October 15, 2015

'80s flashback: Unraked lawns setting the mood for autumn (pictures)

I was going over this earlier post to see what more I could discuss about the changes in Halloween during the shift toward cocooning and helicopter parenting.

Digging through old Halloween pictures on Google Images, I was struck by how common it was to see outdoor scenes where the ground is blanketed by leaves. As in, nobody has taken a rake, broom, or leaf-blower outside in weeks or perhaps months. There were leaves all over the yard, the driveway, the sidewalk, and even the street.

Really, when was the last time you saw kids wading knee-deep through a big ol' leaf pile? Or diving out of a tree and into a mound of leaves? There used to be piles of leaves so high on the lawn that, at least for small children, your friend could hide buried underneath and try to scare you by popping up from them all of a sudden. Back in the '80s, kids didn't need the ball pit at McDonald's, they had huge piles of leaves right in their own yard.

As the cocooning mood has taken over, people have become more OCD. (See this earlier post for a discussion of the interrelated web of psychological dysfunction that stems from a cocooning zeitgeist.) When you're socially isolated, you can't rely on others to help you solve problems or cope with them if they aren't solvable. This leads to a focus on individual rituals that the isolated person feels will help them get through their problems and deal with anxiety.

One clear sign of our age's OCD is how immaculate the landscaping looks compared to 30 years ago. It looks like what we think of as the 1950s suburb. In between, everyone remembers the '70s as looking gritty, but that lasted through the '80s as well. Outside of urban areas, it wasn't even that gritty -- more like natural and a little unkempt, rather than compulsively manicured. (Related: Kant on English gardens vs. French gardens, or Steve Sailer on golf course design of the outgoing 1920s vs. the cocooning 1950s.)

Here's what the setting for Halloween looks like in recent years. Pretty leaf-free environment that these poor deprived children are growing up in.

(One thing you'll appreciate about the '80s Halloween pictures below is the lack of tweens dressed up as repulsive no-talent skags like Kesha.)

If you poke around Google Images for "trick or treat 201X," you can find occasional pictures with leaves, but they're usually staged for a professional photographer's shoot, or they're at a university campus. Most of the typical pictures of trick-or-treaters show lawns, sidewalks, and streets that still look like summer. It prevents us from getting in touch with the rhythm of the seasons.

Not so long ago, falling leaves were not blown out of sight five seconds after they hit the ground, so by the end of October there would be a romantic natural blanket of leaves everywhere outside. And they covered all areas of the ground -- lawn, driveway, sidewalk, and street -- just like a uniform blanket of fallen snow in winter. Streetscapes don't look nearly as romantically seasonal after the snow plows have driven through, and folks have shoveled their sidewalks and driveways. At least they leave the snow on their lawns undisturbed, unlike leaves.

There aren't tons of old Halloween pictures shot outdoors, but a good fraction of them show copious leaves all around. It creates a distinctly autumnal atmosphere that we don't allow ourselves to enjoy anymore. Aside from violating the OCD aesthetics, allowing leaves to pile up in high-traffic areas isn't very practical. But -- practical, schmactical. We need our fall-feeling just as much as we like waking up to a white Christmas.

These Halloween pictures from the '80s were taken throughout the decade, and don't show much change during the period. I could probably find similar pictures from the '70s and early '90s, but where's the nostalgia value in that?


  1. In buying a house, I consider the cleanliness and well-kept yards to be a positive indicator of a good neighborhood. As 1980's real estate sales guru Tommy Hopkins would say, "Well-kept yards indicates a neighborhood that shows pride of ownership". It is also a reliable indicator of the human capital of a neighborhood which, in turn, suggests a positive correlation with maintenance of the market value of the homes.

  2. Assuming your premise is correct, could this have anything to do with money? As I look at my family through the ages, we have steadily increased our standing in life. I grew up in a cape cod on the East Coast. Later we moved to larger homes. With a little extra money people tend to manicure their lawns and trim their bushes. In a $700k+ home, letting your leaves destroy the grass you've spent thousands to keep green would be really dumb. My theory is that as people earn more and move to nicer neighborhoods they have the leaves raked.

