Social Values reflected in the film American Beauty

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Question: With reference to American Beauty, discuss how the values of the time and place or production are identified and understood by the audience.


The dominant value of the time in the USA held towards homosexuality was one of acceptance and that it is clearly a normal way to live your life. This is clearly reinforced in the text, American Beauty, where the audience are presented with a respected and loving couple, ‘The Jims.’ Given the events of the time, Clinton’s push for gay rights through government, public outcry over a gay bashing of a student and sitcom Will and Grace with gay lead being released, the values of American people of the production pin the 1990’s are clearly reflected in the film.

This is further enhanced through the portrayal of anti gay (yet closet-gay himself) Colonel Frank Fitts. His representation, cast in expressive negative light, for example shadows cast upon his face, and through his association with Nazi memorabilia, the audience can easily force judgement and not side or agree with this character’s values- further endorsing the values of the production period towards homosexuality.

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Likewise the values towards materialism in society is clearly supported in the film, presenting the dominant value that material wealth can be soul destroying. Post 1980’s industrial and economic boom, the country’s people prided themselves on how they looked and what they owned as a sign of success and also happiness! It wasn’t until the 1990’s that people began to realise that all these possessions did not equate to a happy life. However throughout the film the audience are provided with countless examples to support this. Carolyn’s Mercedes and perfect garden may present the image of success but does ...

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