Public History Journal Entry 4: Funny Bits
Doing history at the local level is often tedious. Just today, I worked my way through an archive of old neighborhood association newsletters. Such publications are the definition of empty repetition unless you have a personal stake in the endless notices about the importance of not parking your car on your front lawn.
After all, the neighborhood association got that zoning ordinance passed, so they’ll be damned if they let their own members violate it. And on and on ad infinitum. Every year an annual Easter Egg hunt, every year another commemoration for the dead rich white guy the area was named after. But every once in awhile you get something that gets you to laugh for sheer antique absurdity.
Above is a yellow-paper flyer distributed with the neighborhood association periodical. It’s informing citizens to go to a zoning policy meeting to enact ordinances against installing arcade cabinets in certain businesses. Grievances include children “hanging out” and blocking sidewalks, rowdiness, and overall grunginess. Every thirty-to-fortysomething’s arcade nostalgia flipped through a dark mirror or paranoia.
Here the historical appeal is that arcade cabinets were at a liminal stage in American history. they were ubiquitous enough to spark the interest of the neighborhood association, and also just mysterious and new enough to make that interest entirely negative. Never underestimate the capacity of worried homeowners to overreact to “kids these days.”
Its humor stems both from the already-mentioned absurdity, particularly the over-hyphenated, hyperventilating spelling of video games as VIDEO-GAMES. It’s not exactly like reading Chaucer, but the humble line separating video from games ignites enough of a shock of recognition to get a laugh out of most people I show this to.
On a more serious note, or at least as serious as this bee-coloured bit of property value panic can get, we can see the typical role played by the post-1967 neighborhood association in social struggles. Because their funding and membership stems from homeowners and its political goals are all oriented around social harmony and, of course, property values, their relationships with youth, the police, and “disreputable” institutions all take certain predictable avenues. That its opposition to unsupervised youthful free time extended this far at one point is certainly telling––and, in hindsight, hilarious.