Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Maybe it's a little of both"

“He is Reagan – Reagan, that is, as he sold himself, a person incapable of duplicity, who operates according to a natural regime of justice and common sense in a national world that has little place for these virtues” (184).

Berlant, Lauren. “On Being Normal, Average, Common, Ordinary, Standard, Typical, and Usual in Contemporary America.” The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship. Durham: Duke University, 1997.

The above quote illustrates Berlant’s main point, that Forrest Gump is a conservative view of what a good American should be like. She claims that Forrest follows orders unquestioningly and conforms to conservative values, therefore presenting him in a positive light in this movie. On the other hand, Jenny’s character is used to heavily critique the liberal counterculture of the 1960’s. While I acknowledge that Forrest Gump is critical of this counterculture, I would argue that the movie is not necessarily conservative, either. Not mentioned by Berlant, the movie does indeed appear critical of conservatives as well. First, we see George Wallace’s stance outside the University of Alabama. Wallace is a staunch supporter of segregation. Forrest however, does not conform to the racism and southern nostalgia. Instead, he helps the African American student who drops her books. Also, the movie’s portrayal of Vietnam is not a positive enough one for a conservative bias, in my opinion. The soldiers are not glorified. Instead, they live in constant discomfort, changing their socks constantly to avoid flesh-eating infections and trudging through the jungle during the rainy season. There is little indication of progress being made in the war at all. In fact, the only battle sequence we see is a failure. The entire platoon is either killed or wounded. Also, Berlant does not bring up Lt. Dan in her essay. Lt. Dan, who at first appears to be the poster child of conservatism (willingly going out to die honorably for his country) is left maimed and helpless. He is given next to no support, and is left to squander in poverty and alcoholism.

Berlant argues that Forrest Gump is critical of liberalism while promoting the lifestyle of a conservative. I would argue that Forrest Gump is critical of both sides of the spectrum. This is a very tumultuous time in American history, and the movie argues that everyone is partly to blame. It presents the character of Forrest, not as a good conservative, but as the only good American. Forrest encompasses the ideals of both sides of the political spectrum, while avoiding the negatives. He achieves the financial prosperity championed by conservatives without the greed or racism, giving his excess riches to others, including Bubba’s family. He also achieves the peace and love protested by the counterculture without the drug usage or political angst.

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