Archive for February, 2012

Smokey and the Bandit

Smokey and the Bandit is a great example of Road culture.  It’s a 1977 film about two guys Snow and Bandit who team up to illegally transport beer for a Texas politician from West of the Mississippi River to Georgia.  Snow drives the tractor trailer, while Bandit drives his convertible Pontiac Trans Am as a distraction for the police.  The Bandit unexpectedly ends up picking up a runaway bride Frog who was to marry Sheriff Smokey’s son.  This whole predicament essentially leads to a high speed chase/road trip across the Southern US from West to East.

Practically the whole movie focuses on the risk of the road.  It seems that the law is easier to escape (and so the individual has more control) when you’re traveling, but that also means that there is a lot more danger along the way.  The risk in this movie is definitely linked to the individual.  Bandit wants the money, but also has a reputation.  The risk/reward runs the whole plot.  The road also is represented as a means of escape.  Carrie AKA Frog manages to escape her dreaded wedding fate by jumping in the convertible with Bandit.  Again, she herself must way the risk/reward aspect.  The road, though dangerous pays off for the both of them.  Bandit makes his shipment and Frog avoids her wedding, but the sense of the unknown is maintained as Smokey starts up the chase again, but only after Bandit gives him a clue to his location so that the chase can go on.  Maybe it was just a ploy for the movie makers to get sequels, but it also indicates the draw the road has on Bandit.

Trucker road culture is also represented in this movie.  Bandit and Snow talk in their own trucker lingo and other truckers help them avoid the law along the way.  Again, the road has this sort of society that operates above the law in some ways.  And as I seem not to be able to avoid this theme, the road culture seems to be largely made up of average working Americans.  The average guy/gal rules the roads and makes his name known and escapes an unwanted life.

Katie G.

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British comedians Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produce a television show, “An Idiot Abroad,” starring their friend Karl Pilkington, whom they deem to be an idiot, as he travels to different locations around the world and shares his rather unique view of the experiences which many are expected to enjoy. This series involves Karl taking on activities common on a bucket list, and for the first time, Karl is filmed exploring America with a whole episode central on his travel down the iconic Route 66.  I found this to be a worthwhile example as it examines an American icon from an outsider’s perspective. We’ve discussed what Route 66 symbolizes to us as Americans, but in this show I observed how this icon translated to someone from England.

When presented with the option of travelling down Route 66, Karl appears skeptical. He does not understand the appeal of this journey, instead believing Americans to be overly excitable. He isn’t convinced on the iconic Route 66 journey questioning, “Is it just America who’s made this seem like a good thing to do?” Is this true? Are Americans overly sentimental about their icons? Or is Karl seeing Route 66 too simply, and not metaphorically?

Karl is eventually convinced to take this journey once being promised a convertible car in which to take this journey. While he expects a classic model, the joke is on him when he is given a convertible smart car, which causes him to loathe his journey even more.

The cultural divide is always apparent as Karl continuously questions many American activities and fascinations. He believes the iconic status of Route 66 to be uniquely American, and it would never be acheived anywhere else.

The entire episode is up on youtube, and it runs about 45 minutes.

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Fear and Loathing in America

When analyzing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, many seem to focus on its psychedelics and view it as a celebration for drug use.  On the surface, that’s what it looks like.  However, along with the obvious acceptance of drugs comes a heavy critique of the American Dream.  The road trip from California to Las Vegas represents the pursuit of this Dream – the opportunity to succeed and to escape where their life currently resides.

But they travel to Las Vegas.  A place where people spend tons of money on food, gambling and midnight escorts.  They come hoping to win everything and end up leaving with nothing but disappointment and shame.  We get lost in the throes of consumerism and materialism. The actual Dream is forgotten – which can be attributed to the many torn and tattered American flags seen throughout the film. The pursuit becomes a waste of time. And drugs are used to parallel this hopeless pursuit – as a means to escape reality, to experience something more.  According to the film’s director, the point of the drugs is to “allow our characters to get caught in a distorted world, which is already distorted by reality.” A reality that this struggle for the American Dream will not be won because it is a road to nowhere. The notion of the American Dream is distorted.  It does not exist in the boundaries of modern American culture.

The road becomes a fool’s paradise in the eyes of the main characters, acting as an escape from their everyday lives.  The film plays into this sad depiction of reality by pointing out the many contradictions that the culture presents.

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I Dream a Highway

(I remember falling asleep to this 15 minute downer on the late night family car trip back from bluegrass festivals – I was raised on Gillian Welch.)

