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Neighborhood of Fear

The Suburban Crisis in American Culture, 1975–2001

Kyle Riismandel

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How—haunted by the idea that their suburban homes were under siege—the second generation of suburban residents expanded spatial control and cultural authority through a strategy of productive victimization.

The explosive growth of American suburbs following World War II promised not only a new place to live but a new way of life, one away from the crime and crowds of the city. Yet, by the 1970s, the expected security of suburban life gave way to a sense of endangerment. Perceived, and sometimes material, threats from burglars, kidnappers, mallrats, toxic waste, and even the occult challenged…

How—haunted by the idea that their suburban homes were under siege—the second generation of suburban residents expanded spatial control and cultural authority through a strategy of productive victimization.

The explosive growth of American suburbs following World War II promised not only a new place to live but a new way of life, one away from the crime and crowds of the city. Yet, by the 1970s, the expected security of suburban life gave way to a sense of endangerment. Perceived, and sometimes material, threats from burglars, kidnappers, mallrats, toxic waste, and even the occult challenged assumptions about safe streets, pristine parks, and the sanctity of the home itself. In Neighborhood of Fear, Kyle Riismandel examines how suburbanites responded to this crisis by attempting to take control of the landscape and reaffirm their cultural authority.

An increasing sense of criminal and environmental threats, Riismandel explains, coincided with the rise of cable television, VCRs, Dungeons & Dragons, and video games, rendering the suburban household susceptible to moral corruption and physical danger. Terrified in almost equal measure by heavy metal music, the Love Canal disaster, and the supposed kidnapping epidemic implied by the abduction of Adam Walsh, residents installed alarm systems, patrolled neighborhoods, built gated communities, cried "Not in my backyard!," and set strict boundaries on behavior within their homes. Riismandel explains how this movement toward self-protection reaffirmed the primacy of suburban family values and expanded their parochial power while further marginalizing cities and communities of color, a process that facilitated and was facilitated by the politics of the Reagan revolution and New Right.

A novel look at how Americans imagined, traversed, and regulated suburban space in the last quarter of the twentieth century, Neighborhood of Fear shows how the preferences of the suburban middle class became central to the cultural values of the nation and fueled the continued growth of suburban political power.

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Neighborhood of Fear

Kyle Riismandel

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Reviews

[Neighborhood of Fear] stands out in its insistence on taking popular culture seriously. By examining suburban victim narratives, Riismandel reveals how some of the most privileged Americans have continually leveraged cultural power into political gain.

Riismandel's work is a meaningful contribution to the ever-expanding field of urban studies, providing a deep dive into the history of the modern suburbs and their integral role in shaping the political landscape of American culture.

Bringing together environmental and cultural concerns, Riismandel takes a very compelling approach. From The China Syndrome and home security systems to Dungeons & Dragons, his examples and evidence are original and creative.

Riismandel combines important ideas about the moral panics and culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s with insights into the relations among popular culture, news media attention, and actual conditions on the ground, making this an interdisciplinary book of cultural studies, suburban studies, and recent political history.

By expertly weaving together cultural, media, and policy analysis, Riismandel reveals the cultural logic undergirding such seemingly disparate issues as 'stranger danger,' satanic panics, and NIMBYism in the 1970s and 1980s. This exciting and provocative book blows up the stereotype of the sitcom suburbs and helps us understand the world we live in today.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
256
ISBN
9781421439549
Illustration Description
14 figures
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Age of the Nimby: Environmental Hazard and Spatial Power on the Suburban Landscape
2. Neighborhood of Fear: Toxic Suburbia, Affective Practice, and the Invisible Prison
3.

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Age of the Nimby: Environmental Hazard and Spatial Power on the Suburban Landscape
2. Neighborhood of Fear: Toxic Suburbia, Affective Practice, and the Invisible Prison
3. "Fear Stalks the Streets": Home Security, Kidnapping, and the Making of the Carceral Suburb
4. Punks, Mallrats, and Out-of-Control Teenagers: Production and Regulation of Suburban Public Space
5. Parental Advisory—Explicit Content: Popular Occulture and (Re)Possessing the Suburban Home
Epilogue
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Kyle Riismandel

Kyle Riismandel is Associate Teaching Professor of History and the Director of the Graduate Program in American Studies at Rutgers-Newark University.
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