Being American: Parts 1 - 3

A film-collage of awkward moments taken from "American" educational films, television broadcasts and advertisements from the 1930s - 1970s. Part One presents freedom and progress as ideas that have historically masked white greed and environmental destruction as much as they do today. What unfolds is a carefully constructed narrative that takes jabs at the origins of our present catastrophes and asks what it means to identify with a shameful legacy.

 

Part 2 presents a mercurial depiction of drug use, abuse and addiction. For many, psychedelics and plant medicines like Marijuana were and are a valuable gateway to self-regulation in a culture of isolation and domination. A way to relax enough to experience a semblance of peace, even if it is "artificial" or an escape. While the opioid epidemic currently rages across North America with no end in sight, we are reminded of the extreme pressure, stress and pain that many in our society, especially poor people, experience daily. Being American means living within a cultural network plagued by oppression, violence and domination, for which we all suffer needlessly. Given this landscape, in which our basic sanity is tested, in which the oppressed continue to struggle daily for survival, their rights denied, it should be no surprise that in almost every decade of American history have been diverse movements with a common underlying message: "this is not working."

 

Last year the most googled word was... "feminism." There must be either a vastly expanding interest in feminist theory or confusion on the part of traditionals as to what they appose, or both. How our society has worked to oppress women, especially women of color, while encouraging a version of masculinity that goes hand-in-hand with violence and domination, is the subject of this last segment of Being American. Part 3 looks at traditional gender roles: men as machismo fighting athletes and hard-working husbands, and women through the prism of chauvinist male-gaze: consumers and vein trophies (with some strong voices that penetrate the veil).

The film portrays dating, mansplaining, repression, sex-education and a sobering look at marriage, almost as if tailored for the 45th president himself. I am well aware that this is a limited view of gender and feminist issues, as the material found in the Prelinger archives does not contain enough progressive material to include all sides. In keeping with the style of the series, Part 3 uses mismatched, carefully re-arranged clips in ways that illuminate flaws in traditional views, which are very much still a present reality. As always, there are a few voices of reason. For me, the last clip says it all - caring kindness and love, given by parents to children, is the most important thing, however you choose to navigate partnership.