  3. If it were about wealth, then lawns in the 1950s should've looked far worse than those of the '80s, but they look prim and proper. And remember that we're looking at middle-class suburbs in the pictures here, so they ought to have had enough money to afford a rake and an hour or so of time every week.

    They also had available to them the new-fangled leaf-blower (I still can't stand those things), yet did not commonly adopt it until well into the '90s or 2000s.

    Ridding the yard of leaves only signals social capital when the norm is compulsively manicured lawns. When the norm is to allow things to grow more naturally, leave nature slightly unkempt, allow patina to form, and generally aim for a worn-in and lived-in atmosphere, then OCD yards would not signal social capital.

    Everyone pitched in back in the '70s and '80s to keep the entire neighborhood looking half-wild and back-to-nature. Making your yard look manicured, and preventing any signs of the changing seasons from showing, would have been counter to the prevailing norms.

  4. If people let their yards go to the extent that nature completely reclaimed human settlements, a la the ruins of Detroit, then sure it looks like there's no regard for stewardship.

    But when I look at these old pictures, I don't think "Geez, sure wish someone would clean up this dump." It doesn't look like nature is over-growing the built environment, or that there's a bunch of litter strewn all over the place. It looks like they're trying to re-create a familiar rural atmosphere within their unfamiliar concrete-and-asphalt suburbs -- and who can't identify with that?

  5. I'm always amazed at the connections you make between things, and how similar they are to mine. I haven't commented much lately, but thank you for all your posts. Keep up the great work, Agnostic.

    I agree with you here. I basically divide the more free-wheeling time between my time in Cincinnati until Nov. 93 and my time in SC thereafter. In Cincy, I remember lawns like this, and having our own lawn be this way until we raked the leaves x amount of time later. Truth be told, we did the same thing in SC, but we lived in a neighborhood with covenants and higher standards for such things, there. There was an old guy with a clipboard who would walk around the neighborhood making sure each house was in compliance. We called him the "Gestapo", lol. In general, the leaves were raked much quicker down there, post 92-93 change in society.

  6. Interesting post. I was initially confused. My first reaction was that raking (even hauling around a gasoline leaf blower) is a form of physical labor; how could that qualify as a sign of decadence or cocooning (which I understand to be staying indoors glued to commercial media and not spending time working/playing outdoors)? Well, I doubt the kids themselves contributed to the squeaky clean areas. I doubt that they helped pile the leaves on top of a giant trash bag cut open to act as a drag-mat, or that brother and sister took two corners of the drag-mat and helped drag the leaf pile to the compost heap. More likely the HOA hired a landscape crew composed of immigrant workers who appear in the morning with a legion of leaf blowers.

    "Really, when was the last time you saw kids wading knee-deep through a big ol' leaf pile?" — But leaf piles are a byproduct of raking, no? If they never raked in the good ol' days, then the leaves wouldn't be formed into piles. Whereas today's kids would seem to have the monopoly on leaf piles, right? But in actuality, some of the hired landscaping crews will actually dispose of the leaves by other means. We can't have unsightly piles marring the edges of lawnspace. I've also noticed in upscale neighborhoods that they will rake leaves into the street, as the city actually dispatches a vehicle specialized to the vacuuming of leaves.

    "With a little extra money people tend to manicure their lawns and trim their bushes. In a $700k+ home, letting your leaves destroy the grass you've spent thousands to keep green would be really dumb. My theory is that as people earn more and move to nicer neighborhoods they have the leaves raked." — I have noticed that in extreme upscale neighborhoods, i.e. semi-rural areas with stone mansions seated on large tracts of land with luxury cars parked on cobblestone driveways, the residents appear more amenable to allowing the leaves to accumulate. These lots tend to have more rugged natural features in general and might include areas of forest where the efforts toward refinement of nature are minimal. The residents might herbicide the poison ivy and remove certain foreign invasive species of plant, but otherwise they don't busy themselves on trimming every bush and planting grass on every square inch of ground. Perhaps there's a critical wealth point where it becomes socially acceptable to neglect landscape management, having other indicators of wealth to compensate.

