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Posts Tagged ‘Opportunity’

Having never actually watched Crossroads, I took the opportunity to relive the glory days that were the early 00’s while visiting the concept of the American road. Crossroads typifies a classic American road trip movie as a symbol for America. Three best friends, Lucy, Kit and Mimi, lose touch over the years until a road trip after their high school graduation promises to reunite them through achieving their childhood dreams. Ironically, the realization of the ladies’ dreams is found in California and Arizona, in the West, making it once again an opening for opportunity. Just as the journey to the old West was filled with danger, Crossroads is as well, but in the form of car trouble and destitution. The girls had to overcome the dangers of travel using cooperation to reach their destination and ultimately fulfill their American dreams.

After their travels, the girls were then faced with the danger of their dreams. Lucy dreamt of reconnecting with her estranged mother who left her as a three year old. Her mother rejected her, calling her a mistake. Kit dreamt of getting married, only to find that her fiancé was a cheater and rapist. Mimi dreamt of leaving their small hometown in Georgia, and traveling the world, but having been raped and impregnated, she had to rethink her dream to travel. After falling down a flight of stairs, and miscarrying, however, she now had the freedom to continue her travels, and had successfully left her hometown. Mimi is the only one whose dream came true, albeit in a horrible fashion.

All three girls went through traumatic events while trying to accomplish their dreams. In the end, those dreams shifted through the experience they gathered on the road, and while in the West. Their road trip transformation about the transition from girls to women mirrors the transition into Americans experienced by the pioneers. Much like other road trip movies, Crossroads presents the American road as a place full of opportunity, leading to the West, to follow your dreams, and to experience life-changing danger.

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The mythic idea of the road is everywhere in America, even today. Reading Eyerman & Lofgren’s Romancing the Road, one realizes just how prevalent this idea is in his or her own life. Even favorite songs, evoke the road without notice. Tracy’ Chapman’s Fast Car is one of these favorite songs.

Fast Car is a celebration of the road as an escape. The road becomes a chance for a new life. It also is a journey between two people and possible romance. It evokes traditional views of the road, but it also speaks to mainstream America, known more often than not as the opposite of the road – opposite of freedom.

From the beginning of the song, Fast Car takes on what Romancing the Road describes as, “car travel itself becam[ing] an adventure saga of magical quality”. (59) The car for Chapman is an escape, a magical thing that is “fast enough so we can fly away.” Fly away like Peter Pan flying away from adulthood. The article states, “Road’s liberating potential…. [is] possible to push the accelerator to the floor and leave all that was petty and bourgeois behind” (58). Like films in the road trip genre, Chapman’s car is an escape. Instead of escape from “claustrophobia of petit-bourgeois life” (62), Chapman’s escape is from, “injustice and from an intolerant ‘normality’” (62). This injustice and intolerable normality is her father’s drinking problem, her mother leaving and the responsibility she must take on by quitting school to take care of her father. Chapman’s responsibility of taking care of her father represents the traditional role of women as caregivers. Here she is escaping the confines of mainstream culture. The escape is so urgent Chapman sings, “Leave tonight or die this way.” The road takes on “a therapeutic role” (64).

I want a ticket to anywhere

Any place is better

See my old man’s got a problem

He live with the bottle that’s the way it is

He says his body’s too old for working

His body’s too young to look like hi

My mamma went off and left him

She wanted more from life than he could give

I said somebody’s got to take care of him

So I quiet school and that what I did

 

Is it fast enough so we can fly away?

We gotta make a decision

Leave tonight or live and die this way

By the end of the song, the car becomes yet another way to escape Chapman’s disappointment in the new life. She has yet again become the caregiver. Her partner does not have a job and drinks, neglecting his family. Chapman sings:

I’d always hoped for better.

Thought maybe together you and me find it.

I got no plans. I ain’t going nowhere.

So take your fast car and keep on driving.

This part of the song also takes on the risk of the road. In stating:

So take your fast car and keep on driving.

You got a fast car. Is it fast enough so you can fly away?

You gotta make a decision.

Leave tonight or live and die this way,

Chapman alludes to her desire for the car to become another escape; only this time the car will take the problem away. She will not be taken away from the problem. “Leave tonight or live and die this way” can be seen as a challenge for the presumably male partner step up, mature and be a man.

