Projecting the End of the American Dream: Hollywood's Visions of U.S. Decline

By Gordon B. Arnold | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Backstory

In the years since 1945, an anxiety-prone reflection of life in the United States, and visions of American doom, developed as a response to world events and changes in American political culture. But this dark, sometimes apocalyptic vision of the United States’ fate did not emerge from the ether. In fact, the story of its development as a persistent cultural theme began well before World War II. During the years prior to the war, the relationship between Hollywood and its audience evolved in ways that would later be conducive to expression of this theme of the United States’ demise.

Throughout the 1930s, the glamorous movie business made a significant impact on American culture. Hollywood continued to produce a wide variety of films that appealed to many public tastes and interests. Indeed, moviegoing was a staple of American life throughout the decade, despite the hardships of the Great Depression, when money was tight and the mood was at times downbeat. In that era, movies often provided a diversion from reallife woes. Some writers have suggested that Hollywood did more than this, playing an important part in bolstering public unity and in promoting the New Deal social policies that the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt championed in response to the crisis.1

Movie audiences found refuge in genre movies of many types. With their escapist stories and good spirits, comedies and musicals were popular. Films such as The Golddiggers of 1933, A Night at the Opera (1935), Top Hat (1935), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and The Wizard of Oz (1939) offered entertaining respites from the concerns of everyday life. Other popular box-office successes of the 1930s included wide-ranging features, such as

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Projecting the End of the American Dream: Hollywood's Visions of U.S. Decline
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Chapter 1 - American Ruin, the American Dream, and Hollywood 1
  • Chapter 2 - Backstory 21
  • Chapter 3 - A Dangerous World 39
  • Chapter 4 - Above and below the Shiny Surface 61
  • Chapter 5 - Rising Paranoia 81
  • Chapter 6 - Eruption 113
  • Chapter 7 - Disillusion 143
  • Chapter 8 - Shimmering Façade 169
  • Chapter 9 - Hollow World 195
  • Chapter 10 - Apocalypse Realized 223
  • Notes 247
  • Selected Bibliography 265
  • Index 273
  • About the Author 281
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