Under Siege: The Discursive Production of Embattled Suburbs and Empowered Suburbanites in America, 1976-1992 Open Access
My dissertation details a new era of American suburban life marked by endangerment, defense, and empowerment. In the period from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s, real events, news media narratives, and popular culture representations associated suburban life and space with endemic hazards eclipsing previous notions of suburban safety and security. In doing so, it proposes a new periodization of postwar suburban history. The first era encompasses the suburb of the 1950s and 60s magazines and sitcoms associated with consumerism and conformity. The second is the era of productive victimization detailed in this dissertation. In that era, I argue environmental hazards, violent crime, transgressive teens in public space, and explicit, even Satanic, popular culture superseded older, more explicitly political suburban threats such as taxation and racial integration. These emerging threats not only changed the central connotations of suburban life but also enabled suburbanites to increase their local regulatory power. Whether more closely regulating the use of public land through Nimby protests or more strictly vetting the popular culture products that came in the front door of their homes, suburbanites mobilized their presumed victimization to protect and expand their local power and privilege. To make this argument, I analyze of a wide range of texts, practices, and real events to demonstrate the complex ways in which they produced American suburbs and facilitated new practices. For example, popular texts like 1979 film The China Syndrome are analyzed alongside the real accident at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, its news media coverage, and the actions of suburban Nimbys protesting plants in their neighborhood to show how they worked together to associate suburbs with new, legitimate threats encouraging defensive actions that facilitated expansions of suburbanites' regulatory power. My dissertation, then, upsets the notion of a fixed suburban identity in the second half of the 20th century. It suggests, instead, the American suburb was a an historically contingent category of knowledge and space fully imbricated in the increasingly media saturated world of postwar America.
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