    Or the difference could hinge on suburban vs rural? I was from a semi-rural area and had friends in the suburbs growing up. Their parents were driven to keep up with the Joneses, and their outdoor areas were more heavily manicured. They also tended to have more outdoor clutter in the form of artificial implements that had been placed there, in some cases on a permanent basis, but which took up a significant proportion of the available outdoor space, such as trampolines, above-ground pools/jacuzzis, outdoor grills, hammocks, slip 'n slides, etc. They may also have owned a full-size dog confined to a fenced-in backyard area that they almost never took on walks because they figured it got enough exercise within its little 18x27 ft^2 play area.

  7. "If they never raked in the good ol' days, then the leaves wouldn't be formed into piles."

    They did rake them, but it was only perhaps once a month, or once for the entire season. It was like harvest time, after letting the blanket of leaves accumulate for so long. So, once or twice during the season, the kids would have huge piles of leaves in their front yard to play around in. They had more opportunities to do so by visiting their friends.

    It wasn't an everyday sight to see kids wading through leaves. But on the rare occasions when they did rake up the leaves, it was hard to miss -- kids would be playing around in them all day long.

    It's similar to not seeing kids playing in the street with a fire hydrant gushing water. We've all seen pictures of that from awhile ago, some of us may have personal experiences, but you haven't seen that for at least 25 years, even in a pop culture depiction.

  8. "I've also noticed in upscale neighborhoods that they will rake leaves into the street, as the city actually dispatches a vehicle specialized to the vacuuming of leaves."

    A couple years ago, I looked into the history of those leaf-mobiles, and they didn't start until around 1990 or afterward. It's not really a new technology -- large industrial vacuum cleaner attached to a car / truck. So they could have invented and sent those things around in the '70s or '80s. But there wasn't much demand for such a thing. Indeed it would have spoiled the atmosphere!

  9. Bonus picture from the '70s (looks like '75 to '79):


    But then we already knew that lawns were more unkempt back in the '70s...

  10. "In Cincy, I remember lawns like this, and having our own lawn be this way until we raked the leaves x amount of time later."

    I wonder if there's geographical differences today in how much leaf-cover is allowed to develop. There seems to be an east-west difference, with more leaves back east -- and not just because there's more woodlands. Even in places out West that have trees in front yards, they're more OCD about blowing and bagging them ASAP.

    Colorado, Utah, Montana -- you'd think they'd be more rugged outdoors-y types, but remember that they're mostly transplants from some huge urban or suburban area. You can't expect folks to enjoy nature in their own neighborhood when they can't go camping without loading up on $5000 worth of cutting-edge technology beforehand.

    I'm not sure where exactly the boundary is -- Plains, eastern Midwest, etc. -- or if it gradually shades.

    I'm also not sure about the north-south difference. That picture I included with the brat dressed up as Kesha was shot in the Atlanta area, surrounded by the eastern woodlands, yet no leaves on the ground.

    My hunch is that leaf-cover is allowed or encouraged the most in the northeastern quarter of the country, with Tennessee and Maine being the opposite corners of the rectangle.

  11. Besides OCD, a big problem is that people just need to get a damn life. Before the later 90's people had better things to do than neatness compliance. How did people get by before they were pre-occupied with superficial signs of security and affluence, anyway? Just kidding.

    One really dumb thing I've seen is people raking up piles and then not collecting them for weeks. Great way to kill your grass. Leaf blowers are a headache. I see people use them on the regular part of their lawn and on their driveways. Why? Just rake 'em or suck 'em into a mower bag. A lot of blowers are gas powered. To think that people have died to defend the right of Americans to waste resources on the most frivolous nonsense.

    In terms of whether this fits into cocooning, maybe this sort of thing also happened in the mid century. But since trust and camaraderie was higher back then, I don't think people were as aggro about it back then as they are now. There's an insecurity here, like people are paranoid that they'll be outed as lazy or selfish if they don't put enough effort into cleaning. People also seem resentful of the possible effects of someone letting their yard go. In the Mayberry era, I'm sure people were more willing to just shrug their shoulders (or offer to pitch in) if a neighbor was dawdling. Whereas now there's more hostility. Which I'm sure is all the worse if you're stuck in a sea of aliens who sometimes don't even speak your language.

