Empire on Lenin - The 'burbs

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 11 11:00:26 MST 2001

>What are the political implications of this problem? In other words, how do
>you mobilize people and organize when they got to drive everywhere and live
>1-3 hours from the major city centers?  I think a ton of practical problems
>emerge that no one I know of has begun to address.
>I was wondering if there are any good books on this issue.  If not, I'll
>write one some day.  Someone contact Verso for me.



CALL IT HOME is a laserdisc history of suburbia from 1934-1960. It collects
55 minutes of running footage from government, industrial and educational
films with 3000 stills from related official and ephemeral documents. The
disc explores the hyper-capitalistic partnership between the federal
government and private enterprise in the 30's wherein suburban residential
fabric became a currency, an economic indicator, and major U.S. industry
not unlike the automobile. In an exaggerated version of the long-standing
American tradition of abstracting something as specific as land into a
generic product, this period produced not only the assembly line house, but
the assembly-line site. The material attempts to complicate the typically
amnesic perception of suburbia as a mid-twentieth century tract house
phenomenon, resetting the beginning of this trend in the thirties and
looking at the many waves of suburban growth which this more recent chapter

Long before the G.I.'s returned, the Depression had created a housing
emergency. The federal government fashioned suburbia into a flagship
industry, hoping to increase demand for jobs, materials and mortgages.
Houses and lots were designed in the marketplace shaped by new mortgage
formulas and traffic calculations, the demands of the home-building
industry and the dictates of federal agencies like the Federal Housing
Administration. The home-building industry became a monolith that leveled
the previous diversity in residential development. Ephemeral period
evidence helps to demonstrate why the new residential fabric was calibrated
as it was and why it has had such a peculiar neutralizing effect on all its

Films and stills on the disc successively yield the floor to various
speakers, replaying the persuasions of the federal government, the planners
and designers, the home-building industry, the Realtor, the mortgage
banker, the appliance salesmen and stylists, and, intermittently, the home
buying couple. The movement was fueled by a giant publicity campaign in
which each industry advocated the primacy of its sponsored agenda,
enlisting both tradition and modernity and privileging home ownership as a
nostalgic, patriotic, or progressive cause. More than any of America's
suburbs, this new experiment, in the end, became the product of its prime
agenda; a negotiation of property and consumption.

While the film clips are not available on line, CALL IT HOME on Mosaic is a
dense encapsulation of stills from the disc providing documentation of a
major shift in programming housing, land and infrastructure from 1934-1960.
It traces the change from an urban America with a diversity of housing
arrangements to a suburban America based on generic templates. The
collection contains among other things, evidence about prefabrication,
infrastructure, financing, Federal direction and private industry response.
A list set of images is linked to instructional commentary as well as a
chronology sprinkled with quotes from critical voices of the period.

Louis Proyect
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