Stepford Suburbia

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

    "Everyone needs a perfect little house in suburbia..."


    It looks like domestic bliss, but it feels awful.

    —stage direction, Trouble in Tahiti

    Ah, Suburbia: the sunny lanes, the friendly neighbours, the smiling children, the pastel colour scheme, the rotting skeletons hiding in everyone's closet.

    When they are too perfect to be true, the suburbs of The Fifties and the present can be downright creepy. Mom baking fresh apple pies every day, the kids getting A's in every subject on their report card, neighbours who grin like their teeth are wired open... there's something unsettling about it.

    This is a Town with a Dark Secret, with the added twist that the Dark Secret is hidden in this "idyllic" neighbourhood. The Trope Namer is, of course The Stepford Wives, a thoroughly creepifying book about such a town.

    Stepford Suburbia is the sister-city to the Uncanny Village, and both are located in the Crap Saccharine World. Its residents include angsty teens, The Beautiful Elite and, of course, the Stepford Smiler.

    Examples of Stepford Suburbia include:

    Anime and Manga

    • The homeland of Kino of Kino's Journey was one of these. Adults were all quite pleased and always smiling, happy to do their jobs. This turns out to be because when children turn twelve years old they go to the hospital and have an operation that changes their brains to think this way. It also seems to cause homicidal tendencies when someone questions this, as Kino herself is nearly killed for hesitantly asking if she could not have it. Things get particularly creepy when a man is stabbed and the town's residents cheerfully start trying to pull the knife out of him.
    • The surface world in Texhnolyze. Everything is picture-perfect cross of early 20th century aesthetics and high technology, but everything is slightly too perfect: birdsong is heard all around, but no birds are visible, the roads are too straight and buildings too perfect - almost like setpieces in a giant miniature railroad display - and flowers wither from the slightest touch. The people who call themselves Theonormals eliminated all aggression from their ranks by exiling everybody with genetic tendency towards violence into the underground city of Lukuss, but in result they've degenerated into living dead who barely seem real, flickering like ghostly shadows due to some unknown technology at their disposal, and don't care about anything, even their own life or death.
    • Soil New Town: everything is neat and clean, the residents' flowers are oh so perfect, and the everyone is so nice and normal. The town council president is obsessed with maintaining its purity from "foreign organisms" like recent newcomers and possible interdimensional con artists the Suzushiro family. Privately he admits he too is a "foreign organism" what with the obsession and the secret video cameras, blackmail, and raping every boy in town thanks to being a dentist with laughing gas.

    Comic Books

    • An issue of Shade the Changing Man featured a Stepford Suburbia run by a man who had created a madness-powered machine that turned people "normal".[1] He started as a Heteronormative Crusader with mild racism and an inability to understand young people, but as his madness increased, his definition of "normal" grew even narrower ("You take milk in your coffee, right, Joe?")


    • The Stepford Wives. (Trope Namer)
    • The town in Edward Scissorhands (shown above) was very much the creepy little 1950-'60s town.
    • The town mock-up Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
    • Hot Fuzz is a British example.
      • Although it's not as much a suburb as it is an actual (european) village.
    • The eerily monochrome suburb of Pleasantville would certainly fit.
    • The Chicago neighborhood in Stir of Echoes qualifies, in a comfortable, scruffy, working-class way.
    • American Beauty.
    • Seahaven, in The Truman Show.
    • Revolutionary Road.
    • Rebel Without a Cause was set in an idyllic American Dream suburbia filled with dysfunction and neuroses - and it was made during the Fifties.
    • The film Happiness, oh dear lord, Happiness.
    • Played with in Disturbia. The neighborhood looks normal and sunny and happy, but a good pair of binoculars can reveal that the children next door are secretly watching porn, the man across the road is having an affair with his maid, and the quiet next-door neighbor is a serial killer with several rooms of his house designed to accommodate this...unusual habit.
    • The Graduate is, in many ways, about Ben and Elaine trying to escape this.
    • Downloading Nancy, though it may have been skewed by the protagonist's bleak outlook.
    • The films of Todd Solondz feature this. He uses deceivingly peaceful and idealistic settings to hide the fact that the worlds are exceedingly grim places.
    • Blue Velvet
    • Fido is set in an idyllic 50's community... Which just happens to employ zombies for menial labor.
    • In The Cat in the Hat live action film, the kids' neighboorhood could be described as this.
    • In Targets, Vietnam vet Bobby Thompson's empty existence in one of these is what finally sends him on a shooting spree.
    • Camelot Gardens, the gated community in Lawn Dogs.
    • The relatively obscure 1989 film Parents is set in lovely '50s suburbia... and centers around a boy who's beginning to wonder where his parents buy all the meat they cook.


    • Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear opens in one of these, where creatures from cautionary tales, such as monsters under the bed, really exist to keep the kids in line.
    • Camazotz from A Wrinkle in Time appears to be an entire planet of Stepford Suburbia. Controlled by a disembodied brain.
    • "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin is about a town where everyone's happiness is Powered by a Forsaken Child - literally.
    • Waverton in the story of the same name. In this case, everyone in the neighborhood is a cannibal. But the new couple in town doesn't know that.
    • Candor by Pam Bachorz is about a town that uses subliminal messages to create its Stepford Suburbia—especially creepy in the teens, who love their SAT study parties a bit too much for comfort. The town was planned by the protagonist's father as a way to have a perfect world after his other son died.
    • The town of Joyful Travail in Revenant, although it's run in a far more coldly efficient fashion than most examples of this trope.
    • Rosewood in Pretty Little Liars.
    • Little Whinging, or at least the neighborhood roundabout Privet Drive, in the Harry Potter series, at least if the Dursleys are typical residents, which seems likely since the neighbors are apparently "the sort of people who thought scruffiness ought to be punishable by law." The Dursleys' attempts to appear as normal (read: boring) as possible are Played for Laughs and, of course, complicated by the fact that Harry is secretly a wizard.
      • This is played with in the films, where Privet Drive residents live precisely identical houses, and all drive exactly the same car.
      • Possibly the whole town since Harry came and went from the same house as pampered Dudley, scrawny and bruised and dressed in rags, and no one did anything. At least, anything successful enough for Harry to know about it. This is sometimes blamed on Dumbledore.
    • Parodied in a Doctor Who short story, where the Doctor insists the true horror of suburbia is that there aren't sinister secrets behind the net curtains - it really is that boring.
    • The eponymous town in the novel Tangerine is like this, to the extent that early in the story you start expecting mind-sucking aliens or an ancient curse or something. People are struck by lightning and part of the middle school is sucked into hell a natural sinkhole, and the viewpoint character's path to confronting this in the town and in his family forms the backbone of the story.
    • From The Regulators, we have Poplar Street in Wentworth, Ohio. Stephen King spends the first 5 or 6 pages of the novel practically gushing over its all-American normalness with narration so upbeat it's almost manic. And then everything goes straight to hell, in typical King style.

    Live Action TV

    • Desperate Housewives' Wisteria Lane.
    • The first episode of the recent Twilight Zone revival, where troublesome teens were turned into fertilizer to maintain idyllic family harmony.
      • The original Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" and its remake in the UPN series are examples of this trope and a deconstruction of it. Each version of this classic ends with the same twist, but two very different antagonists.
    • The X Files episode "Arcadia".
    • The hell dimension in the Angel episode "Underneath" invoked this trope. Lindsey is condemned with no memory in a cheerful, happy suburban home with a loving wife and son. The cellar of the house is a medieval torture cell where a monstrous demon cuts out his heart every night. When they try to escape, the wife, son, and postman pull out submachine guns and start firing. Gunn later describes the worst of it being the buried knowledge that the the happy facade concealed horrors without ever being able to know what they were. Angel, who had his son's memories wiped and placed him with a happy, suburban family to conceal the horrors of his past, is silently but noticeably troubled by the description.
    • Cabot Cove, Maine, home of Jessica Fletcher and setting of Murder, She Wrote. If you were to crunch the numbers, you'd find that about 2% of its residents died as a result of homicide, and if a city like London had the same murder rate as Cabot Cove, London would have about 14,830 murders per year. One episode suggested the town was, indeed cursed, as its founder was murdered by his wife in a murder-suicide.
    • Agrestic in Weeds. The reason why the Theme Tune is "Little Boxes" (see below).
    • The Riches
    • An episode of Bones featured a cul-de-sac which appeared idyllic but was actually filled with "ennui", affairs and feuding neighbors.
      • Bones learned that the key to dealing with the residents of the cul-de-sac was to treat them each as a component of a single large organism. This seemed somewhat dubious to viewers who live in suburbs that do not feature hiveminds.
    • In "Chuck Versus the Suburbs" the main characters of Chuck go undercover in a suburban cul de sac to figure out which of the residents is an evil spy. They all are
    • The new ABC series The Gates, where everyone concentrates on petty issues of town status to distract from their bloodlust, channel the traditional vampire/werewolf enmity into less destructive competition, and conceal two witches warring over the town.
    • Featured in one episode of Fear Itself.
    • This Is Not My Life's Waimoana, an eerily perfect and homogenous New Zealand town of the future.
    • Where Dexter moves to in season 4.
    • Suburgatory, of course.


