Is the so-called American dream dead? The notion once essentialized the grand promise of a better, fuller, and richer life. At the present moment, however, it seems to have lost its evocative power as a collective myth. In a time of national crisis and political emergency, 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 meanings for the world we inhabit.
In this endeavor we will study the variety of ways in which Hollywood’s fantasy machinery has created designs for living, indeed the most influential and resonant incarnations of American dreams. We will analyze popular films 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 1960s and 1970s. We will consider the wide range of functions that commercial studio features have assumed, how they at times have sought to legitimate and sustain the status quo, but at others also have interrogated, revealed, and even indicted social inequity. The class offers a representative sampling of classical Hollywood features from 1932 to 1976; films to be studied include Scarface, King Kong, It Happened One Night, The Wizard of Oz, The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Best Years of Our Lives, Detour, High Noon, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, A Face in the Crowd, Raisin in the Sun, The Manchurian Candidate, Easy Rider, and Rocky.