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Understanding Americans through Films: What to See to Feel the Realities of Life in the USA

Probably, almost the entire generation of post-Soviet viewers under 40 grew up in one way or another on American films. However, being overseas, it is impossible to fully understand why certain phenomena and plots could have originated only in the United States. And on the contrary, living in America, you begin to understand the roots of what you once saw on the screen. Here are just a few examples of ideas and images dictated by the peculiarities of American reality.

Photo: Shutterstock

1. Success versus humanity

There is a myth in Russia that an American film is a "spectacular success story." Like any myth, it is only partly true. Of course, Americans' commitment to success cannot but find expression in cinematography. Traditionally, it is believed that good must win, moreover, win tangibly and clearly. The hero does not have to become rich, influential or popular, the main thing is that he needs to achieve the goal to which he was going, and this achievement should have concrete results.

However, along with this, the Americans have more than once rigidly opposed the image of "external" success to humanity, making a choice far from favoring the former. "The Devil Wears Prada", "Sweet November", "The Family Man" - these and other similar films are united by one idea: the pursuit of a super-successful career kills the human in people, turns them into soulless sociopaths, unable to enjoy life and appreciate others. The moral of all these films is also obvious: simple family happiness and love of loved ones are much more important than the brightest success story, ambition is not worth a normal life.

However, even with such a seemingly close approach to our culture, films of this type remain “purely American” stereotypes that immediately catch the eye of the post-Soviet viewer. For example, even heroes who choose love and relationships rather than careers are still some kind of success story. They do not live very richly, but, by our standards, they are quite well off, in the same way they have the opportunity not to deny themselves the joys, except that they drive an older car. In fact, characters in American films choose between different types of happiness, but rarely find themselves faced with a choice between wealth and real poverty, or between success and absolute sacrifice.

This also fully reflects the essence of the American mentality. For the most part, Americans are kind and sympathetic, they, like other people, do not approve of inhumanity and bitchiness, but prefer, as they say on airplanes, “first put on a mask,” and then - on someone else. At least a minimal arrangement in life is considered the basic foundation here, and on its basis one can make subsequent choices in favor of a career or family. Charity and goodness, as well as relationships and love, are accepted here as a free choice made from excess, and not from the last effort. On the one hand, this approach is more responsible and reasonable, but on the other hand, it really does not provide for a situation of difficult moral choices, where often there are no signs of success.

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Quite indicative in this vein is the film "You've Got Mail", according to the plot of which the protagonist realizes that his pen pal is his main competitor. Formally, the film ends with a happy end, and yesterday's implacable enemies become happy lovers. However, the realization that he has been texting for a long time and almost already loves a rival girl did not prevent the main character from ruining her and destroying her life's work. Love and sympathy for her not only did not push the successful entrepreneur to abandon some of his plans, but did not even inspire a compromise option that could take into account the interests of both. And this film is a vivid indicator of how even mutual love could not cope with the formula “nothing personal - pure business”.

2. Fear of corporations, artificial intelligence and the state

The relative proximity of Hollywood to Silicon Valley could not but affect the themes of many science fiction films - from the "classic" "Matrix" to modern novelties. Developments in the field of real artificial intelligence are constantly improving, and therefore the stories that sooner or later such a computer mind will get out of control and take over the world (or already invisibly rules the world) are repeated in different films with enviable regularity.

Sinister corporations often appear in the script (for example, in the movie "Nirvana"), which either control artificial intelligence, or, conversely, try to destroy a robot or a program that has begun to show human feelings. Here, on the one hand, Americans' fear of the growing role of corporations is manifested, and on the other, the harshness of the corporate culture inherent in individual companies is noted.

