MR. SMITH GOES TO THE MOVIES:
Images of Dissent in American Cinema
Beth Wielde Heidelberg and David Schultz
Terrorists have hijacked a plane. They force everyone to the back, isolating passengers and taking control of the flight. On the ground, government officials are in frenzy, trying to figure out how to resolve the situation. Just when all seems lost, a hero rushes in to save the day. Who is this dashing figure ready at the rescue? The president of the United States. In the post9/11 world, the terrorist scenario seems all too real, and the president as action hero in Wolfgang Peterson’s Air Force One shows a new type of dissent—where the government is presented as we wish it could be rather than as one we don’t trust in reality.
Pop culture expresses potent political messages. Though often dismissed as the fluff of celebrity gossip, crass commercialism, or mass consumption, pop culture images serve as a potentially important source of socialization and knowledge about the political world. It may also be a locus of expressing and channeling dissent.
Individuals are politically socialized and express disagreement about their government in at least three ways. First, they obtain firsthand political knowledge through direct experiences such as voting, attending meetings, or participating in rallies or demonstrations.1 Second, individual knowledge about politics is second-ordered and mediated by the news establishment, obtained by reading newspapers or watching television news.2 Finally, political knowledge can be third-ordered, mediated by popular culture venues such as television entertainment shows or movies.3 Given data suggesting low rates of civic engagement for many activities and signifi-