Hollywood Movies and American Identity Formation

“Identity” is a very vague term with different meanings. What is identity? “It refers to the cultural values or perspectives an individual most strongly relates to; such as an Asian identity”(SCP), “The distinguishing character or personality of an individual”(Arts Connected Organization), “It includes those qualities that distinguish one person from another” (Encarta Encyclopedia), “The distinguishing character or personality of an individual” (Britannica Encyclopedia). The very concise definition of “Identity” is realized in the question of “who Am I?” It refers to one’s specific and unique characteristics and features which differ it from others. It represents the real “self” of the person and the behaviors and desires due to that understood “self”. Like most human characteristics identity is formed through a very long and deep process.

The personal continuity and being unique are the most important factors of identity formation. It goes without saying that people, moreover to their personal identity that is formed mainly in families and schools in very young ages, acquire their social identity according to what group they belong to; membership in familial, ethnic, religious or even occupational groups. These group identities are necessary for people in order to define themselves in the eyes of both others and themselves.
Erik Erikson has extensively discussed “Identity Formation” under his theory of “developmental stages”, which believes identity formation extends from birth through adulthood. He states that this identity formation begins in childhood and goes along to adolescence and it also gains prominence in adolescence. Having had physical growth, sexual maturation, and various occupational opportunities, adults will start integrating their former experiences and characteristics, gained specifically through childhood, into a fixed and -perhaps- permanent identity. But basics of identity are constructed in childhood and teenage years. Thus, it can be said that the most significant period of identity construction is childhood.

The predictable obstacle through the identity formation can be identity crisis caused by various reasons and circumstances. According to Erikson, the crisis can be resolved by one’s progress through previous developmental stages, orienting on basic issues of life such as trust, autonomy, and motives. “J. E. Marcia illustrates four common ways in which adults deal with the challenge of identity formation. Those who successfully resolved and passed identity crisis are referred as “identity-achieved.” Others who are trying to make commitments without questioning or investigating alternatives are named “identity-foreclosed,” those who are “identity-diffused” flee from making decisions about their futures who are unable to make total heartily commitments to careers, values, or other people. In contrary, those in the “moratorium” group are struggling and experiencing an ongoing crisis as they try to “find themselves.”(Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology)

Undoubtedly, societies are in search for “identity-achieved” generations. Hence, the young generation or even adults will not be struggling with their “selves” or the society to find out moralities and values when they are mature enough to work and produce labor for their society. To be able to lead generations to this level of identity, societies must have regulated plans to educate and treat children from the very young ages; so that these learned values and moralities will be strengthened through ages. Cultural means can best aid and instruct children. This process of identity formation has always been very dominant through years by Hollywood.

Hollywood as the most influential media in America, and also in other countries, has had a great role in identity formation of Americans since childhood. American values and morale are being conducted in different ways in Hollywood movies; religious, national, political, moral and even economic values. There has always been a great emphasis upon religious believes-attending church or celebrating religious holidays like Christmas- and national values; American has always been stressing upon. Equality, liberty, love for the nation, freedom of expression, human right have been demonstrated repeatedly in movies in order to imply meanings and values.

American cinema has also established the “rating system” in Hollywood so that it could have the cinema under its own control and it could present what ever was to the benefit of the society. Rating was considered as a way to set force limitations. Hollywood movies were being rated when bearing sexual affairs, violence, drug abuse and crimes. Thus, they would have restricted sexual openness in the society, they would have abandoned violence and drug abuse presented widely to people, more specifically to children for whose sake rating system has developed in the United States in 1930s by Motion Picture Association of America. Rating system has been categorized considering age limits. American movies have been divided into 5 categories as follows; G category- General Audiences- that all ages are admitted and is surely pure of any immorality, PG that means some materials may not be very appropriate for children, PG-13 implies that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13, R that children under 17 must be accompanied by parents or adult guardian and the last one is NC-17 that no one 17 or under is permitted.

Another approach to teaching morality is through movies conveying moral values, expressing national and religious connotations, showing the way of life; the life which is desirable to public and government. The very good examples of these moral films made before and after World War II are “It’s a wonderful life” and “You can’t take it with you” directed by Frank Capra; former made in 1946 and latter made in 1938. Both films were great messengers of American identity.

In “It’s a wonderful life” we can see “George Bailey has so many problems he is thinking to end them all – and it’s Christmas! As the angels discuss George, we see his life in flashback. As George is about to jump from a bridge, he ends up rescuing his guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence then shows George what his town would have looked like if it hadn’t been for all his good deeds over the years”. The emphasis on Christmas, friendship, helping others, benignity of politicians and private organizations are all subjects that need a great stress and emphasis to be learned.

