Inspired by reading that Confucius’ “Book of Songs” contained poems that offered China’s ancient ruler a way to govern better by presenting the sentiments of China’s populace expressed by a variety of poets, I began imagining American movies and American literature as means of revealing elements of American society. Last week I saw a movie that keeps popping up on television,” Something’s Gotta Give”, showing highly successful middle class people in rather sumptuous middle class surroundings displaying rather liberal middle class values. The person who provides these sumptuous surroundings is a presently single mother, a successfully famous playwright, so famous that even the youthful doctor treating her daughter’s aging boy friend has seen all her plays. An imagined kind of success perhaps that an elderly tenant in the movie “Duplex” trivializes when she characterizes her new landlord’s literary vocation by alluding to the famed Irish writer, James Joyce, who she says died in poverty: so writing’s meant as a hobby not a serious profession.
Concerning the literary aspect of American culture a book entitled “On the Road” documents a world peopled by characters living all over America, hobo-like, scarcely resembling the many successful literary figures portrayed in many recent American movies where most work at some sort of publishing enterprise and wear the middle class trappings of writers, successful lawyers or politicians. It is difficult comprehending that “On the Road” was being peopled with the desperately poor in its 1940’s-early 50’s setting in words from personal experience just as the many glamorous images of American living from a screen writers fancy were being filmed; precisely when everyone was presumed to have been enjoying a new prosperity after the war, after the depression. Indeed “On the Road” makes it seem that the depression had never ended. Even the author of this work performing in his own book as narrator, is a real writer living off a military pension, and a trickle of royalties in a world where everyone seems homeless, often hungry and destitute. Neither he nor his characters are middle class; none have jobs. Their only joy is viewing America’s diverse geography and people. Were people ever like that in America after the war, after the depression, or have they in fact been really successful middle class writers, lawyers, politicians and business leaders whose goal, whose joy is money ?