When and Where Does White Noise Take Place?

Image Credit: Wilson Webb/Netflix

Based on the eponymous novel by Don DeLillo, Netflix’s drama filmWhite Noise’ revolves around the couple Jack and Babette Gladney, whose mundane lives are turned upside down when a Nyodene D explosion happens in their town. After the explosion, a black toxic cloud forms, threatening the lives of the residents of the town. The Noah Baumbach directorial progresses through the aftermath of the explosion, which gets described as the “airborne toxic event.” Since the captivating work is a period film set in an unusual region, the viewers must be wondering when and where it is set. Well, here’s what we can share about the same! SPOILERS AHEAD.

White Noise Takes Us Back to the 1980s

Although ‘White Noise’ doesn’t explicitly reveal when the film takes place, director Baumbach revealed that the narrative is set in the 1980s. DeLillo’s source novel of the film is a critique of the 1980s as it explores the impact and influence of entertainment and information mediums like television and radio on American society. The rise and popularity of entertainment mediums in the decade made people believe that death is a fictional spectacle, distanced from reality, in real life. DeLillo, through his novel, succeeded in depicting the harsh reality and inevitability of death, challenging the notions that existed concerning mortality in the ‘80s.

Image Credit: Wilson Webb/Netflix

The 1980s also witnessed the rise of consumer culture as enormous supermarkets became an integral part of the country. DeLillo explored the “consume or die” mentality of the period through Jack and Babette’s return to a supermarket at the end of the film, as they dance together while shopping, forgetting about the unignorable death. Although the “airborne toxic event” is similar to several occurrences that happened in the 21st century, including the Covid-19 pandemic, DeLillo conceived the same after getting to know about the toxic spills that had been happening seemingly in the 1980s.

As someone who lived his teenage years during the 1980s, Baumbach was able to comprehend DeLillo’s commentary on the period efficiently. That’s also the reason why the director brought the touch of the 1980s throughout the film. “It was fun to essentially do a nostalgic, alternate ’80s, which wasn’t really what [the decade] was like. Everything was inspired by real things, but we were looking at a memory-slash-fantasy-slash-idea of a time and place,” Baumbach told Vogue about the same.

White Noise is Set in Blacksmith, A Fictional Town Reflecting American Anxieties

‘White Noise,’ like the source novel, is set in the fictional town of Blacksmith. DeLillo, most likely intentionally, didn’t mention the state in which Blacksmith is located. The author might have wanted the town/setting to represent the country as a whole since the novel explores the collective consciousness of American society rather than any one particular state or region. In the novel and film, the college Jack works at is named the College-on-the-Hill, which can be a reference to the “City on a Hill,” a phrase used by several distinguished personalities in history to present America as an ideal state.

Image Credit: Wilson Webb/Netflix

By naming the institution College-on-the-Hill, DeLillo might have wanted to make it evident that the novel’s setting is the aforementioned “ideal America.” The possibility makes sense since the novel tries to bring out the hollowness of such an idealization. DeLillo’s novel and Baumbach’s film make it clear that the idealization of the country is just a mask that hides the pressing concerns that troubled and continue to trouble the nation. Both the author and director took advantage of the “ideal” setting to showcase how consumer culture and entertainment mediums control the masses.

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