Suburban Insecurities

Suburban Insecurities

By Daniel Paniagua

During the 1950s and by the 1960s, the American suburbs had already bloomed and expanded around every prosperous city and region. Middle-class white Americans were fleeing the city life, in exchange for a suburban life. These Americans were promised a quiet, modern, safe, and secure home outside of the city, but still close enough to commute. But there was a trade off with leaving the city life. The city life is fast paced and there is always something to see or do. The suburbs were the exact opposite. They were boring compared to the city. Nothing to do or see besides your neighbor and his lawn. This boring part of the suburban neighborhood opened up room for new technologies that would occupy and entertain the suburban family. Cars also became a necessity instead of a luxury, which caused a boom in the auto industry. Most importantly, everything became a competition with the neighbor.

Suburbia brought consumerism to a new level, and together they changed the American household. The household became a major target for all commercial markets. The most efficient ways companies and consumer goods targeted and grabbed attention of the suburban white middle class was through advertising. These advertisements were extremely effective,  as the economy of the 1950s and 1960s was an economy mostly based on consumerism and public spending. But what made these advertisements so effective? Why did Americans go on a spending spree? Who were these advertisements targeting? Many ads just show a simple product, but the message is sometimes much deeper. These advertisements target a much deeper, embedded human desire. They target people’s need to be noticed in a positive way. Much of this need is caused by insecurity. People were overcome with fear that if they did not appear as equal or better than their neighbors, they would be looked down on.

In The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and The Modern Home, Elaine Tyler May mentions the suburban ideal surrounding homeownership. May wrote, ” The family home would be the place where a man could display his success through the accumulation of consumer goods”(156). Success was now measured in consumer goods and nothing else. This is exactly what advertisements were targeting. The insecurity that if one didn’t acquire as many goods as their neighbor, they would not be able to appear successful or show off their success. In The Color of Money, Ted Steinberg talks about what the American lawn had transformed into. He discussed a theory that homeowners wanted a darker and greener a lawn because it showed more wealth, success, and status (77). This supports the fact that consumerism was attacking the insecurities of the suburban homeowner. Homeowners all had insecurities about wealth, success, and status, and the consumer market was exploiting that weakness.

Burgie Beer Advertisement. 1960’s. Courtesty of Adflip.com

This Burgie Beer advertisement is from the 1960s. It was originally from a Sports Illustrated Magazine. The picture shows a middle-class white suburban couple doing yard work. The message is clear: Bergie beer is refreshing and relaxing to drink. Both the man and woman seem to be enjoying doing the yard work. Not saying that it is impossible to enjoy yard work and maintaining a green lawn, but as evident in Ted Steinberg’s article, taking care of a suburban lawn become more of a chore. Many Americans grew frustrated spending so much money and time on a lawn that sometimes never grew properly. So why would someone advertise beer with a subject that often invokes frustration? Maybe it is because they know people don’t enjoy yard work, and they are selling an image of enjoyable work if you have a Burgie Beer. Or maybe the message is that after doing frustrating and tiring yard work, you deserve a cold refreshing and relaxing beer. The incentive here would be the beer as a reward for working. Whatever the message, they are using suburbia’s obsession with lawns to sell a product.

 

Admiral TV Advertisement. 1951. Courtesy of Library of Duke University.

This is an advertisement for Admiral TV. It is from 1951 and was originally published in The New Yorker Magazine. The TV grew popular with the suburban home for many reasons. In the city, entertainment was very close – in bars,clubs, parks, or even on the front porch. In the suburbs, there wasn’t any of this. Everything was too far away or not even established yet. The TV became one of  the sole sources of entertainment in the home. The slogan in this ad is “Built for the Future.” This, while appearing subtle, is extremely important. During the 1950s and 1960s Americans had an obsession with having modern and futuristic appliances. A modern and futuristic home was deemed the home of an ideal successful family. Elaine Tyler May mentions this various times. Nixon’s kitchen debate showed us that there was a great emphasis on modern appliances and owning the latest and greatest consumer product (May 155). This established the American ideal to be as modern as possible. Not owning a modern TV or kitchen appliance would put you below others; another insecurity which markets like this took clear advantage of.

 

Fiat Sports Car Advertisement. 1960’s. Courtesy of Adflip.com

This a car advertisement for Fiat from the 1960s. It was originally published in Road and Track magazine. This ad shows a sports car with the image of a good looking woman standing in front of the car. Here the car is being compared to the curves and beauty of a woman. The auto industry increased dramatically over the 1950s and 1960s due to suburbs becoming extremely popular. In the city, everything was within walking distance and a car was not as much a necessity as a luxury. When middle class Americans moved out of the city into the suburbs, the car became a necessity as most Americans now commuted to work. Everything in the suburbs was used to show your success: your house, your perfect lawn, and your nice sports car in the driveway. The car instantly became more than a necessity, and became a major way to show off your wealth. With this competition between neighbors in the suburbs, car manufacturers took complete advantage in order to sell as many cars as possible. But this ad could be targeting a different kind of insecurity: an inner insecurity. This insecurity comes in the form of a midlife crisis. Here, there is a chance Fiat may be targeting a midlife crisis epidemic. Moving out of the cities, many people felt like there was something missing. When children grew up and left, life outside of the city became boring and dull. Many people realized that their life in the suburbs was exactly that, boring and dull. That was the beginning of a midlife crisis mentality and it is often compensated with spending sprees on unpractical items, such as a sports car. This was something that was very common in a suburban home and the consumer market was targeting all those emotions and insecurities.

 

This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present.For additional information on the assignment, please visit:https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/the-concept-of-home-spring-2014-selling-home/

 

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One thought on “Suburban Insecurities

  1. Using the word insecurity in this post made you really understands a reader what the advertisements were doing during that time. The advertisements were to sell a product, of course, but also to sell a lifestyle. Like you state, people became dependent on the product to feel better about themselves and not to be looked down upon. After looking at old advertisements , then looking at modern ones, you can see the insecurity mentioned in this post still lives in the minds of consumers today.

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