They can see crimes solved, vengeance taken, real people surviving on exotic islands. The television is a window through which they can observe the world outside of the manicured lanes and landscaped, orange-lined easements.
Suburbia is tied to Urbia with long asphalt strings. Suburban homeowners zoom back and forth across the asphalt in steel shells, burning gas, following dotted lines. Their kids run and bike and blade from yard to yard looking for other kids running and biking and blading. They all run and bike and blade as best they can across the concrete sidewalks and fall in the thick bold grass.
Suburban parents count down miles to supermarkets in power centers that grew up along the freeways. They drive more miles to jobs, more miles to drop the kids at schools, further to the movies, further to the malls, further and further to civilized needs and consumptions. The best suburban areas are those with the most amenities close by, but still far enough away to reduce nuisance noise and dusty crime and dirt. A tolerable distance can be traversed with minimal traffic control, over smooth roads, and end in a wide-spaced parking lot as close as possible to the mega-plex entrance.
The kids get around under their own power, so they don't go as far. Within maybe a mile, they get to see the other kids moving around within their own mile. Maybe they meet a kid from a half mile away who has been a half mile further and they can trade stories about the half mile beyond.
Suburban communities are well planned. The streets are broad and sweep across the curved landscape. This both accommodates large vehicles and slows rapid traffic. The city owns the trees on the easements and trims them regularly. Black chain link fences blend with the background noise to smooth, tolerable safety. Houses come in four flavors, with custom upgrades like hardwood bannisters and UV skylights. Three car, front-facing garage doors open like an oil slick, quiet as ice.
Every half-mile-radius circle looks like this up to the freeway. Every kid inside the radius explores the same houses and fences and bannisters and skylights. Joey's house and Johnny's house look like Suzie's house and like Julie's house, except for the SUVs decorating the garages. The Navigators, the H2s, the X5s, the Expeditions, the Excursions, the Suburbans, the Forerunners, the Exterras, the Durangos: these are the distinctions between Joey and Johnny and Suzy and Julie. This is their contact with culture.
The kids venture out of the suburbs when their parents, home from a long day of commuting, click open the slickened garage door, and pull the steel and glass and gas shell out to roll across the asphalt toward civilization.
The possibility of civilization in the suburbs is predicated on the availability of oil. The combustion of oil transformed into rotational motion is suburbia's civilizing element.
Suburban kids do not enjoy the luxury of civilization. They are isolated from it, dependent entirely upon the availability of oil burning transportation to get out of the suburbs and into the workings of the world.
Except for television. Television is the suburban kid's window to the civilized world. For out the window of the three-car-garage tract house with hardwood bannisters, there are only other three-car-garage tract houses with the same bannisters. But out the electric glass television screen, there is an intriguing and complex world filled with splashy violent color banging against the screech of urban decay. It is, by contrast, irresistible freedom.
Suburban parents provide a safe, sanitized and moral environment for their children. There are regulated, uniform sprinkler-patterns of influence. The green lawn, the automatic irrigation system, the lounging brick-brown dog, the efficiencies that carve out free time: these are the trappings of clean living. Clean, inescapable living, isolated from smutty, citified Urbania.
Except for the electric window. Television mass mediates the isolationist gap between the kids and the cities. It is their internal combustion engine that can transport them from suburban living to urbanified civilization. The pixilated electric window is a suburban kid's first car.
Through the window, the kids learn how to look at the city, how to react to what they see, how to perceive the glass interface between them and them. They can touch the window's hum and feel its static charged reality energize their curious hands.
Later, they will feel the road rumble in the steering wheel. The tinted windshield will play down the glare of the gleaming glass cubes of leased office space. The controlled climate softens the filtered air like home sweet suburban home. Later, that is, the SUV will mediate the isolationist gap between the adults and the cities.
And later, the suburban electric window will flash spliced images of fire and wreck and robbery, conjuring suburban justification. This is why they travel to everything they need. This is their isolationist entitlement. This is their training. This is their cycle.
© 2004 Sorrell