If we talk about American dreams and the many different ways they take shape in the mass-produced film fantasies made in Hollywood and beyond, what language are we to use and how are we to speak as we confront the diversity of experience portrayed in these designs for living; for whom is the American dream, one wonders, is it for everyone?
The American dream once essentialized the grand promise of a better, fuller, and richer life. At the present moment, however, it seems in many minds to have lost its evocative power as a collective myth. Does this notion still represent a principle of hope or has it become a form of cruel optimism? In a time of prolonged political crisis, this General Education course has a pressing mission. It aims to further a dynamic understanding of American dreams (for there are many and not just one), to apprehend their complexities and contradictions, to appreciate their diverse manifestations and historical shapes, and above all to take measure of their presence and meaning in the world we now inhabit.
In this endeavor we will study the variety of ways in which feature filmmakers, both in Hollywood and beyond, have created designs for living, indeed the most influential and resonant incarnations of American dreams. We will analyze popular narratives produced during crucial junctures in the modern history of the United States, from the Great Depression and World War II, through the Cold War and the McCarthy era, up to the late 1960s. We will consider the wide range of functions that these productions have assumed, how they have by turns sustained and questioned the status quo. In some instances they have interrogated, revealed, and even indicted social inequity, at other times they have legitimated injustice and fostered exclusion. The class offers a representative sampling of classical Hollywood features as well as some exemplary independent American releases from 1932 to 1969, includingScarface, King Kong, Imitation of Life, It Happened One Night, The Wizard of Oz, Lying Lips, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, The Best Years of Our Lives, Salt of the Earth, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Raisin in the Sun, The Manchurian Candidate, The Exiles, and Easy Rider.