Steven Spielberg's America
February 2010, Polity
Spielberg’s early films were a triumphant emergence of the Sunbelt aesthetic that valued visceral kicks and basic emotions over the ambiguities of history. Such blockbusters have inspired much debate about their negative effect on politics and have been charged as being an expression of the corporatization of life. Here Frederick Wasser argues that the older Spielberg has not fully gone this way, suggesting that the filmmaker recycles the populist vision of older Hollywood because he sincerely believes in both big time moviemaking and liberal democracy. Nonetheless, his stories are burdened by his generation’s hostility to public life, and the book shows how he uses filmmaking tricks to keep his audience with him and to smooth over the ideological contradictions. His audiences have become more global, as his films engage history.
This fresh and provocative take on Spielberg in the context of globalization, rampant market capitalism and the hardening socio-political landscape of the United States will be fascinating reading for students of film and for anyone interested in contemporary America and its culture.
Introduction: Culture, Politics, Film 1
1. The Formation of Spielberg’s Generation 18
2. Spielberg Gets His Break 39
3. The Shark and the Blockbuster 66
4. E.T. and All Things Private 101
5. Looking to the Past 137
6. The Historical Film 164
7. Spielberg and Dark Visions 193
Coda: Open Questions 215
Works Cited 224
• Explains the complex relationship between film and politics through the prism of an iconic filmmaker.
• Shows how Spielberg uses filmmaking tricks to keep his audience with him as his ideological concerns have changed over his career.
• Written in a vibrant manner for a general readership, and is packed with examples from Spielberg's films.
Eileen Meehan, Southern Illinois University Carbondale
"In varied writings, Frederick Wasser has established himself as
a trenchant commentator on contemporary movies and the media
industry behind them. Now, with his sharp, concise study of Steven
Spielberg's complex resonances for America today, Wasser extends
his critical reflection in important, new ways. This is a
compelling, intelligent take on the director and his social
Dana Polan, New York University
"A masterful case study that illuminates aspects of American politics and culture through the work of one filmmaker. Wasser deftly weaves a sophisticated analysis of Spielberg and his films with a provocative look at corporate Hollywood and capitalist America. A great addition to film and media studies."
Janet Wasko, University of Oregon