Lawn People is a very enjoyable read written by Paul Robbins. Personally, I think it is a wonder how much the lawn has been shaped by our cultural needs. As a sociology major, I really like how Robbins used all types of data including national surveys, economic data and photographs of birdseye views of lawns without making it really boring.
What I find very frightening from reading this book is how many chemicals are used to making the lawns look green, how much time and effort people put into their lawns and more. I was more or less surprised when Robbins’s data showed that a majority of pesticide fanatics are upper class. It makes sense because who else can buy all of these expensive chemicals and who else would care enough about the appearance of their lawns?
I remember when I lived in England and our neighborhood was more concerned about the appearances of their lawns than my current neighborhood in New Jersey. Although we did not have a lawn, we did have tall bushes that acted as bigger, more presentable fences between our house and the houses on each side. I distinctly remember one day when my father and I were preparing to go to the store. Our neighbor came outside and asked my father if he could trim the bushes on our side, all because they were slightly “messier-looking” than their neatly cut bushes.
This goes back to what else was discussed in the book. While people might not care so much about their lawns, it is often social pressures and norms that might motivate them to make sure their lawns are perfect compared to their neighbors lawns. This relates to Herbert Marcuse’s argument based on Marxism. To sum it up, Marcuse brings up the concept of the “one-dimensional man” which basically means that people are not so much their own person anymore. In fact, they become extensions of their commodities and it turns into the commodities controlling the people who own them. In this case, the desire for the appearance of lawns motivates owners to spend more money on their lawns because having a nice lawn is desirable. Here is Herbert Marcuse’s argument if you wish to read further: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/marcuse/works/one-dimensional-man/ch01.htm
Products, such as lawns, give people a sense of identity and despite their knowledge on how their actions affect the environment, they continue to do so. One lawn owner says “Of course I’m concerned about the environment. Of course there is always a little bit of risk [when using lawn chemicals], but it is small enough that it is not going to stop me.” (102). That is proof that some people value commodities such as nice-looking lawns rather than the environmental issues at hand. Some questions rise: How can people be motivated to stop using unnecessary chemicals and pesticides? Is there ever going to be a time when the social norm of lawn care changes its definition?
I personally believe that the ridiculous norm of making lawns look nice starts with few people just taking normal care of their lawns. I feel like people need to start incorporating environmental practices into lawn care such as composting, sprinkling grass on their lawns to help them grow and weeding. If we convert our ways into more environmental practices, I believe we can stop the use and need of chemicals on our lawns.