What you'll learn

  • A dynamic understanding of American dreams
  • Appreciate the many different manifestations and historical shapes of the American dream
  • American dream relevance and meaning for the world we inhabit

Course description

Is the so-called American dream dead? The notion once essentialized the grand promise of a better, fuller, and richer life. At the present moment, however, it seems to have lost its evocative persuasiveness as a collective myth.

In a time of cultural crisis and political emergency, this course has a pressing mission. It aims to further a dynamic understanding of American dreams, to apprehend their complexities and contradictions, to appreciate their many different manifestations and historical shapes, and above all to take measure of their relevance and meaning for the world we inhabit.

In this endeavor we study the various ways in which Hollywood's fantasy machinery has created designs for living, indeed the most influential and resonant incarnations of American dreams. We analyze popular films produced during crucial junctures in the modern history of the United States, from the Great Depression and World War II through the cold war, McCarthy era, and the 1960s. We consider the wide range of functions that commercial studio features have assumed, how they at times have legitimated and sustained the status quo, but at others also have interrogated, exposed, and even indicted social inequity.

The course offers a representative sampling of classical Hollywood features from 1932 to 1969; films to be studied include ScarfaceKing KongIt Happened One NightThe Wizard of OzThe Grapes of WrathCitizen KaneCasablancaThe Best Years of Our LivesDetourHigh NoonThe Invasion of the Body SnatchersA Face in the CrowdRaisin in the SunThe Manchurian Candidate, and Easy Rider.

Instructor

  • Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

Associated Schools

  • Harvard Division of Continuing Education

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