The same subjects also exist in “You can’t take it with you” in another way. Portrait of a love relation between a rich boy and a poor girl signifies the importance of ethics in life;” Alice Sycamore has to introduce the family of her fiancĂ©, Tony Kirby, to her own family. The Kirby’s are wealthy, stuffy family of great self- importance, while the Sycamore’s are a collection of good-hearted lunatics. When the two families come together, lifestyle and philosophy collide head-on. The financial level of people is static, changing easily and it also remains very short. Poor people feel happy and supportive to each other and never feel alone. The important feature of both is that there is no sexuality in these two films.

To finish the discussion it is important to emphasize on the influence Hollywood has in every aspect of Americans. But the very real objective it looks for is identity formation which is most influential in children and youth; help them know their society’s values and even their government’s policies and plans.


1. http://www.britannica.com/ 2.

2. encarta.msn.com/

3. http://www.imdb.com

4. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g2699

Upcoming Hollywood Movies – An Addiction Among the Youth

Computer Games and Hollywood Movies

It is amazing how much computer games influence our society. It’s often said that art mimics life. This is true in many regards, but sometimes life mimics art. Consider many of the science fiction type movies that have a common theme, and a common foundation of the computer game phenomena. Computer games have obviously only been around since such electronic devices have been available. It’s still a rather new industry, and just think, 30 years ago people didn’t have personal computers, therefore they didn’t play games on those computers. See my point?

The other day, I went to see the movie “Battleship” and the movie had some great special effects, and some of the futuristic technology war game computational radar screens, which looked very much like the electronic version of the family game “Battleship” and so you see computer games in Hollywood movies also have quite a bit in common along the lines of their foundation. Screenplay writers often weave into their storyline such gaming technologies, albeit taken to the next level. It is my contention that we should expect this trend to continue are off into the future, if not motivate humans to create that future.

Some say that computer games are a conspiracy theory to get young kids interested in fighting wars electronically, controlling mechanical weapons and combat equipment far away. It stands to reason that in the future these skills will be needed, and those kids that played video games all of their lives will most likely be the ones at the controls of our future fighter planes, stealth bombers, and unmanned ground vehicles. Today your kids might be playing the video game, tomorrow they might be working for the Department of Defense defending this great nation.

Without getting into the heart of that debate over the morality of such issues, you can see that the Hollywood script writers do indeed believe that this will be our potential eventuality in the future, and they are duly writing those scenarios into the movies we are watching today. We all know that the science fiction of today will become the science fact of tomorrow. Perhaps a lot of that is occurring in the entertainment world, as it is being introduced to our society and civilization in this way.

Now then, I would like you to stop and think for a moment how many Hollywood movies that you’ve seen in the last few years that have a computer gaming theme. I think when you do that, you will see exactly what I’m talking about. In fact, if you want to help jog your memory, go onto Google or Yahoo and search “Hollywood science fiction movies with computer games,” and you’ll be surprised how many movies pop up, and when you watch some of those trailers you will see just what I’m talking about. Please consider all this and think on it.

From American Expatriate in China To Hollywood Movie Deal – With Alan Paul, Author of Big In China

Moving to China with a job waiting for you around the corner is one of the more familiar routes to take as a newly arrived expatriate, but what happens when you leave home with not so much of a salary guarantee but a sense of adventure? And what kind of willpower does it take to start a cross-cultural blues band that tours China, and later honored as 2008’s Best Band in Beijing?

Author Alan Paul heeded the call of a lifetime when his spouse was appointed China bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, an event that sent his New Jersey family of five packing and heading for China’s capital. The freelance journalist seized the overseas opportunity to play music with local Chinese musicians, write an award-winning column for the online Wall Street Journal, all the while raising his three children to be culturally aware global citizens.

When Paul returned home to pen one of the best, if not the most entertaining memoirs of expatriate life in China in recent memory, he didn’t just leave a lasting impression on his readers. Hollywood director Ivan Reitman of Ghostbusters fame picked up on Paul’s story and purchased the rights to the memoir, currently in movie pre-production. With regards to the movie, Paul explained, “I want China to be captured, as accurately as possible, and the experience of living as a Westerner in China, and the experience of living abroad… and that it’s all true to the complicated realities of life.” In an interview with AsianTalks, Paul recounts not just three years of magical thinking, but also plenty of doing that involved reaching across the aisle and befriending his Chinese counterparts. Here’s our conversation with a man of action.

AT: Alan, since you’ve published, you’ve also become something of an American expatriate ambassador to China. Do you feel you have played a bridge role?

