It took the Kremlin until 1959 to realize how starved for things the nation was. In July of that year, Moscow’s Sokolniki Park hosted the American National Exhibition. …In just two week two million Russians had had their faces mashed into a perfect tableau of Yankee wealth. The Cadillacs, the TV dinners, the cosmetics, the denim! The free Pepsi! Most notoriously, there was that cutaway model of a suburban house (designed by the architect Andrew Geller), where Nixon and Khruschev stopped to spar in the famous “kitchen debates.” But the Americans didn’t just bring neat-o household gadgets. A dizzying array of names tagged along with the exhibit – Charles Eames, Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius. The country that had reduced all objects to pure function met the world’s foremost experts on form. It had nothing to show in return. …The utopia took a massive hit: It was hard to argue spiritual superiority against the whir of an electric dishwasher.
Right after I finished my last post, I picked up Michael Idov‘s Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design, which I’ve already talked about before, and found the above quote. Which, yeah, I just had to post.
The actual house that fuelled all that pent up Soviet desire has been standing in Commack, Long Island, for the past 52 years – a stunningly average home, given its impact on millions of Soviet citizens. But that’s the thing about the suburbs – they always do look so tame on the outside.
I got quite a few comments in response to my post about the suburbs, all from Soviet Jewish immigrants, and all living in the ‘burbs. I was (rightly) reminded that going through the extremes of Soviet hells isn’t the only reason to prefer the suburbs, though I still think that many immigrants come from areas of the world where the outside world represents varying degrees of danger – a fact which, in our ra-ra cities moment, we tend to overlook.
I also noticed that older commenters – the ones who’d actually decided to emigrate – were far more effusive in their defense of suburban life and their right to live as they please, far from the judging eyes of skinny downtown hipsters, than younger commenters who did most of their growing up in North America, and have found themselves moving back to the suburbs as they get older, largely because of money and family.
But take a look for yourselves, and if you’re in Toronto, make sure to come out to the ‘urbs vs. ‘burbs event tonight hosted by Ethnic Aisle.
I thought I’d also throw in this – a colour recording of Kruschev and Nixon, which opens with a bit of “backstage” nitpicking between the two leaders before they start their official conversation: