Length: 1084 words (3.1 double-spaced pages)
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What is the stereotypical American? When one asks this question there are two general answers. An American would probably respond with characteristics such as hard working, free, and compassionate. A person from somewhere else in the world will probably have a very different answer to this question. Usually Americans can be seen as arrogant, dangerous, and hypocritical. Not a very good reputation to have, but the strangest part about it is most Americans either don’t know why people think of them this way or don’t care. For those that don’t care, ignorance will continue to be bliss, but for those who wish to know why people around the world think of them there are a few avenues they can explore. One of the most powerful is cinema. There are a number of great films that explore this subject in detail, and shed light on a perspective most Americans may not be familiar with. Two such films are Lars Von Trier’s portrait of everyday American life called Dogville, and the other is Francis Ford Coppola’s war epic Apocalypse Now. Although both films are quite different, both emphasize and reinforce the negative stereotypes associated with Americans (“What the World Thinks of America”).
Arrogance is the first trait generally associated with Americans. In Apocalypse Now, American arrogance is personified by the character played by Robert Duvall. Duvall’s character is the commander of a group of helicopters in Vietnam. It is explained throughout the film that Duvall’s character is invincible. He and everyone else knows that he will survive the war. With that degree of comfort Duvall stomps around Vietnam spreading freedom and killing scores of people. In his role in Apocalypse Now, Robert Duvall exemplifies the arrogant American soldier He goes around the world killing others, spreading his values, and not caring about the results. Von Trier’s film Dogville also examines stereotypical American arrogance. The first example of this comes from the character of Thomas Edison Jr. as played by Paul Bettany. Throughout the film, Bettany’s character attempts to change the beliefs and actions of the people within his town. While his struggle may be for the best, the fact that Bettany is trying to force his ideals on others is a very arrogant stance. Another example comes from the character of Grace as played by Nichole Kidman.
Kidman’s character is the outsider in the town of Dogville. Grace is seen as arrogant until the films last scene for she thinks no one can attain her same high ethical standards so she forgives others faults as being part of their nature. Although she is raped and exploited by the entire town throughout the film, she continually exonerates the citizens. Toward the films end her father says, “To plunder a god given right …that[‘s] arrogance.” The right being her life and the power she holds. With these two films Americans stereotypical arrogance is emphasized through their uncaring and superior attitudes.
Dangerous is another thing Americans are seen as being. The entire film Apocalypse Now can be seen as an example of this, as it takes place during the Vietnam War. A military state in which war is used as a tool to enforce beliefs, boost economics, and kill others. While American may attach this to Nazi Germany, much of the world will attach it to America. While Apocalypse Now focuses on the blood and war connotations of the word dangerous, Dogville tends to focus on the emotional implications of something which is dangerous. The best example of this comes from the citizens who inhabit Dogville and their exploitation of Grace. Throughout the film everyone in the township from the smallest child to the oldest women does their worse to this innocent woman, for no other reason than they can. Von Trier uses the township of Dogville to personify America, in that the people within it use and abuse a woman for no other reason that they can, and she can do nothing to stop them. With these two films both directors show why America can be considered dangerous, and by doing so reinforce stereotypes associated with Americans.
Freedom through war; some may say the statement is an oxymoron, but nevertheless it is a belief American’s history show they accept, maybe even agree with. As Vietnam is the subject of Apocalypse Now, this subject again shows stereotyped visions of American soldiers waging war. The major stereotype addressed here is hypocrisy in the “democracy”. The nation whose apex theories all revolve around freedom is waging a war. It is the hypocritical nature of America which many people have come to see a trait of it citizens and with Apocalypse Now this stereotype is reinforced through the films subject matter. Dogville also reinforces the hypocritical stereotype associated with Americans. In this film the duality comes in the form of American values, otherwise known as the American Dream, conflicting with the tangible actions of the citizens of the township. America’s values of equality, freedom, and liberty are the most recognizable characteristics of the nation’s idealistic nature. Conflicting with these ideals are the nations actions; whether it be waging war, supporting dictatorships, or perpetuating various form of hate, they are all now stereotypically American actions. Dogville demonstrates this belief through the exploitation, rape, and humiliation of Grace by a town whom the narrator describes as full of “good people”. While the townspeople talked of treating others with compassion and openheartedness, their actions are hypocritical of those beliefs and again reinforce stereotypes connected to Americans.
The stereotypes explored throughout this paper are all negative portrayals of Americans. There are also a number of positive stereotypes associated with Americans the most important of which has to do with the amount of freedom enjoyed in America, as well as the values connected to the American Dream. Dogville’s director Lars Von Trier is quoted as saying, "There are a lot of Americans I sympathize with very much, but not the Government right now, no. We just do not agree on politics, but that's not being Anti-American. I am critical about a country with a system that allows so many losers. I think that is wrong ( imdb.com).” It is important to know what people around the world stereotypically associate with Americans so that these notions can be changed. While these films may reinforce stereotypes, it is not to make people upset. It is to let them know that there are good reasons people have these opinions and that action must be taken in order to change.