(Laughs) Well thanks! There’s maybe a bridge role in two different respects. One is just for the expat world to the non-expat world. I think I helped demystify the whole concept of living abroad, and I think there’s obviously plenty of us who have had similar experiences. I feel that first through the column, and more so through the book and the subsequent publicity from the book, I was able to demystify that concept of who we are and what that whole experience is like.

And I think to a certain extent I was able to do the same thing for China. My column was translated into Chinese and I’m now completing some rewrites for the Chinese translation of the book, which I’m really excited about. I do think that with the column being translated, and now hopefully with my book next, I was able to break down some barriers of Chinese perceptions, misperceptions, and confusion about Americans.

AT: So your street runs both ways. You’re not just interpreting China for an American audience, you’re actually doing the reverse as well.

Yes I am! I certainly was doing that throughout with my column, and I’m really, really excited about the book coming out in Chinese to continue and further that. The Wall Street Journal has a great Chinese-language website, which has a large and growing readership, and obviously people in China who are reading the Journal are a select group. I mean it’s a large group, but obviously it’s educated people who are interested in Western things, and in many cases work with Westerners, or even with American or other Western companies, and didn’t always understand, you know, what made us tick, so to speak. So (via the column) they sort of understood Western life. There had been a lot of mystery – and a lot of confusion – about what we were really thinking, and what we were doing, and how we felt about China, so I provided some insight into that. I’ve always taken that role seriously, and try to do justice to it, going both ways.

AT: One of the highlights of your book is about reaching across the aisle to your Chinese counterparts. How did you take that proactive step? Do you have any advice for expats in your situation looking to make Chinese friends?

Well, I think in terms of advice, it really depends where you are in life, and where you are living, if you have kids. I think if you are a single person it’s a lot easier because you’re in control of your life and you can go out and do things, and maybe live in a more Chinese area and what not.

If you have kids, and you’re committed to them adapting, you have to make maybe more of an adjustment towards just helping them, so we lived the lifestyle a little bit differently, or definitely a bit differently than we would have if we hadn’t had kids. And so if you are in that kind of setting like you are starting out in the expat bubble, I think the first step towards not remaining in it, is to really, when you arrive somewhere, doesn’t have to be China, or wherever you are, to seek out friends in a social circle of people who are not living in that bubble.

I found that one of the interesting things about expat life to me is that it’s a lot like college, and so when you arrive an expat, you are like a freshman in college! Who you associate with has a huge impact, and I think it’s the same in college. So if you’re talking specifically about China, and some of the stuff has really gotten easier, and it had gotten easier by the time I left, compared to when I arrived, and it just continues to be more so, but you know there are certain people who would just always be complaining, because the Internet connection was slow, or it took a long time to get something fixed, and you know, I would sort of be more of the attitude like, “Hey you’re in China. You have Internet. That’s pretty cool.”

AT: So armed with a positive attitude about life in China, you began making inroads into involving yourself more in Chinese life. Could you tell us about the circumstances that brought you together with your Chinese band members, some of your closest friends? And what bonded you together across cultures?

It all happened when I met Woodie (Wu), because I had this broken guitar. At that point I had been in Beijing for a year, and I hadn’t made that key relationship that started opening it up, but I had been open to meeting other people, I was already quite close with my Chinese teacher, and I was getting out and about into Chinese life as much as I could, so that when I met the right person who turned out to be my good friend, I was sort of ready. I was open to it. So I think that’s really the key: it’s to be open to it, and not to limit yourself, because sometimes people put limits on themselves that don’t have to be there.

In terms of what brought us together, humor can have a lot of cultural barriers, and part of my humor is, it’s more subtle, and just kind of laughing at the absurdities of situations. And I don’t think my band members always totally got that. But I think the more time I spent with them the more they understood that, and you know, the more we would engage in just this normal kind of goofy humor, and even pranks that any group of friends or bands would do, like putting a ‘Kick Me’ sticker on someone’s back. (Laughs) That type of broad, silly stuff we did do. Things like that.

AT: Your Chinese band members are obviously some of your closest friends, but now with the book, and your column, you now have a global Chinese audience who’s learning about Americans through your life experience. What have they said about your book, and your story?

I think what a lot of people responded to in the book wasn’t necessarily what I anticipated that people would. And it was a lot about family, and my dedication to my family, to my children and my wife, and also to my father, who was a character in the book, and gets ill. That struck a chord with a lot of Chinese readers.

Traditionally for the Chinese the family is very front and center, in life there, and that’s been under attack a bit for various reasons. But I think there’s still a very heartfelt love of family. So a lot of people responded to my reaction to my father being ill. I mean, that was really important for me to have in there, but I didn’t necessarily expect that to have quite as much resonance as it did.