You got a fast car

I got a job that pays all our bills

You stay out drinking late at the bar

See more of your friends than you do of your kids

I’d always hoped for better

Thought maybe together you and me find it

You got a fast car.

Is it fast enough so you can fly away?

You gotta make a decision

Leave tonight or live and die this way

The American tradition of mobility, in the physical sense of the mythical road is a huge part of Chapman’s song. Romancing the Road describes this mobility: “movement itself became a symbol of hope. Going down the road, symbolized not only a way out, a going to and getting away from, it represented possibility, risk and romance” (57). Chapman’s desperate need to find a way out is expressed in the beginning of the song: “I want a ticket to anywhere…any place is better than here.” The lyrics “starting from zero got nothing to lose,” ushers in the road’s symbolism of possibility and opportunity. Chapman sings about the possibility of making something, getting jobs in the city and finally being able to live. Evoking the city as a place to experience life and acquire a job is a common American phenomenon. Throughput history the city has been the place of jobs. And as youth culture came into existence, the city turned into a place of adventure. It was and is a place to experience while you are young. “We go cruising, entertain ourselves,” represents this carefree attitude and continues to paint a picture of the car as an escape, as a way to have fun.

As the song goes on Chapman’s vision of life matures, representing the idea that the road fosters experiences for, “a new person…new sides to their personality, mellowing, maturing” (67). Chapman sings:

You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted.

We’ll move out of the shelter.

Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs.

This idea represents social mobility as well as physical mobility. Chapman dreams of being promoted and making enough money to achieve the American Dream –moving to the suburbs. No longer does she fantasy of freedom on the road. In its place is the dream of settling down. The desire for maturity can also be seen as Chapman sings, “I’d always hoped for better. Thought maybe together you and me find it. You gotta make a decision. Leave tonight or live and die this way,” urging her partner to mature.

Throughout the song, the subtle hint of romance is witnessed:

And your arm felt nice wrapped ‘round my shoulder.

And I had a feeling that I belonged.

I have a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone.

These lyrics also describe the feeling that the beat generation was looking for on the road in the 1950s and 1960s – acceptance.

If we presume Chapman’s companion is a man, the fact that Chapman is a woman also plays on the traditional idea of the road as a man’s world. In the beginning of the song, she is the one asking to hitch a ride and get away. She has the plan, not the man. By the end though, tradition and mainstream gender roles seems to win out. Chapman wants to settle down in the suburbs with a family. The last two lines, “You gotta make a decision. Leave tonight or live and die this way,” suggest the man will get back into his car and drive away, continuing the idea of solace for outsiders.

(Even the video has roads in it!!!)

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America the Free

This clip is from one of my favorite TV shows, Parks and Recreation. The character who is in this clip is Ron Swanson, a meat eating, whiskey drinking all-American man. Although I don’t completely like what he says, there is no part of what he says that is untrue. I believe this clip reflects what America means to me which ultimately is freedom, both the positive and negative sides. This country was founded on the idea of freedom.  We are free to eat unhealthy food that is readily available, and we are free to “balloon up to 600 pounds” if we want. We are free to have our health care costs be large burden to the rest of the population. We are free to reinforce the “fat, lazy American who craves instant gratification” stereotype. But, we are also free to make different decisions; we are free to deny unhealthy food, and we are free to take control of our own health. We are free to travel and change stereotypes. We are free to educate ourselves on the impact of our decisions. Just because we are free to make bad decisions, also doesn’t mean we have to make bad decisions, an aspect of freedom I believe is overlooked. I think this clip also says something about America’s attitude, the “I can do what I want because I am an American” attitude. Many Americans feel entitled to do and say whatever they want regardless of the consequences based solely on the fact that they were born in the United States. They feel it is their right to “eat garbage” and “die at 43” if they so chose, and so they do not educate themselves on what happens after a decision is made. In America, we are free to make unwise decisions, but we are also free to learn from those decisions. America, to me, means freedom, and to me, like Ron Swanson, I think that’s beautiful.

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This clip from the film Forrest Gump (1994) stands to give a different view on traveling the road when compared to other road movies. The clip shows Tom Hanks as the movie’s protagonist, Forrest Gump, running along the road near Monument Valley, Utah. Behind him is a large group of followers, bent on accompanying Forrest for the duration of his run. Forrest mentions that he has been running for over three years, and his running is meant to “put the past [him] before [he] can move on.” Forrest stops his run to announce that he is going home, ending his long journey.