Welch does not a dream of new opportunity, but of “a highway back to you love.” The road, or in this case the highway, is a way to get back to what we love. It is this simple backward mobility that acts as a reminder of what is important. Whether or not the highway will physically take us there, we are reminded of our sorrow for lost love, and the image of the road takes us there in dreams.

Here we find the sorrow of modern American promise (as she sings of faulted wanderings across the country). In the past, the road meant looking forward towards opportunity, but now it’s a highway that looks backwards towards better days. In short, the best of America is now behind us.


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Get on the Bus

Get on the Bus is a film of an actual event, the Million Man March of October 16, 1995.  The film, the work of the African American filmmaker, Spike Lee was released  in October, 1996 a year after the actual march.   The film was embroiled in controversy from the very beginning because of the organizer, Minister Louis Farrakhan.  Minister Farrakhan is a “lightening rod” for a large segment of White Americans and to a lesser degree African Americans.  However, the march took on “legs” of its own and was carried by its momentum.  Eyerman and Lofgren’s article refers to limiting their research/discourse to films where the road, the journey is the central theme.  This theme of moral discourse, personal development and mirroring of society itself is played out on Get on the Bus.  The story unfolds with 12 African American men on a bus going from Los Angeles to Washington,DC for the march.  Washington, the seat of our government, has long been the “Promised Land” for many African Americans.  A place to address our grievances and seek solace.  Until recently, DC was known informally as “Chocolate City”.  The stated purposes of the march were to promote African American male unity.  This is reminiscent of the buddyism we see in countless road movies.  Secondly, it  promoted family values.  We recall the Joads and their unexpected experiences along the road.  This film also delves into the characters personal lives, political beliefs and racism.  What makes this film extraordinary is the truth and feelings that it displays.  To paraphrase an attendee of the march, it was a quest for a huge cross section of African American men, and a life-altering experience for some.  It galvanized and energized men in a way that no other movement has done in recent times.  Finally, this is a road movie which can be included with the best of the genre.
Chris Martin

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Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster

As I was reading this week’s articles on the road, I immediately thought of the Rock ‘n’ Roller coaster at Disney World. The whole appeal of the attraction is flying through a dark, unknown space in a car. I’m not really great with cars, but it looks like a red Cadillac, which seems to be the iconic mode of transportation on the road. Once the countdown begins, the car accelerates onto a long track with different representations of the L.A. freeways. There are what could be considered “authentic” signs along the way and even the representation of a diner. And of course, during the whole ride, Aerosmith’s music is playing in the background.

There are several key points that we discussed in class which could be related back to the ride.

First, the roller coaster illustrates the idea of freedom. The car is going at an extremely fast speed, and the pitch black atmosphere adds an element of the unknown. The sense of risk is also clearly there, considering that’s the whole appeal of both roller coasters and speeding down the highway. And to go along with the theme, rock and roll in itself embodies the concepts of freedom and rebellion.

The storyline behind the ride is also important. Before boarding the coaster, guests are greeted with a pre-recorded video by Aerosmith in which they invite all guests to travel to their L.A. concert with backstage passes. This adds to the element of excitement, risk-taking and unpredictability. The road becomes a representation for chance-taking behaviors and doing something completely unplanned and out of the ordinary. What’s ironic is how much this concept classes with the rest of Disney’s atmosphere, which stands for predictability, reassurance and nostalgia for the suburban, uncorrupted small-town.

As I was researching the coaster, I came across something interesting, which I myself didn’t notice while at the park. There’s actually a Route 66 sign near the coaster with stacks of suitcases piled underneath. Apparently it’s a popular place where guests take pictures near. So while vacationer’s are in the safe-haven that is Disney World, they can pose for an artificial picture near an artificial sign that is meant to represent escape from the very thing they’re enjoying – predictability and safeness. And it all collides right on Main Street U.S.A.

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The one article we read talked about the physical space of the car and the ways that it can be interpreted. Think of this in terms of “Little Miss Sunshine.” There is a family instead of a young male. There is a VW Bus instead of a convertible. The car can’t shift without being pushed. These things kinda sorta go against the typical ideas of of being on the road. However, think of the metaphors you can take away from these deviations. It’s a breaking family, they are tied down by and connected to each other; hence, the closed roof and barely functioning Bus. At the end, after their journey on the road, they come together as one unit and a sense of fulfillment takes over. Basically, the representation of The Road in this movie proves how Icons can be reworked to symbolize certain meanings.

Also, I couldn’t find a good clip of them driving or pushing the car. But the movie as whole has a bunch of Road Culture representations: the diner with the friendly waitress, the semi-skeezy gas station, run in with a cop, and the desert backgrounds.

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