In a recent posting on this site, we wrote of being informed, entertained and inspired by Miles Orvell’s, The Death and Life of Main Street: Small Towns in American Memory, Space, and Community (2012, The University of North Carolina Press). These inspiration triggered a number of follow-up postings based on themes raised by Orvell. This is one of those postings.
Please note that the term “Main Street” is most referred to, it refers not just to Main Street sections of a community, but also to “The Road” (places beyond the interstate and off the beaten path, community, neighborhood and small town. These terms are not the same but my discussions and thoughts find themselves at the intersection of these terms and their influences.
Main Street is, of course, a physical thoroughfare. It also is the brick and mortar of the commerce that lines the street.
At the same time, Maine Street is also something much more. It is an idea, a vision – something that resonates and connects with folks, many of whom often have very little regular interaction with a Main Street or its activities. It seems that for many who shop at the mall, their heart still remains on Main Street.
To many of my generation this emotional connection is understandable.Afterall, we grew up connected to a television set showing, first in black and white, and then in color a steady diet of images from Main Street and the Heatland during our formative years and what is now widely described as “The Golden Age of Television”.
From the Real McCoys, and Lassie through the Cleaver Family (Leave It to Beaver), the Andersons (Father Knows Best), Donna Reed and Andy Griffith, many of us felt like we actually were in Mayberry and other similar TV small towns.
Charles Kuralt and other “on the road” types helped reinforce the allure of “the road” and small town life.
And, national network news of an earlier time presented these stories to make us feel that we were all part of a larger whole.
As a result, this is probably the last generation that grew attached to such an extent to an image of who we were and what we were about. Even to those who sadly were denied equal access, there was a desire to connect nonetheless.
Years and thousands of miles later, we have come to appreciate that as different as we all were, we, nonetheless, came to find that we were not just connected to this popular culture but to one another.
This popular culture carved from American traditions and mass media have provided a common knowledge and attachment to signs and symbols shared.
As Orville said,
“To the extent that we participate in a society dominated by mass media there are familiar and universal symbols that we all understand, even if we do not share the values they imply, such as “Santa Claus” or “cowboys” or “television”. Main Street” is one of those shared symbols, and to live in the United States and not know the meaning of Main Street is impossible. To that extent, there is a commonality of knowledge, though not necessarily of values”.
Even those who loathed Mayberry knew what it was all about.
We think there is more to America and to Main Street than Mayberry. And, we love all there is to see.
But, fan or not, the connection of Main Street to the American spirit is indisputable.
“Main Street is a metaphor for that shared knowledge of a common culture despite the enormous homogeneity and difference that also characterize American society. For we often assume, in emphasizing difference, that there is nothing at all held in common to the extent that Americans share a place, we share an idiom, and that idiom includes the notion of “Main Street”
As Orville opined, “We need to understand the strength and meanings of these connections if we’re are to come to appreciate its continuing power to influence the shape of American and society and culture”.Share