L'OBSESSION ACCESSION À LA PROPRIÉTÉ
heThe story starts with a gothic mansion, all stone turrets and peaked windows, a fortress-like structure. The camera descends from a dark swirling sky to a full moon to finally frame the mansion. A male voice narrates Shirley Jackson’s famous opening lines from her 1959 gothic novel, The Haunting of Hill House: “Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut,” he reads. We are told, from the moment we start the show, that this is a story about a house. And we are told that, while the house is sinister, it does have good bones.
As the seconds pass, we move indoors. Children sit awake in their beds, children wander the halls, and a father in respectable blue pajamas comes to comfort his crying, ghost-touched daughter. “How long do we have to live here, Daddy?” she asks. “Well, your mother and I have to finish fixing this house, and then someone has to buy it,” he replies. “Then we can go?” she asks. Then, he says, they can go.
The 2018 Netflix recreation of The Haunting of Hill House isn’t just a reinterpretation of Jackson’s novel; it’s also part of a long tradition of American homeownership horror stories. These stories begin with a place. The place is bad, uncanny in a Freudian sense (the Austrian psychoanalyst’s word for the uncanny was unheimlich, which literally translates to un-home-like), but the place is also beautiful. In Rosemary’s Baby, American Horror Story, Dream House, Sinister, a lovely old structure, built with care and architectural flourishes—not to mention good bones—turns out to be a living nightmare. Often, the movie centers around a young couple or a young family. They quickly become trapped. The price was a trick. People don’t own the house. The house owns them. Like mold, it gets inside the unwitting buyers. It seeps into their lungs, their dreams, their bodies and minds, permeating everything.
There are two different tales we tell ourselves about houses. The primary story is not about ghosts or demons or red rooms or ghouls, but rather about bright futures, long lives, children, grandchildren, and hard-earned success. The second story, the darker story, is about the horror of being trapped. Throughout American history, these stories have existed side by side. For people with the resources to buy in, one once felt more “real” than the other, but as we learned after the real estate crash of 2008, there’s truth to be found in both of them, especially for members of the cash-poor, dream-rich millennial generation.
Netflix’s iteration of The Haunting of Hill House is set in the 1990s. During this era, the primary power of homeownership was, in the words of then-President Bill Clinton, that it “strengthens families and stabilizes communities.” In a 1994 letter to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, Clinton emphasized his belief that homeownership was good for individuals, communities, the economy, and the nation. The following year, he released his National Homeownership Strategy, and at the ceremony announcing the plan, he called it a “big deal.” He said, “This is about more than money and sticks and boards and windows. This is about the way we live as a people and what kind of society we’re going to have.” Homeownership, according to conventional wisdom, was a path to a more stable, equitable future. It was emblematic of the American dream, the idea that, with enough hard work and honest labor, anyone could rise to the top. Anyone could own a four-bedroom brick house on a suburban backstreet with a tidy front lawn and a big yellow dog. Anyone could be successful. Anyone could be a CEO, a rock star, a president.
Bien entendu, l'essentiel de cette équation était, dès le début, un fantasme - une métaphore tout autant que le fantôme surnaturel qui piège les acheteurs sans méfiance dans ses cycles de souffrance. Mais si les histoires de fantômes représentent les choses non dites que nous redoutons le plus (chaos, abus, sexe, mort, amour), le mythe du rêve américain représente ce que nous disons à haute voix, la version de nous-même que nous projetons dans le monde. En tant qu'Américains, nous voulons croire en la méritocratie, même si l' écart entre les résultats scolaires augmente régulièrement depuis les années 1970. Nous voulons croire que tous les citoyens peuvent accéder à la propriété, même si les taux d'accession à la propriété ont récemment chuté exclusivement parmi les Afro-Américains.. Nous voulons croire que les personnes qui réussissent réussissent parce qu’elles méritent ou sont choisies par Dieu, non pas parce qu’elles ont hérité d’énormes sommes d’argent, une richesse souvent construite à partir de l’exploitation et de l’oppression. Les fantômes nous permettent de parler de vérités non dites; le rêve américain nous donne un cadre solide sur lequel nous pouvons suspendre des mensonges fragiles.