“The American Dream in the Media”
Class Sources were : Between the world and I and The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation
Goal of the Assignment:
To use your skills of cultural analysis to analyze an American film, television program, or novel.
Write an 8-page research paper analyzing an American film, television program or novel of your choosing in a cultural context. Make an argument about the media text’s portrayal of the American Dream using 2 sources from our course readings and 3 outside academic sources. This should be your own analysis, not informed by critics reviews. You should make an original argument and support it with course materials. Research should focus on the historical context of the film.
Step 1: Select an American Film, Television Program, or Novel
It must meet the following criteria:
You should only select one. You can select one film or novel from a series, but you should focus your analysis on the story in one media text. So, for example, if you select Captain America: The Winter Soldier, you can reference his actions other Marvel films, but your analysis should focus only on the story in one film. For television series, I would focus on two or three episodes.
It must be an American media text.
It must discuss, comment on, or in some way represent the American Dream.
It can be from any time period, but if you use an older text, you’ll need to provide historical context for the era in which the story was first published/broadcast/released.
Not sure what media text you want to analyze? Click here to see a list of good options for this assignment: LIST OF AMERICAN DREAM NOVELS, TV SHOWS, & FILMS.
Step 2: Watch/read and analyze.
Even without being obvious, narratives reflect the values and ideas of their creators. In order to assess the different lessons they are attempting to impart, you’ll need to examine the plot and the characters. Evaluate the different plot threads: the major storyline (A plot) and any minor storylines (B & C plot). Think about what those stories are trying to show us about the American Dream. Keep the following questions in mind:
What values are encouraged or discouraged in the story?
What moral lessons do the characters learn in the course of the story?
Who gets punished and who gets rewarded in the story?
Are we (the audience) supposed to be outraged or satisfied by those punishments and rewards?
Are the characters depicted as complex (both good and bad) or simple?
How do the setting, costuming, lighting, camera work, and/or soundtrack contribute to the characterization of good and bad people or events?
What assumptions does the film make about “success,” “freedom,” or “opportunity”?
Do you think this film implies that the American Dream is attainable? Or does it challenge the notion of the American Dream? If so, how convincing was it?
Do characters that succeed have particular traits? What about characters who fail? What were the specific traits that contributed to their failure?
You don’t have to answer all of these questions, just think about them and use them to figure out what your main argument will be regarding the way the American Dream is represented in the text.
Step 3: Research
You will want to discuss how the film, TV show, or novel tells its story in a historical and cultural context. That means researching the following aspects. Use only academic sources:
Research the time period in which the story is set. A film like The Witch (2015) makes a great effort to accurately portray a Calvinist colony in 1630s New England. During the 1630s in New England, the Dream, if there could be said to be one, was not focused on individual home ownership and the nuclear family like it is in more recent times. You would need to research a bit about that time period to discuss how realistically the story represents the possibilities individuals had to achieve the version of the American Dream circulating during that time.
Research the time period in which the media text was published/broadcast/released. Stories tell you a lot about the values circulating during the era in which they were created. Your text could be a film about the 1830s, but made in the 1980s. It is important to think about how 1980s values (and in particular 1980s ideas about the American Dream) influenced this representation of the 1830s. So even though the story is about the 1830s, you’ll also want to research ideas about the American Dream in the 1980s to help you understand the meaning of the story.
Research the historical and cultural events that influenced how the American Dream was represented differently during this/these time periods. Show the reader the cultural and historical connection between the story and real life. A film about 1920s flappers might show us a version of the Dream that is fixated on personal pleasure, enjoying life, and not thinking about tomorrow. Your research should show that World War I, the Spanish Flu, and economic policies contribute to that change in thinking about what makes a “good life.”
Step 6: Format the Paper
Make sure your paper has the following information:
Course number and section
A title (no need for a separate title page, just place it at the top of the paper)
Make sure your text is double-spaced
Standard margins (an inch on each side)
Page numbers (anywhere)
Citations: Footnotes and a Bibliography
Step 7: Submit the assignment
Submit your Proposal by clicking “Start Assignment” in the top right corner. You should then see a box pop up at the bottom of this page that will allow you to upload your document.Upload PDF or MS Word .doc only. No Pages docs or links to Google docs will be accepted.