Soured on the System: Disaffected Men in 20th Century American Film

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Everyone shuts himself up tightly within himself and insists upon judging the world from there. What would a society made up of such people be like? Even though, according to Tocqueville, the more extreme manifestations of individualism are checked by a well-balanced, ingenious web of interconnected governing bodies as well as the force of public opinion , the picture of American society that emerges from his work is one of unrest, compulsive activity, chronic discontent:. In the United States a man builds a house in which to spend his old age, and he sells it before the roof is on; he plants a garden and lets it just as the trees are coming into bearing; he brings a field into tillage and leaves other men to gather the crops; he embraces a profession and gives it up; he settles in a place, which he soon afterwards leaves to carry his changeable longings elsewhere.

Death at length overtakes him, but it is before he is weary of his bootless chase of that complete felicity which forever escapes him. At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men, restless in the midst of abundance. The spectacle itself, however, is as old as the world; the novelty is to see a whole people furnish an exemplification of it.

What might have been a force for community has instead created a sense of shared isolation. But first, a personal reminiscence about the two last Tocquevilleans. Right after World War II, my father moved his growing family from a three-room apartment in Manhattan to a big house in a tree-lined neighborhood just within city limits. But my father had no particular desire for land: it was rooms he wanted, a home that really was a castle, lots of furniture, fresh fruit in the refrigerator — the most visible signs of success.

Bromley had been no less active. Every morning Dad drove Mr. Bromley to his Harlem office before going to his own. Now the fact is that ethnically, my father and Mr. Yet they were so American!

Soured on the System: Disaffected Men in 20th Century American Film

In those days it seemed possible—and essential— for every immigrant to assimilate and become American! Since they really had no other choice, they worked hard to bury their pasts and reconstitute their personalities in the New World. Immigrants or not, my father and Mr. Jimmy Stewart could have been modeled on my father. Informal, awkward, boyish like Stewart, Dad wore cardigan sweaters with holes in the elbows with the charming sloppiness of Stewart crushing his hat in the famous scene in Mr.

Smith Goes to Washington. One could tell — and not only in Mr. Tocqueville would have recognized them in an instant. Bromley had antecedents in the movies, too. Some of Edward G. Sometimes he arranged elaborate fishing trips, and invited my father and me. The chartered boat could have been out of To Have and Have Not. The captain was white, fat, and smart enough to recognize who was boss. All the other guests were black — friends, associates or henchmen of Mr. The food was sumptuous — fried chicken, potato salad, green salads, roast beef, Scotch, gin, Coke for the boy.

It only acquired an edge when someone proved himself a poor fisherman.

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Bromley himself sat at the stern, totally focused on the underwater omphalos where fish recognize the difference between ordinary and irresistible bait. He caught as many as the rest of us combined. If one regards Huck and Tom Sawyer as two halves of the American personality, then Bromley was Huck, a liar and petty thief but the soulful one, the individual who created his own moral system out of personal experience, ambition, restraint, and an instinctive sense of Style.

As Bromley and my father conformed to Tocquevillean parameters, so did their spouses. Though my mother and Mrs. Early on my father had been rejected for an engineering job because he was a Jew — and lost all interest in engineering. Nevertheless, they saw themselves as loyal Americans. Whether or not they recognized themselves in Stewart and Bogart and in other characters in radio shows and comic strips , their reflections were in the cultural mirror. In a complex, unsentimental way, Americans were still a family, if not necessarily a happy one. Much of the current writing about the negative effects of the media seems to me driven by false nostalgia: whether we like it or not, a time without media saturation of culture feels impossibly remote at one end, inconceivable at the other.

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Walter Thompson publicists. And with the rise of Yellow Journalism at the turn of the century in the hands of William Randolph Hearst, the media started to feel its power, if not to create news then to shape and inflate it. And this feeling undermined—or at least obscured—the self-assurance of the private citizen that Tocqueville described so well. In many ways, the turning point was the day of the Kennedy assassination in Not only was it the first time that an assassination was filmed and broadcast on television, but also the first time that an actual murder the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby was broadcast live before the world.

On some neurological level, we were stunned and confused: had we just watched a staged drama — some sort of acting out of a national wish to take revenge on the murderer of the President? Since television up to that point had been about craft, not accident, could we accept that what we had just witnessed was spontaneous and unrehearsed? I think this is when many people started to sense, albeit unconsciously, that there existed a new kind of reality somewhere between theater and unselfconscious life, a reality determined by the always- open eye of the camera.

He is hired anyway for a public relations job, helping the network president Ralph Hopkins Fredric March launch a national mental health campaign.

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Hopkins is powerful and highly respected at the office, but unbeknownst to his employees, his workaholic habits have caused him to be estranged from his wife and his rebellious daughter, who soon elopes with an unsuitable man. Tom is initially supervised by Bill Ogden Henry Daniell , a micromanager and office politician who rejects Tom's drafts of an important Hopkins speech intended to launch the campaign and substitutes a draft of his own consisting of what Ogden thinks Hopkins wants to hear. At first Tom plans to play along with office politics and accept Ogden's draft, but coaxed by Betsy, openly derides the draft as false modesty and presents his original ideas to Hopkins instead.

Hopkins, who has just received unwelcome news of his daughter's elopement, is receptive to Tom's criticism and thinks Tom resembles his own late son, who refused to accept an officer's commission in World War II and was subsequently killed in action as an enlisted man. Hopkins now regrets having ignored his family and advises Tom not to make the same mistake.

esdinime.tk Meanwhile, Betsy, eager to move to a better house, abruptly sells the family's modest dwelling and moves them into Tom's late grandmother's mansion, "Dragonwyck," only to find that Edward Joseph Sweeney , the old woman's longtime caretaker at the mansion, is claiming that Tom's grandmother had bequeathed him the estate.

Judge Bernstein veteran character actor Lee J. Cobb intercedes, presenting evidence suggesting not only that Edward had forged the bequest letter but also padded the woman's bills, depleting the estate and accumulating a large fortune in the town's bank he could not otherwise explain. The Raths keep the mansion. Caesar, who'd married Maria's cousin, tells Tom that Maria and her illegitimate son by Tom are desperate for money in their still war-ravaged country.

Although Tom has previously kept his affair and the resulting child a secret from Betsy, he decides to tell her, remembering her advice to be honest about Hopkins' speech. Betsy grows furious and speeds away in her car, but she runs out of gas and they reconcile at the local police station. That night, Hopkins calls Tom to ask that he accompany Hopkins on a trip to California associated with the new campaign. Tom declines, saying he just "wants to work 9 to 5 and spend the rest of the time with his family", which Hopkins ruefully accepts. The film, like the novel on which it was based, became hugely popular.

Historian Robert Schultz argues that the film and the novel are cultural representations of what Adlai Stevenson had described in as a "crisis in the western world", "collectivism colliding with individualism," the collective demands of corporate organizations against traditional roles of spouse and parent.


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