What is the main argument of the video?
The 2004 documentary The End of Suburbia (1950-2000) (directed by Gregory Greene) promotes the idea that a ‘good living’ for most people in America will soon come to an end. The reason for this is that the American economy is about to experience an acute shortage of natural gas and oil, which in turn will render it unfeasible to maintain the country’s interstate highway system – hence, bringing about the death of ‘American suburbia’, as we know it.
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Summarize the video from start to finish
Just as is the case with the earlier analyzed video, there is no strongly defined structural pattern to how the creators of The End of Suburbia (1950-2000) go about validating the film’s main claims. Nevertheless, it is still possible to identify three sub-sequential ‘clusters of meaning’ within the documentary’s semiotic content.
In the beginning, the film provides viewers with insight into the actual state of affairs in the energy sector of the global economy. According to the interviewed experts in the field (such as Matthew Simmons, Howard Kunstler, and Michael Ruppert), the reason why there is a large ‘middle class’ in America is that the Federal government can keep the interstate highway system heavily subsidized – something that is in turn made possible by keeping the oil-price down.
After this, the documentary’s focus changes – viewers are being told that it is only a matter of very short time before the mentioned natural resources begin to come in short supply in this country. When this happens, the infrastructural integrity of ‘American suburbia’ will be effectively destroyed – the scenario that may well disintegrate the US due to the sheer intensity of the would-be associated social tensions.
The film’s third part is concerned with trying to convince viewers that they would be much better off beginning to prepare for the eventual ‘death of suburbia’ and whatever follows next. Among the provided recommendations, in this respect, can be mentioned:
- Americans should consider becoming skilled in more than just one professional domain.
- Americans must learn how to keep their consumerist instincts under control.
- Americans should become accustomed to the idea that they will soon be required to switch to alternative sources of energy.
Does the video give time to opposing viewpoints? If so, are opposing viewpoints treated in an equal manner? Why or why not?
The End of Suburbia (1950-2000) does mention what accounts for the opposing viewpoints. However, the film does this not so much to introduce viewers to them, as much as to ridicule these viewpoints as absolutely arrogant: “(According to the opposing point of view) the world has always been stable, there is very little danger to us… we (Americans) will probably prevail, and our so-called economy will just keep on chugging along no matter what”.1
It is, understood, of course, that this adds to the film’s rhetorical value rather substantially, in the sense of increasing the measure of its discursive persuasiveness. In this respect, the documentary’s director must be given credit for having succeeded in ensuring that there is indeed much emotional appeal to just about every argumentative claim, contained at The End of Suburbia (1950-2000). It appears that there is indeed very little rationale in the opposing viewpoints, for them to be dignified in the film any more than have been.
How does the documentarian use sounds, video, images, camera movements, etc. to convey their message?
One of the most notable aspects of this particular documentary is that it features some elements of the formalist/expressionist editing in films. The validity of this suggestion is best illustrated regarding the prolonged takes (with some of them black-and-white) of the interstate highways jammed with traffic, to which viewers are being exposed continuously, throughout the film. The presence of these takes suggests that, along with trying to persuade viewers to accept his point of view rationally, the director has also applied much effort into making sure that the promoted message, on his part, would be fully consistent with the viewing audience’s unconscious anxieties.
How does this video strengthen or undermine what we have discussed or read in class?
There can be only a few doubts that The End of Suburbia (1950-2000) does undermine the very notion of the ‘American Dream’, reflective of the irrational assumption that there can be no other purpose to one’s existence, but to consume products and services 24/7, as something that has the value of a ‘thing in itself’.
This simply could not be otherwise, because according to the documentary, if Americans continue to remain enslaved by their consumerist longings, the day will come when the American society collapses just like a stack of cards – at least in the infrastructural sense of this word. As one of the interviewed guests pointed out: “Normal for us (Americans) is using immense amounts of electricity, gas, and oil… normal is consuming like there is no tomorrow. At some point, we will discover that this normal way of life has come to an end”.2
Ironically enough, the director’s decision to treat viewers in an intellectually honest manner can also be referred to as the documentary’s main weakness. A dog that begins to bark in the middle of the night is most likely to end up with a shoe thrown at it by the sleeping owners, as their first reaction – even if the poor animal is merely trying to tell them that their house is on fire. The appreciation will come much later. The same can be said about The End of Suburbia (1950-2000) – it will still take some time for Americans to grow fully appreciative of the messages that this film conveys. However, there can be only a few doubts that such a development will indeed take place eventually – the sooner, the better.
Explain why the video was or was not engaging? Also, explain why the video was or was not educationally valuable?
Nevertheless, for as long as the general viewing audience is being concerned, Green’s film cannot be considered very engaging. Had the director used some celebrities instead of the featured experts to promote his point of view, it would have helped significantly, in this respect. Neither can we refer to The End of Suburbia (1950-2000) as such that represents a particularly high educational value? The reason for this is that many of the documentary’s supposedly factious claims are strongly speculative.
Often when a film ends it leaves you with more questions than answers. Write down two questions you would have liked answered after watching the film.
My two questions are: Does the American government’s current policy of trying to destabilize the Middle East (under the pretext of promoting ‘democracy’) have anything to do with the expected depletion of natural gas and oil? Should I buy a large quantity of gas and store it, before gas-prices begin to skyrocket?
The End of Suburbia. “The End of Suburbia.” YouTube video. 2006. Web.
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- The End of Suburbia. “The End of Suburbia.” YouTube video. 2006. Web.
- The End of Suburbia.