The Road Movie Book

By Steven Cohan; Ina Rae Hark | Go to book overview

5

ALMOST LIKE BEING AT HOME

Showbiz culture and Hollywood road trips in the 1940s and 1950s

Steven Cohan

Beginning with the Second World War years of the 1940s and extending through the 1950s, “home” stood for the utopian myth of a coherent, homogeneous popular culture. Road films made in these two decades thus project a different set of values for the road than one finds during the Great Depression or, more dramatically, after Easy Rider (1969). Films from this era equate “America” with popular entertainment, the nation's traveling showbiz culture that brought “home” to the road, as best exemplified by the USO shows during the war.

A comment made by John Hersey while reporting on a military campaign for Life in 1942 is emblematic of the value that “home” had for the wartime imagination of soldiers who were, in effect, forcibly put on the road. “Perhaps this sounds selfish, ” Hersey remarks. “It certainly sounds less dynamic than the Axis slogans. But home seems to most marines a pretty good thing to be fighting for. Home is where the good things are - the generosity, the good pay, the comforts, the democracy, the pie” (60). Variations of this exaggerated appreciation of “home” were inserted into many American films made during the war years. 1Since You Went Away (1944), for instance, begins by declaring in a title card: “This is the story of the Unconquerable Fortress: the American Home.” Of course, today that movie cliché is significant for its irony. While “home” may have been where all the good things were, the war itself - fought to preserve “home” in whatever material incarnation a soldier fondly remembered it - actually caused a radical disruption of US society. The extensive relocation of American men and women both domestically and abroad during the 1940s because of the war helped to efface what had previously been strong regional identities and values regarding family life and gender roles. Furthermore, it began the process of broadening the national culture toward that homogeneous image of “America” taken for granted during the 1950s and splintered in the late 1960s.

-113-

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The Road Movie Book
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Plates ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Works Cited 14
  • Part I - Mapping Boundaries 15
  • 1 - “hitler Can't Keep 'Em That Long” 17
  • 2 - Western Meets Eastwood 45
  • 3 - Mad Love, Mobile Homes, and Dysfunctional Dicks 70
  • Notes 86
  • Works Cited 89
  • 4 - On the Run and on the Road 90
  • Works Cited 107
  • Part II - American Roads 111
  • 5 - Almost like Being at Home 113
  • 6 - Wanderlust and Wire Wheels 143
  • 7 - Exposing Intimacy in Russ Meyer's Motorpsycho! and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 165
  • 8 - The Road to Dystopia 179
  • Works Cited 202
  • 9 - Fear of Flying 204
  • Notes 227
  • Works Cited 228
  • Part III - Alternative Routes 231
  • 10 - The Nation, the Body, and the Autostrada 233
  • 11 - “we Don't Need to Know the Way Home” 249
  • 12 - Hom E and Away 271
  • 13 - Race on the Road 287
  • 14 - Revitalizing the Road Genre 307
  • 15 - My Own Private Idaho and the New Queer Road Movies 330
  • 16 - Disassociated Masculinities and Geographies of the Road 349
  • Index of Films 371
  • General Index 375
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