Sometimes a character actor gets to play the lead – as when Guy Kibbe played Babbitt in the 1934 film version (alongside another great supporting player, Aline MacMahon). The good people at TCM have a couple of short clips up, and in the “Entering Zenith” clip, there’s a wonderful shot of the billboard that advertises Floral Heights, the development where the Babbitt family has a house, but not a home:

Babbitt Floral Heights billboard

Most of my forthcoming article in Journal of Language, Literature and Culture wants to reclaim Babbittry as a relationship to urban and suburban space (Babbitt pays attention to his surroundings in transit, and paying attention during transit means that you end up seeing things like poor people. This attention disappears in post-war suburban narratives, more or less.) but when I see the casual racism I cringe. As carefully as I stake out my reclamation project, it’s shit like the Floral Heights billboard – a fairly paint-by-numbers bit of set dressing – that makes me say “oh lord I hope I was clear about only wanting to reclaim this narrow strip of Babbittry.”

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