Review: Nextdoor in Colonialtown

Nextdoor in Colonialtown
Ryan Rivas, 92 pgs, Autofocus Books,, $28

Amid ever-intensifying criticism of law enforcement over the last ten years, America’s whitest, wealthiest neighbourhoods have played host to an increasingly paranoid culture of gun nuts, Blue Lives Matter activists, and stereotypical “Karens.” In turn, leftist progressives have become keen on monitoring the dystopian politics of these sleepy suburbs, and Ryan Rivas’s newest project is emblematic of their approach. A subtle blend of conceptual artwork, photobook, and anthology of posts from social media service Nextdoor, Nextdoor in Colonialtown paints a disturbing picture of suburban Colonialtown North in Orlando, Florida. Dripping with incredulity and disgust, the book holds a microscope to the ugly side of white American conservatism.

Populating Nextdoor in Colonialtown’s verso pages, photographs of ram-shackle bungalows and tacky back-yard signage showcase Stepford Wives-style affluence with a dollop of redneck Republicanism. But Rivas’s accompanying texts — which remix actual Nextdoor posts into fictional dialogues — are somehow both hilarious and far more alarming. Conversational and matter-of-fact, they reveal residents’ absurd obsessions with securing their property, scrutinizing minor neighbourhood disturbances, and calling the police. One person comments, “So glad you’re safe. Please arm yourself.” Another tellingly laments, “I was much happier when I didn’t know what kind of people lived in our community.”

Although its blurbers insist that Nextdoor in Colonialtown is non-fiction at its core, the comments Rivas quotes have been reassembled out of context—and often played for laughs. As a result, the book is more like dry satire than genuine ethnography, neither fully true to life nor extensively ‘worked.’ On the other hand, Rivas’s canniness may be among the only ways to approach the cultures of vigilant/e suburban whiteness that so steadfastly resist conventional storytelling. Either way — though perhaps in spite of itself — Nextdoor in Colonialtown is a stunning document of the deep divisions in contemporary American life.


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