    • "Little Boxes", the 1962 folk song composed by Malvina Reynolds and popularized by Pete Seeger (and used as the original opening theme to Weeds):

    Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky...And they all look just the same.

    • "The Kids Aren't Alright", by The Offspring, tells the story of a neighborhood full of promising lives that Got Worse: Jamie got pregnant and dropped from high school, Mark has no job and spends all his days playing guitar and smoking pot, Jay committed suicide, and Brandon OD'd and died. Supposedly, Dexter Holland wrote this song after finding his old neighborhood torn apart by tragedy.
      • For the record, Dexter is from Orange County (see below).
    • "Subdivisions", by Rush, details the oppression of conformity in the "mass-production zone"—and the inevitable draw they have on those who manage, briefly, to escape.

    In the high school halls
    In the shopping malls
    Conform or be cast out
    In the basement bars
    In the backs of cars
    Be cool or be cast out

      • Perhaps displayed just as well in the chorus-verse bridge:

    Any escape might help to smoothe
    The unattractive truth
    But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
    The restless dreams of youth

    • "Pleasant Valley Sunday", written for The Monkees by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.
    • "Shangri-La" and "Well Respected Man" by The Kinks are about suburbia and the people who inhabit it. It was a regular theme with them, although there are subversions such as "Village Green" (where the singer longs for the "simple people," "fresh air" and 'Sunday school" of his idyllic hometown, and laments how modernization is turning it into The Theme Park Version).
    • The video for Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun." The song doesn't explicitly mention suburbia, but...this trope hardly seems out of place.
    • "Shop Vac" by nerd favorite Jonathan Coulton is about a couple that moves from the big city to suburbia to start a family... only the husband really isn't happy with the move.

    We hung a flag above the door
    Checked out the gourmet grocery store
    I bought a mower I can ride around the yard
    But we haven't got real friends
    And now even the fake ones have stopped calling

    • The video for Das Weisse Licht by Oomph! shows that this order is maintained by replacing the inhabitants with robots, in a Stepford sort of way.
    • Ben Folds' re-envisioned "Rockin' the Suburbs" for the movie Over the Hedge:

    We're rockin' the suburbs
    We part the shades and face the facts
    They've got better lookin' fescue
    Right across the cul-de-sac

    • Living on XTC's "Respectable Street":

    Sunday church and they look fetching
    Saturday night saw him retching over our fence
    Bang the wall for me to turn down
    I can see them with their stern frowns
    As they dispense
    The kind of look that says they're perfect

    • [The] Arcade Fire's third album, The Suburbs, is a Concept Album which focuses on, well, the suburbs. It takes a somewhat nuanced view of the subject (Win Butler is on record as saying that it's a letter "from" the suburbs, not for them or against them), but the Stepford form is definitely visible (particularly "Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains").
    • The Smashing Pumpkins' video for "Try, Try, Try" contains a sequence that takes place in a dark Stepford Suburbia.
    • Blur often sang about apparently normal suburban characters who are a lot weirder under the surface. Tracy Jacks and Stereotypes are two examples.
    • The Sound of the Suburbs by The Members is a late '70s punk anthem about teenagers bored by suburban conformity.
    • "No Birds" by Public Image Ltd

    Tabletop Games

    • "Night Horrors: Wolfsbane", a sourcebook for Werewolf: The Forsaken features a town where everything's nice and orderly, a little oasis in the midst of the New World of Darkness. What made it so nice and orderly? Simple; several years ago, something blew over the town and ate everyone's souls. So the town's spirit possessed all the inhabitants and put them on autopilot. The name of the setting is : "The Road to Stepford: Lonesome Forest" and it's in Chapter II : the shadows p. 98.
    • The Mutants and Masterminds module "A More Perfect Union" brought the player characters to the seemingly idyllic small town of Unity. With a name like that, what could possib-ly go wrong? Hivemind


