Here’s What ‘You’ Got Right — and Wrong — About Living In Suburbia
Warning! Spoilers ahead for “You” season 3
Suburbs are often presented in pop culture as places where bright facades conceal the dark inner lives of the dwellers within. So, in some ways, Madre Linda is the perfect spot for Joe and Love to settle down, raise their family, and quickly fall back into their old sadistic patterns.
While rows of white picket fences and immaculate green lawns provide the perfect, eerie backdrop for Joe’s third act, just how accurate is the portrayal of the hellscape of wealthy American suburbs in “You?” Here are the things it gets right — and wrong — about suburbia.
Things it gets right:
Suburbia can have mean cliques and gossip. Madre Linda is a town where cliques rule supreme and gossip spreads like wildfire. As Natalie tells Love knowingly in the first episode, “Sherry Conrad is a terrible person who runs this town. Everyone has to find their way in Madre Linda.” Love replies, “You mean around Sherry and her mafia?”
But is this “Godfather” meets “Mean Girls” version of the ‘burbs all that accurate?
Julie Suratt, who writes for Boston Magazine, proves this to be true in an excerpt she wrote about moving to the suburbs — and the shockingly cliquey, isolating culture that can come with it. “It turns out that suburban life is dictated by the kind of tribal behavior I thought we’d grown out of: popular girls and their obsequious minions willing to do anything to fit in,” she wrote.
Sure, this isn’t the case for every single suburban community, but it does happen. And that’s where “You” strikes truthful gold.
There is often a strict athleisure dress code. When Love first meets Theo, the flirty “femgen” major from next door, he notes wryly, “You are new in town; they haven’t converted you to full-time athleisure yet.” In “You” suburbia, you’d be hard-pressed to go a single day without seeing a flock of women grabbing flat whites in athleisure. “You” suggests that this is the mandatory uniform for the contemporary suburban woman.
It seems that the costume department pretty much nailed it. According to Statista, the U.S. athleisure market was worth $105.1 billion in 2020 and continued to climb dramatically in 2021. Fancy yoga clothes are so popular, you can’t help but see them everywhere — especially in the suburbs.
As Kerry Folan wrote for the Chicago Tribune about her D.C. suburb, “Women in my neighborhood go about their entire day in yoga pants and running shoes. Moms with strollers, undergrads on campus, girlfriends meeting up for coffee dates or errands — I have even seen women dressed this way for cocktails.”
It seems as though the producers of “You” were not exaggerating.
Over-the-top community events can be the norm. The women of Madre Linda are compulsive hostesses. They always need a community project or event — a neighborhood search party for the missing local woman, W.O.M.B. (the Women Owning Motherhood and Business symposium), an elaborate “Alice in Wonderland”-themed fundraiser at the local library.
As a study conducted by the Pew Research Center showed, suburban residents are the most likely people to feel confident that they can make a “positive impact on their community.” You might be surprised to hear that after watching the residents of Madre Linda at work, though.
Things it gets wrong:
There’s no such thing as privacy in the suburbs. In the suburbs of “You,” there are cameras everywhere. As Natalie tells Joe, showing him the dozens of cameras on her own property, that “there’s no such thing as privacy in Madre Linda.” In fact, she tells Joe that the space under a broken camera in her backyard is “the only place in this entire town” where she doesn’t feel like she’s being watched.
In “You,” the suburbs are a place of mass and vigilant monitoring. However, while the modern world is increasingly filled with surveillance, the suburbans haven’t become quite this dystopian — yet.
Yes, more and more suburban dwellers are investing in CCTV security. As Wired and The Washington Post note, Amazon’s Ring camera doorbells are becoming hugely popular in the suburbs. However, the idea that you’re always being watched by your neighbors is a little far fetched. According to the 2019 U.S. Census, only 16 percent of suburban dwellers used private security cameras that year, while 25 percent planned to use one in the future.
Of course, while “You” gives viewers a bit of an unrealistic camera-heavy version of the suburbs, it could very well represent the future of suburban surveillance.
Suburbs are pretty diverse these days. In the version of suburbia in “You,” life may be privileged, cliquey, and dull, but it is diverse. The makeup of Madre Linda is surprisingly multicultural.
This portrayal of a diverse American suburbia, with no hint of racism, may be overly optimistic. In reality, many of the wealthier, conservative suburbs in America remain starkly whitewashed.
In the early 1900s in America, suburbs sprung up as a housing option for white, middle-class families. It was a mass movement out of large cities known as “White Flight.” And, as a 2015 study called the Kerner Report noted, the racial segregation of American suburbs has, for the most part, prevailed to this day.
While there is still much work to be done, experts have noted the suburbs have become more diverse over the last few decades. As R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, an Associate Professor of Sociology of Education at NYU, wrote in a 2017 paper, the suburbs “are now often more racially, ethnically, and economically diverse than their proximal central cities.” However, as he and fellow NYU professor Kimberley Johnson noted in their ongoing research of American suburbs, there are still plenty of problems with racial segregation — disparity in wealth distribution and school quality, among others — in what are considered ethnically diverse suburbs.
Seems like this is at least one way that Madre Linda is actually better than the real version of American suburbs.
Women in the suburbs are bored, dissatisfied housewives. As soon as you saw the season two finale of “You,” which showed Joe peering over the fence, leering at his new suburban neighbor, you probably guessed the direction the show would take: Joe would fall for (and probably murder) the bored housewife next door.
Like countless shows and movies before it, the third season of “You” dove headfirst into the age-old cliche of the bored, suburban housewife, first with Natalie, and then later with Love. The typical suburban wife, the series seems to suggest, is a stay-at-home mom who spends her days guzzling back wine, idly seeking out affairs, and resenting her boring husband.
In reality, this cliche isn’t entirely accurate. According to the U.S. Census, the percentage of married women with jobs has risen steadily since the 1950s, while the percentage of married women has dropped. In fact, there are now more married women with jobs than without. And as sociologist Rupa Huq writes in “Women on the Edge? Representations of the Post-War Suburban Woman in Popular Culture to the Present Day,” contemporary suburbia is “more than just the stomping ground of neurotic, bored, pill-popping housewives.”
Huq writes that TV shows and films should try to break away from the bored housewife cliche. It seems that the portrayal of the stay-at-home suburban housewife in “You” may be more than just a little outdated.