We’ve been hearing about it for a while now, but today Spike Jonze’s 28 minute film inspired by Arcade Fire’s album The Suburbs is finally available and streaming here (via Mubi). Scenes from the Suburbs is too short and too frustratingly unspecific to make a real, coherent political statement about the ‘burbs, but it does do a good job of realizing that which makes us uneasy about them.
The film focuses on a group of teens doing whatever teens do in a place where there’s nothing to do (skateboarding under tunnels, bike-riding through uniform, monochromatic cul-de-sacs, drinking, making out), but the characters’ lives are constantly interrupted by scenes of martial law, violence and fear-mongering by an omnipotent suburban mercenary military. No matter what people tell you about how great the schools are, it’ll make you think twice about those security signs neatly embedded on suburban lawns.
The film also hints at a subtle, pervasive racism, even by the protagonists—perhaps the result of growing up in a place that’s almost exclusively white. Scenes was shot in the suburbs of Austin, Texas, but that detail is never revealed in the film, nor is it central to the idea of the suburbs being a fascist sort of scourge on the nation.
Also, if you want to be part of a more academic discussion on why the suburbs are terrible (it’s way worse than just the aesthetic nuisance of those tacky, colonial-style McMansions), here’s also a fantastic TED talk on the subject by author and social critic James Howard Kunstler, a person TED calls “the most outspoken critic of suburban sprawl.” Kunstler sees the suburbs as wholly destructive to society, both ideologically and resource-allocation-wise, and is absolutely fierce about reversing the damage. He’s called America “a utopia of overfed clowns riding in clown cars around the plasticized cartoon outskirts of our ruined cities.”
Huh, I hope that doesn’t include me. But you go on and check it out—I’ve actually got to go take my golden doodle for her daily grooming session at the new strip mall. Hopefully there are leftover Cheetos in the glove compartment of my Hummer.