Forrest’s run is for the same reason that many people in the 1950’s took the trip out west on Route 66: escape. They tried to break away from society’s restrictions and the responsibilities that awaited them back at home. To them, the open road meant pure freedom. It meant doing anything they want. Forrest’s case is so interesting because he already could do anything he wants. By this point in the film, Forrest is beyond wealthy, has nothing but free time, and is not encumbered by familial responsibilities or anything else that stops people from leaving their homes. He can make this journey with no consequences. In fact, he goes on this run right after he loses his only responsibility, namely the love of his life, Jenny. He takes this run because he is not burdened.

However, he does still share in the freedom of the open road. He finds the landscape beautiful and shares stories of the people he meets along the way. He is even reunited with Jenny as a result of the fame he obtains from the run. Forrest’s run, therefore, becomes reminiscent of traveling on the road during the 1930’s, when the open road represented an opportunity to get ahead in life. Forrest does this, but his gains are less about finances and more about life-fulfillment.

The fact that Forrest makes this journey by running is itself impressive. In Roy Eyerman and Orver Lofgren’s, “Romancing the Road: Road Movies and Images of Mobility,” they mention that “Without a car, one loses control and can easily be victimized by the hostile environs, social and natural.” Forrest has more than enough money to buy a car and take the trip several times over, but he chooses to run. His choice allows him to interact with and get close to many people along the way, leading up to his having a band of loyal followers. He actually gains control of his environment and shatters the “stranded hero” idea because he will never be without travel means. Forrest Gump provides a wonderful contrast to the usual views of the road, even though this scene takes up a very short amount of time compared to the rest of the film.

-Eddie Feller

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A Family Gathering

The video is of my boyfriend’s extended family enjoying a nice family dinner. The gray-haired woman in the middle is his grandmother, surrounded by her children and her children’s children.

The girl giving the toast to Babushka (Grandma) is Sabrina, Arkadiy’s cousin.

(They’re speaking Russian)

***

America means many things to me (and to everyone, considering the white board by the end of last class), but if I had to describe one idea that I associate with America, it would be opportunity – and with that opportunity comes hope. Hope for a better future, a life in which one’s choices and actions actually have an effect on where one ends up.

This is best demonstrated by my boyfriend’s family. He was born in Odessa (which was still part of the Soviet Union at the time), and his parents, Larisa and Leonid, were been born and raised in the Soviet Union as well.

At 14, Larisa was forced to support her mother, grandmother, and sister by finding a job sewing clothing. She had to throw her father out because he was a drunk who came home only to get money for alcohol.

Larisa was barred from attending college because of her Jewish heritage.

Leonid was forced to join the military, and when he refused to say the oath of allegiance, he was thrown in prison until he complied. While serving, many of his teeth fell out from the horrible condition of the water.

During their early years as a family, they had to wait in line to be given a ration of sugar and all other basic necessities because the government couldn’t pay Leonid or Larisa for their work. Leonid described it to me this way: “By the time the government paid me some of my back salary, inflation meant that the amount of money was essentially worthless.”

So, they decided to move to America, where some of their family members had already relocated. When they got on the plane, they had a toddler and a 2-year-old, and neither Leonid nor Larisa could speak any English. Leonid’s medical degree was not recognized in the USA, so all of his training and his previous experience meant nothing toward finding a job. In America, their family members helped them find jobs that were open to non-English speakers, while both of them took night classes to learn the language.

Arkadiy started kindergarten understanding absolutely no English. There were no ESL classes, no special help for him. Eventually, the whole family learned English, and his parents found great jobs. They own their own house, they raised their sons, and they’re happy.

Arkadiy and Sam are both in college. Arkadiy will graduate this May with a degree in English and Secondary Education. His brother, Sam, is studying computer science.

***
tl;dr – My boyfriend’s family moved from Russia to America when he was five. They left behind a place with no future, no options, and no stability (not to mention religious persecution), to a place where hard work and perseverance actually pays off.

(My Iconic image is both Family and Immigrants, two integral aspects of America)

America is opportunity.

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