STORY | Suburban otherness

Posted on 02/01/2012

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There’s something, for want of a better word, dark permeating the suburbs. I am wary of using the term ‘gothic’ to describe that simmering underbelly of reality’s otherness – genre thinking may not have much to offer. Perhaps it’s the kind of darkness that Joseph Conrad writes in Heart of Darkness (of motives, of politics and of spirit). It’s a jungle out here. A heavy realism anchors  the suburbs; it can provoke rejection and abjection. Others are dismissive in their comical accounts of the bogan and the McMansion. When I was at school a younger student – a child – was raped on her walk home. Sadness descended on the whole school at the realisation that fairytale fortunes were to be heeded. A shocked awareness of predators and the dangers of loitering. Suburban stories, both fictions and realities, are many.

“It’s creepy out there,” says a friend who recoils at the silent sameness of these bland badlands. Across this territory there is rise and ripple of symbol and gesture. A girl collected by the waves of Harry Potter immerses herself in fantasy fiction; removed from reality. Young thin emos anxiously knotted. The brutal Catholicism of drinking the blood and the eating the body of Christ. Onimpresent crows that took a dislike to my mother, tormenting her. Obsessions with safety and crime – fearing the unknown and the shadowy. The proliferation of sex shops and porn. Gated communities that confine their inner horrors. Frail and papery elderly slowly expiring in those quiet villages. The lighting of candles and the making of wishes. Ballardian escapes and duels in hotted up cars at speed. Hidden sociopaths. Here the untied fictions of happy families are shredded by violence, fear, dysfunction, boredom and addiction. And an ocean of depression and damage that ulcerates souls. The strangeness of difference, felt as an encroachment or an assault. The brooding emptiness and broken waste of it all. Home invasions and a murder or two. A gripping feeling of dread. The surreal and darkly romantic apprehends the suburban, unsettling everyday life, the very idea of suburbia, exposing vulnerabilities, instability and weaknesses. Draws the suburban dream to the brink of dystopia and sinister innuendo.

Literatures and cinema, as does cultural theory, embrace this idea that “no matter how picturesque and peaceful a neighborhood, house or family may seem on the surface, dark and usually terrible secrets lie beneath, whether of a psychological, supernatural or familial nature.” My friend has a point. With so much hidden from view, our own story systems revere the creepy, disturbed, unsettled. There are other menacing and horrific stories emerging … the apocalyptic demise wrought of peak oil and climate change.

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Posted in: suburbia