Blue-Collar Hollywood: Liberalism, Democracy, and Working People in American Film

Blue-Collar Hollywood: Liberalism, Democracy, and Working People in American Film

by John Bodnar
     
 

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From Tom Joad to Norma Rae to Spike Lee's Mookie in Do the Right Thing, Hollywood has regularly dramatized the lives and struggles of working people in America. Ranging from idealistic to hopeless, from sympathetic to condescending, these portrayals confronted audiences with the vital economic, social, and political issues of their times while providing a

Overview

From Tom Joad to Norma Rae to Spike Lee's Mookie in Do the Right Thing, Hollywood has regularly dramatized the lives and struggles of working people in America. Ranging from idealistic to hopeless, from sympathetic to condescending, these portrayals confronted audiences with the vital economic, social, and political issues of their times while providing a diversion—sometimes entertaining, sometimes provocative—from the realities of their own lives.

In Blue-Collar Hollywood, John Bodnar examines the ways in which popular American films made between the 1930s and the 1980s depicted working-class characters, comparing these cinematic representations with the aspirations of ordinary Americans and the promises made to them by the country's political elites. Based on close and imaginative viewings of dozens of films from every genre—among them Public Enemy, Black Fury, Baby Face, The Grapes of Wrath, It's a Wonderful Life, I Married a Communist, A Streetcar Named Desire, Peyton Place, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Coal Miner's Daughter, and Boyz N the Hood—this book explores such topics as the role of censorship, attitudes toward labor unions and worker militancy, racism, the place of women in the workforce and society, communism and the Hollywood blacklist, and faith in liberal democracy.

Whether made during the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, or the Vietnam era, the majority of films about ordinary working Americans, Bodnar finds, avoided endorsing specific political programs, radical economic reform, or overtly reactionary positions. Instead, these movies were infused with the same current of liberalism and popular notion of democracy that flow through the American imagination.

Editorial Reviews

Choice

An uncommonly well balanced account of the political biases of American movies... A fine read for the generalist yet a scholarly achievement.

Cercles
You cannot but be seduced and even sometimes bedazzled by Bodnar's clear, well-informed and impartial analysis.

— Nicolas Magenham

Screening the Past
Timely, necessary, well-written, and accessible.

— Tony Fonseca

American Historical Review

Open minded and even handed, he appreciates the nuances and mixed messages of Hollywood cinema.

Journal of American History
Bodnar provides a useful provocation. He asks us to think imaginatively about the subtle and complex ways movies communicate ideas and attitudes.

— Robert Brent Toplin

Cercles - Nicolas Magenham

You cannot but be seduced and even sometimes bedazzled by Bodnar's clear, well-informed and impartial analysis.

Journal of American History - Robert Brent Toplin

Bodnar provides a useful provocation. He asks us to think imaginatively about the subtle and complex ways movies communicate ideas and attitudes.

Screening the Past - Tony Fonseca

Timely, necessary, well-written, and accessible.

Amerikastudien / American Studies - Tomáš Pospíšil

A worthwhile acquisition for an academic library.

Library Journal
Bodnar (history, Indiana Univ., Bloomington; Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism) here describes and analyzes cinematic renderings of individualism, capitalism, and leadership-including women, unions, and minorities-among the working class from the 1930s to the 1990s. Basing his conclusions on viewings of many films (some famous, others hardly remembered or seriously critiqued) and drawing on a wealth of film and culture literature, Bodnar seems to posit that human nature is so unique that the common person's desires cannot be completely controlled, labeled, branded, or pigeonholed-as movie characters have so often demonstrated. "In a political world dominated as much by mass culture as by political parties themselves," he writes, "the biting commentary of the Sixties was sustained, but in a way that served neither the left nor the right. Yet what else could one expect from a liberal discourse preoccupied with surveying the landscape of the human spirit?" Given its scholarly nature, this work is most suitable for strong film collections and academic libraries.-Kim Holston, American Inst. for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters, Malvern, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801871498
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
04/15/2003
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
328
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Steven J. Ross
John Bodnar's Blue Collar Hollywood makes a vital contribution to our understanding of the interaction of film, politics, and American society from the 1930s through the 1950s. Bodnar shows how working people—the numerical heart of the nation's population—were increasingly portrayed as troubled individuals with emotional problems, antisocial tendencies, and an inability to contribute to the collective political good. He argues that Hollywood films undermined ideas about democracy by advancing a dominant vision of working people as folk who do not participate in any meaningful way in American institutional and political life. Blue Collar Hollywood is a perceptive and important study of the impact of film on the evolving—or more appropriately, devolving—nature of American democracy.

Lary May
By examining how movies handled the tension between the two ideals of individualism and democracy from the Depression era to the present, John Bodnar provides us with a refreshing antidote to the general tendency of film and cultural historians to only look at one era or decade. Bodnar gives us a new twist on the old theme of mass culture as a locale that promotes individual freedom and expression and erodes ideas of collectivity by arguing the experience of mass art has an inherent, stable essence that promotes liberalism over community, providing an alternative perspective on the conservative paradigm that has dominated previous scholarship on the subject.

Meet the Author

John Bodnar is Chancellor's Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington, and author of numerous books, including Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century.

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