Dr. Seuss and McMansions: A Poetic Struggle
I can’t decide whether this story reminds me of Yertle the Turtle or the one about Lolla-Lee-Loo and the girl-bird Gertrude McFuzz.
Gertrude had the smallest plain tail ever was. One droopy-droop feather. She was obviously miserable, especially as fancie-birdie Lolla-Lee-Loo had a graceful dual tail. So Gertrude bugged her uncle to let her eat berries that would magically grow more tails on her behind, until at one point Gertrude McFuzz is so heavy she can’t fly.
Yertle is a turtle king, ruling over his little pond on the distant island of Sala-ma-Son. Everyone is happy, until one day Yertle decides his kingdom is not enough. “I'm ruler", said Yertle, "of all that I see. But I don't see enough. That's the trouble with me.”
He orders all the turtles to make a big great pile, so he can be a ruler of fields and cows and birds and whatnot. He’s happy, but his turtles aren’t. It’s no fun to be a faire-valoir for some egomaniacal jerk. So at some point Mack the plain turtle decides he’s had enough, burps, the whole pile of turtles fall down, and Yertle falls flat on his face, in the mud.
They’re great stories, both of them. I’m just not sure which one applies to this:
To be clear, having more space does generally lead to people saying they’re more pleased with their home. The problem is that the satisfaction often doesn’t last if even bigger homes pop up nearby. “If I bought a house to feel like I'm ‘the king of my neighborhood,’ but a new king arises, it makes me feel very bad about my house,” Bellet wrote to me in an email.
The largest houses seem to be the ones that all the other homeowners base their expectations on. In neighborhoods where the biggest houses are more modest, Bellet told me, expanding the size of one’s house can be 10 times as satisfying as undertaking such an expansion in a neighborhood where the biggest homes are palatial.
Bellet sketches out an unfulfilling cycle of one-upmanship, in which the owners of the biggest homes are most satisfied if their home remains among the biggest, and those who rank right below them grow less satisfied as their dwelling looks ever more measly by comparison. He estimates that from 1980 to 2009, the size of the largest 10 percent of houses increased 1.4 times as fast as did the size of the median house. This means that the reference point many people have for what constitutes a big home has shifted further out of reach, just as many other lifestyle reference points have shifted in an age of pronounced wealth inequality.
It doesn’t matter that house sizes are increasing. That we each have more room to stretch out. That we have more bathrooms than people in many suburban empty nests. We want ever-bigger houses, especially when Lolla-Lee-Lou hovers nearby.
In the end, I think I’ll go with Gertrude McFuzz who, after having all those extra tails plucked out, finds herself with the original single plain tail on her sore bum.
“But now that’s enough, because now she is smarter.”