American Dreams, Suburban Nightmares: Suburbia as a Narrative Space between Utopia and Dystopia in Contemporary American Cinema

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Anchor Academic Publishing (aap_verlag), 2014 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 72 pages
The suburban landscape is inseparable from American culture. Suburbia does not only relate to the geographical concept, but also describes a cultural space incorporating people’s hopes for a safe and prosperous life. Suburbia marks a dynamic ideological space constantly influenced and recreated by both the events of everyday life and artistic discourse. Fictional texts do not merely represent suburbia, but also have a decisive role in the shaping of suburban spaces. The widely held idealized image of suburbia evolved in the 1950s. Today, reality deviates from the concept of suburbs projected back then, due to e.g. high divorce rates and an increase of crime. Nevertheless, the nostalgic view of the suburbs as the “Promised Land" has survived. Postwar critics object to this perception, considering the suburbs rather as depressing landscapes of mass-consumption, conformity and alienation. This book exemplifies the dualistic representation of suburbs in contemporary American cinema by analyzing Pleasantville, The Truman Show and American Beauty. It examines how utopian concepts of suburbia are created culturally and psychologically in the films, and how the underlying anxieties of the suburban experience, visualized by the dystopian narratives, challenge this ideal.

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About the author (2014)

Melanie Smicek, M.A., was born in a small town near Cologne, Germany, in 1984. She graduated in English Studies at the University of Cologne and additionally earned a Master of Arts degree in Comparative Literature at the University of Rochester. Her interest in the American Culture already evolved in her youth and was strengthened during her time abroad in the USA. Being particularly fascinated by American movies, with American Beauty as her all-time favorite, the author soon observed the significance of suburbia as a cultural space, which motivated her to study the representation of suburbs in American cinema in more detail.

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