Spigel (1992) correlates the strong ties between the population shift to the mass-produced suburb in the early 1950s and the introduction of Television; the new electrical space. She identifies the return to family values in a post WWII climate – where ideas of the American future were limitless & modernism and technology was increasing at a faster pace. The United States appeared to embrace a higher sense of community values – the suburbs were architecturally drawn to fuse indoor space and outdoor space by introducing larger concepts of glass interwoven with housing. The ‘Sliding Door’ and the ‘wall window’ were two architectural features that blurred the lines between private space and public space.
- The social climate of the 1950’s held the ideal that due to a shortage of housing in the overcrowding cities, the suburban way of life was a cleaner, more traditional and domestic lifestyle where families could shelter their nests from the sinful debauchery of the cities populated by the social pollutants of the Coloured, the Homosexual, the Homeless and the Unmarried.
A short education video from the 50’s showing the danger of the worst kind of threat for the new suburbia:
The mask of this suburban social utopia inevitably burdened its inhabitants with the responsibility of upholding these marketed values of a modern, wholesome lifestyle. Symbols of this era have certainly echoed into the 21st century and have become a pinnacle of style in fashion, and domestic living.
Just over twenty years after the birth of this utopian epoch, director Bryan Forbes created ‘The Stepford Wives’ (1975) which became a noted commentary to the impossibility of upholding this perfect ideal of living by revealing the central protagonists – the ‘perfect’ wives of the quiet neighbourhood of Stepford to be robots. The fact that they were inhuman made a strong suggestion that these expectations of a perfect capitalist society where internal problems were ignored and swept under the rug were simply unrealistic even to robots themselves.
The electric space that is central to Spigel’s essay is delivered by the Television and its ability to transport its suburban viewer to far corners of society and the globe. This technology essentially created strong segregative distance between these social pollutants and themselves fuelling the community’s voyeristing sensibility.
We see examples of this in the highly successful ABC dramedy: Desperate Housewives. While the show has its constant dark undercurrent of evil, it is always in reference to the threat of the ‘other’ – in this case, the new neighbours. In each of its seven seasons the show is patterned with a new neighbour or house guest who moves in on the street and almost is always received with scepticism by the other neighbours until the protective ‘instincts’ of the housewives are proved correct. These new neighbours are always secretive and sinister, under constant suspicion and are always the ‘threat’ of the show. Families, children and the wives themselves become threatened in one way or another and are on constant guard to protect ‘the street’ and their clean, morally sound way of life. The neighbour is thereafter pushed back out from the protective boundaries of the suburb and its antiseptic lifestyle after demonstrating some sort of crux in delivering a looming collapse of family/friendship stabilities. Desperate Housewives is a clear reaction to to both of those examples of 1950’s suburbia and Forbe’s The Stepford Wives, whereby the women use their manipulative skills to get what they want from their buffoon male ‘co-stars’.
Although not intentionally, Spigel’s analysis of electrical space of the Television in the suburban sphere can draw parallels with electrical space of the Internet. Spigel quotes from Mercury in 1846, Professor Alonzo Jackman’s utopian fantasy; who imagined “ a transcontinental telegraph line through which all inhabitants of the earth would be brought into one intellectual neighbourhood and be at the same time perfectly freed from these contaminants which might under other circumstances be received”. The internet space has certainly satiated our desires for a voyeuristic society, allowing its users to peer into eachother’s digital backyards from the comfort of our own homes. Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village might as well be our own neighbourhoods, for it s quicker to find out gossip from your neighbour via the computer these days than walking over for a large, useless cup of sugar.