Introduction Films have occupied a central place in the American landscape. Although they were invented in Europe, it was American entrepreneurship and innovation that turned a novelty into an industry that has changed the course of history. Aside from affecting large-scale events and trends, films have helped shape a shared sense of identity, a way of being in the world. Not all films belong in this register of influence. The ones that do can be singled out by their popularity, signaled by their profitability. And while elitist notions of popular culture versus “high” cul- ture often exclude the films that actually make a ton of money, these are, nonethe- less, the movies that have the widest and perhaps longest impact—often to the befuddlement of critics who want less “fun” and more art than artifice. AMERICAN What does it mean to be “American”? Perhaps it consists of simply living within a shared geopolitical boundary. For some, it means a rather exclusive his- tory that begins with European settlers, particularly English-speaking ones, who “founded” the nation on the rational values derived from the Enlightenment. Here a certain kind of politics, philosophy, and religion are often viewed as universal and transcendental rather than peculiar expressions of their time and place. Such views have, justifiably, been weighed and found wanting, leading to more inclu- sive dialogues and debates about whether there actually is a common identity that can be called “American.” Increased multiculturalism and pluralism, due to increased immigration and high-speed forms of global communication and travel, have laid bare simplistic notions of “us” and “them.” The hybridizing juggernaut of globalization itself has smoothed out, if not erased, the sharp demarcations of national identity that existed just 100 years ago. In response to these changes, some Americans have dug in, tapping into reservoirs of nationalism if not also white supremacy and conspiracy theory, such as the idea, among others, that the global elite are clearly arranging the end of national sovereignty. Yet despite the polarization in the American landscape, non-Americans clearly see “American” as a type that can be identified, especially when Americans travel abroad. While only 42 percent of Americans own a passport (compared with 76 per- cent of Brits), those who do travel outside the spacious boundaries of the States have
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