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The opening scene of David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet begins as a snapshot of the beatific suburban life to which many aspire—until the camera pushes deep underneath the well-manicured lawn and reveals a foundation of violence and mess, as beetles and other insects collide in the dirt. This chaotic display suggests that the above-ground trappings of the “suburban dream”—from white picket fences to the pristine homes they enclose—are no less disturbing.

Suburbia hasn’t always been treated with such suspicion. Historian Kenneth T. Jackson argued that the growth of suburban settlements—city-adjacent residential neighborhoods built with commuters in mind—was intended to create a new sense of self and family. “The new ideal was no longer to be part of a close community, but to have a self-contained unit, a private wonderland walled off from the rest of the world, ” he wrote in Crabgrass Frontier, his 1985 study of America’s suburban sprawl.

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Thirty-One

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