Dreams Are as American as Apple Pie

By Lloyd, John | New Statesman (1996), August 13, 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Dreams Are as American as Apple Pie

Lloyd, John, New Statesman (1996)

A poor teenager has become a legal eagle by watching Court TV. He is just the latest proof that, in the US, you can still be anything you want.

Los Angeles. Venice Beach, past its novel best, is still a good place to lounge and experience - a vital word, that, experience - an outgrowth of and commentary on nearby Hollywood. It is sumptuous: in its leisure, in the profusion of cafes, in the omnipresence of the SantaMonica police force, cruising in their shiny cruisers through the ruins of hippie culture by the boardwalks. And when, in disdainful European fashion, you want to write it off as an obese swamp, you are slapped awake by its striving for excellence: in the dedication to the body at the open-air gym on Muscle Beach, in the panting, competitive spirit of miniature tennis and basketball around the gym.

Most of all, as with Hollywood's offerings, you are taken aback by the sheer work that produces the grace of many of the boardwalk artists. One, a mime, does a robotic act built around the reason for his presence: to beg for money, pouting when ignored, switching on a brilliant rictus when rewarded. Another balances his partner, seated on a plastic chair, on his chin.

The Los Angeles experience, at the start of the 21st century, is complete, totalitarian. The city does have other cultures: in particular, a turbulent and inventive labour movement, whose fiercer spirits organised a janitors' strike as well as a unique protest of bus passengers, following which the Superior Court forced the city to add 300 extra buses to the vehicles on its impoverished routes. (The city is now appealing the decision.) Yet none of this comes through in LA's official, sanctioned culture.

Los Angeles is entertainment. Entertainment's most important root is the Latin tenere, "to hold". The Los Angeles you are invited, dragooned, to see is designed to hold, to not let go. Here, the imagination cannot be allowed to work: it must be fed, with helpings as big as the grossest grossout on cheeseburgers, washed down with a strawberry milkshake to stun the senses.

In his book Life: the movie, Neal Gabler tells us that the notion of "fun" did not really exist before the 20th century. By the end of the 19th century, working men and women began to have a little free time - something "of their own" between finishing work and dropping on to their beds. The cinema enfolded them. The sensation was partly in revenge-revenge through figures such as the Keystone Cops and Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, and above all Charlie Chaplin - on the moneyed and cultured elite. Some of it was transformation: living, if only foracouple of hours, in a dream. The way of watching was important, too. The stillness of the bourgeoisie's Verdi or Shakespeare was replaced with popcorn-crunching, Coke-draining, shouting at the screen, aahs of pleasure or tension.

Entertainment is not neutral; it has narratives, and these narratives respond to imperatives set by the political culture, just as they shape it in return. That narrative is now, crucially, about American power.

American power is not just Hollywood. In an essay ("Who's Afraid of Mr Big?") in the current issue of the US journal National Interest, Josef Joffe, the editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, remarks that America is Harvard as well as Hollywood - where Harvard "stands for America's towering intellectual dominance, where the Sorbonne and the University of Gottingen once ruled the roost. Now Europe's best and brightest would rather go to Stanford and the California Institute of Technology than to one of those faceless mass universities that have replaced the Continent's ancient centers of excellence."

In philosophy, literature and the teaching of morality, American authors dominate, leaving spaces for the Europeans (especially the Brits) in fields such as history or sociology or postmodernism.

Hollywood culture cannot be escaped.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Dreams Are as American as Apple Pie


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?