Naomi Wolf: The Great American Escapism

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

[Naomi Wolf’s most recent book is Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries.]

Barack Obama, however mixed his accomplishments to date as U.S. President, has sought to rebrand America and reclaim its former signature asset: its ability to embody universally admired values. As popular culture is usually the way those values are transmitted, it is worth considering what it is about American cinema, music and popular literature that makes them so compelling to many other parts of the world.

After all, much of what America once monopolized in Hollywood movies and other pop-culture exports is now being reproduced locally. Bollywood competes with California in terms of glamorous stars and big production numbers; Japan and South Korea mint their own pop singers and fashion trends.

But consider Entourage, the American TV show that centres on a rising male film star and his posse of dudes. Or a recent article in The New Yorker about two scruffy young chefs who have set out across the country to start the great adventure of running their own crazy restaurant, called Animal. Or Swingers, the 1996 worldwide hit movie about a 20-something guy in Hollywood and his band of male friends who drag him to Las Vegas to mend his broken heart.

One of America’s last competitive cultural exports, it seems, is the postadolescent male escape fantasy....

This fantasy, derived, no doubt, from American history – from westward expansion and Manifest Destiny, from the Gold Rush and a settlement policy that valorized staking a claim to the wilderness and subduing it – is powerfully appealing to men in general, and to many women as well. Indeed, American women have recently begun to film and export their own versions of this fantasy – starting with the groundbreaking 1991 film Thelma and Louise and continuing in a growing trend of girl-group travel and escape packages....

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