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Moving Up and Moving On: Mobility and the American Success Myth

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Abstract

At the heart of the American dream and at the center of classic success myth stories lies the promise of mobility and self-making. Americans, these stories tell us, are endowed with the inalienable right to create an adult self out of whole cloth, rather than simply making do with the identity in which we find ourselves clad. We are active subjects rather than compliant objects of our personal destinies. Accidents of birth, rather than being implacable impediments to advancement, are merely challenges to be overcome through hard work. From log cabin to White House, from scruffy music club to arena rock superstardom, from the mailroom to the executive suite, the biographical and fictional heroes of success myth tales accomplish their rise through their single-minded application of the work ethic and their adherence to the individualist credo of competitive advantage. And if they can do it, these stories tell us, anyone and everyone can too if they want to badly enough.

Keywords

Social Mobility Success Story Downward Mobility American Cinema Hollywood Movie 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Chuck Kleinhans, ‘Working-Class Film Heroes: Junior Johnson, Evel Knieval and the Film Audience,’ in Jump Cut: Hollywood, Politics and Counter Cinema, Peter Steven, ed. (New York: Praeger, 1985), 66.Google Scholar
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    These ‘two faces of capitalism’ in film were noted by Robin Wood, ‘Ideology, Genre, Auteur,’ in Film Genre Reader II, Barry Keith Grant, ed. (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003), 65.Google Scholar
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    James V. Catano, Ragged Dicks: Masculinity, Steel, and the Rhetoric of the Self-Made Man (Carbondale, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 158.Google Scholar
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    See Martha P. Nochimson, Dying to Belong: Gangster Movies in Hollywood and Hong Kong (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), for a trenchant discussion of performativity and the fragmentation and discontinuity of identity in gangster films.Google Scholar
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    One of the best books on how American movies represent and speak to class is Steven J. Ross, Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
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    Robert N. Bellah’s landmark sociological study Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985) remains a seminal study of American thought regarding the two strains of individualism and the ongoing tension between individualist and communal commitments and traditions in American life.Google Scholar
  30. 61.
    For an extended discussion of marriage in ‘the women’s film,’ see the chapter on marriage in Jeanine Basinger, A Women’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930–1960 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).Google Scholar
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    For discussions of the film’s improbable ending, see Jeanine Basinger, A Women’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930–1960 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993);Google Scholar
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  34. 63.
    Director Douglas Sirk once called such endings ‘emergency exits’: improbable, last-minute resolutions of the vexing issues that have informed the preceding narrative. For Sirk’s astute musings on the resolutions of melodramas, see Douglas Sirk, Sirk on Sirk: Interviews with Jon Halliday (London: BFI Publishing, 1971).Google Scholar
  35. 64.
    See Christine Gledhill, ed. Home is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Women’s Film (London: BFI Publishing, 1987), one of the first (and still one of the best) considerations of melodrama on film. AlsoGoogle Scholar
  36. Marcia Landy, Imitations of Life: A Reader of Film and Television Melodrama (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1991);Google Scholar
  37. John Mercer and Martin Shinger, Melodrama: Genre, Style, and Sensibility (London: Wallflower Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  38. 65.
    Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), 129.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Julie Levinson 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Babson CollegeUSA

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