I Was a Teenage Suburbanite
by K. Miller

I am a suburbanite. Not only that, but I like it.

No self-respecting cynic would admit to liking the suburbs--and there’s just something about them that inspires cynicism. “Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them,” said Bill Vaughan. Bland, manufactured, average: lacking the chic of the city and the charm of the country, the sprawl P.J O’Rourke calls the “Mobius strip mall” supposedly represents everything that is wrong with American culture today.

Teenagers of the suburbs supposedly grow up sheltered, unable to survive on the city streets or in the middle of the forest, their senses dulled by the suburban monotony. Yet although many people who flee there live sheltered lives by choice, living in the suburbs does not necessarily mean one grows up living a cloistered existence. For many people, however, without poverty staring them in the face, they can pretend it does not exist. They learn to ignore problems rather than face the consequences, to turn their heads at the misfortune of others instead of reaching out to help. To be afraid, rather than be compassionate. The suburbs then act to augment this collective apathy. Yet the sickness lies not in the suburbs, but in the people who use them as an escape. For those able to use them to an advantage, the suburbs can provide a certain safety and continuity that allows the freedom to experiment--experimentation that inevitably leads to art.

Still, to the cynic, nothing represents cultural vacuousness more than the plastic and concrete of the suburbs. Everything about the suburbs seems cliché, stereotypical, unnatural, and presumably lacking the inherent randomness necessary for true art: the cul-de-sac lined with identical single family homes with Sears vinyl siding. A square of green lawn, carefully tended flowers, a basketball hoop, a minivan and an SUV in the driveway. Drive down the road a few miles and pass three McDonalds, five gas stations, two 7-11s, and a Starbucks. Their sense of culture limited to that found at the mall or on MTV, teenagers grow up dressing, sounding, and acting alike. Since they lack urban hipster cool, they compensate by shopping at stores like Urban Outfitters and listening to “urban music.” Yet there is culture to be found outside the city centers, and beauty beyond the bucolic settings of the countryside. Culture is not limited by city boundaries--wherever people go, art will follow, because although one might have to look a little deeper to find it, beauty exists everywhere. The culture of the suburbs incorporates environments urban and rural, as well as adding a unique element of its own.

Therefore this stereotype of suburbia and its inhabitants is only that: a stereotype. By growing up outside of Washington, DC, in Fairfax County, Virginia, in a stereotypical suburban neighborhood, I’ve learned the limits of those stereotypes, and how often they prove false. Though to those on the outside (looking at just my face, my name, my address) I may appear to, I don’t believe I fit the mold of a stereotypical teen, and I am glad. I enjoy reading The New Yorker, but pore over Rolling Stone just as eagerly. I enjoy dancing in classical ballets, but I just as easily cut loose at a rock concert. I act in theater, but I also play ice hockey.

While many teenagers reject this stereotype by rejecting the suburbs, this response is stereotypical in itself. Living in the suburbs and becoming aware of these reactions has given me the freedom of thought to reject any preconceived notions and to think for myself. I believe I prove that out of an environment of sameness, originality can exist and thrive.

K. Miller