This little YouTube gem is a 1950s time capsule in more ways than I can count, and surely in still more ways that I’m missing; but in particular, I feel it is the distilled essence of a certain generation’s negative view of cities and urban life. I don’t mean this disdainfully, and, of course, to impute any opinion to an entire generation of people is to grossly over-generalize and over-simplify. Subject to those caveats, I think anyone who’s been to lots of public events relating to transit or urbanism will have observed the same rough correlation between age and opinions on such matters as I have.
It’s easy for those of us who live in dense, walkable, clean, almost absurdly safe neighborhoods, to forget that cities in the decades prior to this film were in fact dirty, dangerous, cacophonous, claustrophobic places where I, for one, would not have wanted to live; and so there is much truth in this cartoon. Mass media reflects and amplifies popular opinion, itself grounded in commonplace experiences of life, here boiled down to cartoon form, but it also shapes opinion. Did the people who designed and built freeways in the 1950s and 60s regard this film as an indictment of urban life, or a cautionary tale about urban sprawl destroying the bucolic idyll it sets out to make available to the masses?
I’m fascinated by this intersection of policy and culture. People my age and younger grew up in youth culture where the “thoughtful” content was (and is) steeped in a rejection of the reigning oil- and plastic-based throw-away consumerism. Films like Wall·E* and The Lorax are virtually undisguised send-ups of those aspects of contemporary society, boiled down to a seemingly-innocuous cartoon form. How will those films affect the beliefs of the people who grow up watching them? Is the widespread abandonment of walkable urban life a historical aberration, or is it the new normal (at least until we are forced by external constraints to abandon the abandonment)? What will be the strange zeitgeist artefact, the Little House, of 2072?
This is an open thread.
* Funnily enough, I saw Wall·E in a drive-in theater.