    Video Games

    • The trope-naming "The Milkman Conspiracy" level of Psychonauts is a literally twisted (i.e. it looks like an Escher engraving), evil little suburb where the lawn flamingos turn to watch you and everyone is either a Rainbow Squirt or a G-Man. It's hilarious, but rather creepy once you realize that this is how Boyd sees every affluent neighborhood.
      • And by "affluent neighborhood" we mean "the world". He sees the entire world as a sham Stepford Suburbia that's watching him all the time.
    • Fallout 3 features two of these, Andale and Tranquility Lane, the virtual world of Vault 112. Suffice to say, there are other factors that make them both even creepier than the standard Stepford Suburbia.
      • This applies to much of suburban America in it's pre-war days, where people were being killed in everything from government experiments, to malfunctioning factory robots, to taste-testing soda. Chinese Americans were also being rounded up and imprisoned after the Sino-American war began in 2066, and fears of Communism and sabotage led to the Unites States becoming a police state in everything but name.
    • Although most of the human characters in the first Destroy All Humans! game fit comfortable into the Stepford Smiler trope, Santa Modesta is set in a pleasant 1950s suburbia... in which everyone has various psychological hang-ups seething just underneath the surface.
    • Although the setting has a somewhat more rural bent, the PC adventure game Harvester used the cliche 1950s idyllic suburb as the virtual reality backdrop for a evil cannibalistic cult in one of the most infamously disturbing, Squick-inducing video games of all time.
    • At first, Tazmily Village in Mother 3 is a beautiful Sugar Bowl where no one locks their doors and even the concept of money is foreign. Then the Time Skip rolls around. All of a sudden it's a modernized suburbia with stores, a train station, cars, and all sorts of modern conveniences... and anyone who doesn't join in has their house struck by lightning. The guy who ran the inn has it bought out from under him, every house has a "Happy Box" that people are compelled to stare at, anyone old and not rich is forced to live in a complete dump, everyone else (even the kids) is expected to slave away in a factory for a living, and becoming a Pigmask is treated as a great career goal. It Gets Worse.
    • The eponymous town of Silent Hill looks like a quaint resort town, but looks can be deceiving. Shepard's Glen, its neighboring town that Silent Hill Homecoming features prominently, has some secrets of its own.


    Western Animation

    • The Town Called Malice in The Venture Brothers.
    • Moralton in Moral Orel. For all the Davey and Goliath stylings, it is a place filled with self-hating, hypocritical, abusive Jerkasses that seem dead set on crushing the naive and hopelessly optimistic protagonist. And that's when said protagonist isn't wreaking carnage because he takes the bad advice of his authority figures to extreme and unfortunate ends.
    • The episode "Mooving Day" of The Fairly OddParents involves Timmy moving to a very creepy suburb inspired by the Trope Namer.

    Truth in Television

    • "Planned communities," such as Seaside and Celebration in Florida, are particularly subject to this trope.
      • It could be argued that such communities (also called Master-Planned Communities) actually attempt to use this trope on purpose. More than 25% of Orange County, California is made of such communities, with the crown jewels being Irvine and Mission Viejo, which regularly top the FBI's Safest Cities in America list. See also Hollywood California for some useful notes on Orange County's lack of personality and vapid suburban sprawl.
        • One thing that both renders them extremely safe but also extremely monotonous is the sheer amount of these communities being started for religious purposes. Granted, sometimes the founders genuinely ARE that religious and not out to create a cult-like Wretched Hive. Both Amish and Mormon communes qualify well under that regard.
        • Or note that the Hollywood California entry is explicitly describing the way Hollywood portrays California rather than how it actually is. Orange County is highly sub-urbanized and generally politically conservative but, just like everywhere else, the people who live there are varied and pretty much like the people who live everywhere else (i.e.: they're people).
    • Many of the more upscale suburbs of Detroit and Flint, MI fit this trope, as it's one of the most segregated metro areas in the United States and many of its "idyllic" suburbs were built by the racist phenomenon of "white flight." Troy, in Oakland County, particularly invokes this - as it is regularly ranked as among the safest cities in Michigan, with one of its best school districts and "a great place for families," but it's also been the subject of negative news coverage for voters choosing to close their library rather than pay a small tax increase and, more recently, for the extreme homophobic statements coming from Mayor Janice Daniels. Then again, even wealthier neighbor Bloomfield Hills never had a library in the first place and very little in the way of any social services, again at least partly due to its rich residents' dislike of any taxes (although it is also partly due to the fact that Bloomfield Township, which mostly surrounds Bloomfield Hills, has a library and some other services which are open to Bloomfield Hills residents). Further west in Livingston County, Howell, MI is probably best known for being the former headquarters of the Michigan Ku Klux Klan.
    • Britain built a number of entire towns this way between the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and the mid-sixties. Most of them are still infamous for this trope, but at least one became a Wretched Hive instead.
    • Darien, Connecticut: filming location for Revolutionary Road, both Stepford Wives films, and the basis for the book and film Gentlemen's Agreement. Possibly the Ur Example.
    1. He thought his father made it, but actually his father's machine was a self-flagellation device with which he punished himself for not being "normal"