Cambridge IELTS

IELTS Reading Exercise 18

Choose the correct answer, A, B, C or D for each question.

The Geography Of Nowhere

There is a marvellous moment in the hit movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? that sums up our present national predicament very nicely. The story is set in Los Angeles in 1947. The scene is a dreary warehouse, headquarters of the villain, Judge Doom, a cartoon character masquerading as a human being. The hallucinatory plot hinges on Judge Dooms evil scheme to sell off the city's streetcar system and to create just such a futuristic car-crazed society as Americans actually live and work in today. "It's a construction plan of epic proportions," he intones. They're calling it a freeway! Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena! I see a place where people get on and off the freeway, off and on, off and on, all day and all night...I see a street of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food, tire salons, automobile dealerships, and wonderful, wonderful billboards as far as the eye can see. My god, it'll be beautiful!" In short order, Judge Doom is unmasked for the non-human scoundrel he is, dissolved by a blast of caustic chemical, and flushed into the Los Angeles sewer system, while the rest of the cute little cartoon creatures hippity-hop happily into the artificial sunset. "That lamebrain freeway idea could only be cooked up by a toon," comments the movie's hero, Eddie Valiant, afterward.

The audience sadly knows better. In the real world, Judge Doom's vision has prevailed and we are stuck with it. Yet the movie's central metaphor - that our civilization has been undone by an evil cartoon ethos - could not be more pertinent, for more and more we appear to be a nation of overfed clowns living in a hostile cartoon environment. Thirty years ago, Lewis Mumford said of post-World II development, "the end product is an encapsulated life, spent more and more either in a motor car or within the cabin of darkness before a television set." The whole wicked, sprawling, megalopolitan mess, he gloomily predicted, would completely demoralize mankind and lead to nuclear holocaust. It hasn't come to that, but what Mumford deplored was just the beginning of a process that, instead of blowing up the world, has nearly wrecked the human habitat in America. Ever-busy, ever-building, ever-in-motion, ever-throwing-out the old for the new, we have hardly paused to think about what we are so busy building, and what we have thrown away. Meanwhile, the everyday landscape becomes more nightmarish and unmanageable each year. For many, the word development itself has become a dirty word.

Eighty percent of everything ever built in America has been built in the last fifty years, and most of it is depressing, brutal, ugly, unhealthy, and spiritually degrading the plastic commuter tract home wastelands, the shopping plazas with their vast parking lagoons, the Lego Block hotel complexes, the junk food joints, the Orwellian office 'parks' featuring buildings sheathed in the same reflective glass as the sunglasses worn by chaingang guards, the particle-board garden apartments rising up in every meadow and cornfield, the freeway loops around every big and little city with their clusters of discount merchandise marts, the whole destructive, wasteful, toxic, agoraphobia-inducing spectacle that politicians proudly call 'growth'. The newspaper headlines may shout about global warming, extinctions of living species, the devastation of rainforests, and other worldwide catastrophes, but Americans display a striking complacency when it comes to their everyday environment and the growing calamity that it represents. I had a hunch that many other people find their surroundings as distressing as I do my own, yet I sensed too that they lack the vocabulary to understand what is wrong with the places they ought to know best. That is why I wrote this book.

The sentimental view of anything is apt to be ridiculous, but I feel that I have been unusually sensitive to the issue of place since I was a little boy. Before I was old enough to vote, I had lived in a classic postwar suburb, in the nation's greatest city, and in several classic small towns, and along the way I acquired strong impressions about each of these places. One September day in 1954 my father and mother and I drove twenty miles east out of New York City in our Studebaker on the Northern State Parkway to meet the movers at our new house "in the country," as my mother would refer forever to any place where you cannot walk out your front door and hail a taxi. Until that time, Long Island had been one of the most beautiful places in the United States, and our house was one small reason it would not remain that way much longer.

It was in a 'development' called Northwood. The name had only a casual relation to geography. Indeed, it was north of many things - the parkway, the land of Dixie, the Tropic of Capricorn - but the wood part was spurious since the tract occupied a set of former farm fields, and among the spanking new houses not a tree stood over ten feet tall or as thick around as my father's thumb. The houses, with a few exceptions, were identical boxy split-levels, clad in asphalt shingles of various colors, with two windows above a gaping garage door. Our house was an exception. The developers, I'm told, had started out with different models before they settled on the split-levels, which were absolutely the latest thing and sold like hotcakes. Our house was a ranch clad in natural cedar shingles. It had a front porch too narrow to put furniture on and shutters that didn't close or conform to the dimensions of the windows. It sported no other decorative elaborations beside an iron carriage lamp on the front lawn that was intended to evoke ye olde post road days, or something like that. What it lacked in exterior grandeur, it made up in comfort inside. The three bedrooms were ample. We had baths galore for a family of three, a kitchen loaded with electric wonders, wall-to-wall carpeting throughout, and a real fireplace in the living room. The place cost about $25,000.

Our quarter-acre lot lay at the edge of the development. Behind our treeless back yard stood what appeared to my six-year-old eyes to be an endless forest like the wilderness where Davey Crockett slew bears. In fact, it was the 480-acre estate of Clarence Hungerford Mackay, president and major stockholder of the Postal Telegraph Cable Company, the precursor of Western Union. At its heart stood the old mansion. I dont recall its style, but it was much larger than any Northwood house. Juvenile delinquents had lit fires inside, and not necessarily in the fireplaces. Yet for its shattered glass, musty odors, and bird droppings, the mansion projected tremendous charm and mystery. Even in ruin, it felt much more authentic than our own snug, carpeted homes, and I know we regarded it as a sort of sacred place, as palpably a place apart from our familiar world. We certainly spent a lot of time there. One week in the spring of 1956, the bulldozers appeared in the great woods behind our house. In the months that followed, the trees crashed down, the mansion was demolished, new houses went up, and Clarence Hungerford Mackay's 480 acres was turned into another development called - what else? - Country Estates!

Source: The Geography Of Nowhere (1993)

1. What signficance does the film 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' have for the author?

    its dark central message has become true

    the bright colours of modern cities resemble cartoons

    recent development is as fake as cartoons

    we are an overweight society, more cartoon than human

2. Why did the author write his book?

    he wants to teach ordinary people more complicated vocabulary

    he wants people to take action to reverse modern development

    he is afraid Lewis Mumford's vision is becoming true

    he was sure many others shared his view

3. Why does the author blame his own house?

    it ruined a beautiful rural part of New York

    its construction had been a wasteful use of wood

    its construction was an example of destructive modern development

    it forced him to leave close friends behind in New York City

4. What was the author's opinion of the old house found at the centre of Northwood?

    it was frightening

    it was hard to find

    it was deservedly destroyed

    it was real

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