American distrust of their own government also periodically finds expression in the cinema. It often manifests itself in dystopias, where the state, along with corporations, becomes a symbol of totalitarianism and cruelty, but there are also more subtle manifestations of this image. For example, in the cult series "The X-Files", which became in the 1990s, the world practically does not differ from the usual everyday life, with the exception of the abundance of paranormal phenomena and the fact that the government secretly conducts experiments on people with aliens. Accordingly, the protagonist Fox Mulder, although he is an FBI agent, in fact he becomes a dissident, every now and then trying to expose the conspiracies of the authorities.

I must say that the love of Americans for conspiracy theories and mistrust of the authorities have very real reasons: the CIA really once tested hallucinogenic drugs on humans and implemented a number of other secret programs that became public only decades later. Moreover, Mulder, as a dissident hero, not recognized by his colleagues, is probably the most likely to break the stereotypes of "traditional success". He rarely wins and even less often gains recognition. However, even he and his faithful friend Dana Scully it is not possible to overcome the main stereotype of another beloved Hollywood image - the positive American "silovik". Such a character can often go against the system, but is still officially or latently part of it, and is called upon to illuminate the profession as such with a halo of his heroism.

Photo: Shutterstock

3. Fear of losing your job

He, perhaps, will be fully understood only by those who live in America. Having lost his job and not having time to accumulate sufficient savings, an American can very quickly lose literally everything in life: housing, social status, health insurance and livelihood. In recent years, this fear has begun to decline somewhat due to high unemployment benefits, but it has left a tangible mark on American culture. A striking example of this trail is the film "Time" (In Time).

In this fantasy thriller, time has become the only currency that everyone tries to get in any way in order to avoid death. Instead of money, they pay for their work with time, while residents of a poor neighborhood (ghetto) are forced to work in miserable seconds and spend all their time earning extra minutes and hours of life.

This film literally became the embodiment of the famous phrase "time is money" and an expression of the feeling inherent in many Americans that if you fell out of your working rhythm, you do not have much time left for life (in the case of the real world, for a wealthy life, for which you're used to it). At the same time, given the American workaholism, the real work rhythm of the average worker here is not that much different from the movie "Time".

4. Social pressure and overcoming it

Public stereotypes are a notorious American scourge, and the ability to succeed despite such stereotypes traditionally inspires filmmakers. Martin Luther King, women who challenge stereotypes of patriarchal culture, black maids who demand respect for themselves, teenage outsiders who at some point can outshine the popular upstarts - all these heroes are called upon to break taboos and assert the priority of the individual over social prejudices.

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A striking example of such an outsider is Forrest Gumpwho, with his honesty and naivety, defies all established patterns of behavior and, nevertheless, embodies the American dream without even wanting to. Unfortunately or fortunately, even the most atypical hero cannot cope with this rule of American cinema - he must definitely become a winner, even in the most exotic and unexpected way for himself. Only in this way can he affirm the idea that his image carries in itself.

5. The brutality of female superheroines

In general, male superheroes in American cinema are also not gentle, but God forbid you to be in the way of a lady saving the world. This is due to the fact that the struggle for equal rights for women in the United States began relatively recently, and the fairer sex had to quite aggressively seek equality with men.

Many mothers, and even more so the grandmothers of today's successful American women, preferred to be housewives, and some professions were not available for them for a very long time. For example, girls were able to become FBI agents only since 1972. A year after that, the famous "battle of the sexes" took place - a tennis match between a tennis player-veteran Bobby Riggsom and one of the leading professional tennis players of this period Billy Jean King, which became, in fact, a duel for equal prize awards for women and men in this sport. Needless to say, nowadays a film of the same name was shot about this "battle".

At the same time, the authorities of individual states are still trying to infringe on women's rights achieved with such stubbornness - as, for example, happens with the laws against abortion in Texas or Alabama. That is why the novel and the 2017 series "The Handmaid's Tale" based on it became so popular, where women turn into powerless slaves, called upon to give birth to the owner of children. As if in contrast to them, female superheroines from comics claim that they can fight for themselves and others as well as men. I would like to hope that the next stage in the development of the image will be understanding: even the strongest and most courageous women can fully combine this with natural kindness and gentleness.

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