  12. The obsessiveness about clean yards also fuels professional landscaping business - business is booming for professional yard rakers(not kids who do it for 20 bucks) and professional mowers, not to mention traditional landscaping. Part of overproduction and status-striving.

  13. Mexican servants.

    The people I see using leaf blowers and carefully raking and bagging leaves are the Mexican help.

    It's rare to see the actual home-owners raking or blowing leaves. They are more likely to mow their lawns.

  14. Having a look around for 50s and pre-50s Halloween pics
    Midcentury, pre-50s:

    http://tinyurl.com/oe3g9u9, http://tinyurl.com/pryakqs, http://tinyurl.com/o26bvhe, http://tinyurl.com/q8m5lda, http://tinyurl.com/qjpnr7a

    http://tinyurl.com/o7ore27, http://tinyurl.com/o7bzosp, http://tinyurl.com/oqr4wny, http://tinyurl.com/nn7bkxl, http://tinyurl.com/osbz4rp, http://tinyurl.com/onq7s9k, http://tinyurl.com/pfcfrdu, http://tinyurl.com/op5phjm, http://tinyurl.com/ox7guaz

    Some of those pre-50s costumes for the Silent gen kids are pretty creepy... Not too cutesy or child friendly, all the time. It's all pretty homespun as well.

  15. Notice how the 1950s suburbs show leaf-free manicured lawns. The ones from before the '50s, and set in small towns or rural areas, have unmolested leaf cover.

    The '50s pictures also show more adult-supervised scenes, akin to those of today. Parading in daytime rather than at dusk, lots of parents or chaperons rather than one or none, children herded together rather than forming their own autonomous groups.

    It was an earlier phase of helicopter parenting, Dr. Spock, etc.

  16. "Mexican servants.

    The people I see using leaf blowers and carefully raking and bagging leaves are the Mexican help.

    It's rare to see the actual home-owners raking or blowing leaves. They are more likely to mow their lawns."

    Where do you live? Here in a mid(ish) level suburb of the Twin Cities (in Minnesota), the majority of owners do their own yard work (sometimes employing god forsaken leaf blowers). If you were able bodied and didn't do it, you'd be seen as lazy. And if you've got kids, put 'em to work.

    At most, outside help is used for fertilzing and weed/bug control. Or if heavy equipment is necessary for a task. But mundane yard work is self-performed, unless we're talking about the infirm or a handful of very rich areas.

    I guess the elites get so accustomed to seeing brown people do all the heavy lifting that they delude themselves into thinking that America would be brought to it's knees without Mexicans.

  17. People do their own yardwork in Ohio, too, and West Virginia.

    The Midwest and Appalachia are the only places that haven't had 50% of their native population replaced by foreigners, whether blacks in the Deep South long ago, Ellis Island people along the Bos-Wash corridor during the Gilded Age, or the whole third world during the past 30 years.

    They aren't as obsessed with status competition, including the elites, who are still expected to do their own yardwork or risk being perceived as soft wimps. So, there has been minimal demand for third worlders to flood in and carry out these and other menial tasks.

    On the other hand, the Midwestern elites have not been above sending manufacturing jobs to Mexico, China, etc.

    I don't know about you, but I prefer living in the Rust Belt rather than the diversity belt. Manufacturing jobs can be corralled back into the region, whereas sending back a replacement population may prove impossible -- not necessarily for the illegals, but for those who already have citizenship.

  18. I live in a suburb of Atlanta. (I do my own yard work and don't employ servants for any housework).

  19. Of the podcasts I listen to, the one's done by people still residing in places like Ohio and Kentucky are some of the more refreshing to listen to. People sound more relaxed and unpretentious. When you get uprooted and and bombarded with all kinds of alien/weird crap, it's gotta be stressful. But if you're blinded by ambition and ego you might not realize just what you're missing.

    Let's not forget either that striver heavy lineages are immediately dangerous to the strivers themselves (selecting for IQ and ambition for many generations wreaks havoc with biology). There's a reason so many Jews and inhabitants of sprawling striver towns end up gay.


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