1. The strong point of the movie is that it shows the parallel worlds of Lana and her uncle Paul. They both are people who try to help the world be a better place and they both end up in horrible situations in two very important cities in the United States. Lana is in Los Angeles volunteering at a Christian homeless shelter and Paul who is a Vietnam veteran tries to prevent Los Angeles from attacks just like 9/11. He suspects everyone who is of Arabic origin. They meet each other when a Pakistani gets brutally murdered.
The best part of the movie is the well-assembled scenes, they are very dynamic, and that makes it that the two storylines come together so nicely. The Paul’s character is very tragic, he has suffered so much trauma in his life, first the Vietnam War and then the attacks of September 11th. A paradox of the director Wim Wenders is that he tries to give some kind of positive spin to the 9/11 attacks. His effort to do this by the forced conversations and dialogs do not really work for me. I think the critique in here lies that Wim Wenders copies the behavior of Americans themselves.
9/11 was horrible, it happened because the United States is involved in many conflicts and I think the perfect portrayal of Paul is the actual way Americans view the world, with paranoia and suspicion. So after the attacks the War in Iraq began and the Americans made it sound that out of this horrible situation (lots of people died in the 9/11 attacks) something good came out of it, because they freed other people from Saddam Hussein, not knowing that many years later this turned out to be disastrous. Moreover, I believe the Europeans’ critique is that you cannot justify 9/11 or make it right afterwards and that is something the Americans tend to do in lots of situations.
2. Benedict Anderson defines the term “imagined community” as follows: an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. […] imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (Kooijman 42).
He uses this concept to describe in detail something, which is very American, namely the conceptualization of Americanness. He explains this with the examples of the Oprah Winfrey Show and the TV shows The West Wing and Ally McBeal. He does this in such a fashion that sometimes his points get overshadowed by all the examples of the different aspects that mark the specific point he tries to convey. Especially with the TV shows, he goes to far in detail that it is too much information for the reader, and if the reader does not know these shows it is sometimes harder to understand what he tries to explain.
However, he is very clear in the way how American shows can transmit a feeling of togetherness, a feeling of one community although this is the imagined community he explains at the beginning of chapter two. So he uses the basic theoretical concept of Benedict Anderson very well and the reader can definitely relate to this concept even if they are Europeans. Hyperreality is described by Umberto Eco. “In Eco’s definition, the absolute fake is a form of hyperreality in which a cultural artifact is perceived as an improved copy, more “real” than its original” (Kooijman 10).
Baudrillard defines it a bit differently from Eco, “Baudrillard sees America as the ultimate simulacrum, no longer an artificial copy of an authentic original but an endless chain of copies referring to each other” (Kooijman 17). Despite this difference in the definition they both have identified American pop culture as a form of hyperreality. Again this concept reflects on the notion of an ‘imagined’ community and they mean in particular an imagined America, which is achieved through pop culture.
American pop culture is presented as something great and magnificent, while in reality there are a lot of negative aspects to it. It is an ideological idea in which a lot of people get lost, they see it as the ultimate happiness and this is again perfectly described by Kooijman and he uses good examples like the TV show Idols. Through shows like Idols the stardom these contestants get is like they live in some form of hyperreality, and a place where every ordinary citizen would want to be. But, in fact it usually is a very hard place to be in, it is more ‘real’ than just being a pop star.
Thomas Elsaesser came up with another concept called “karaoke Americanism” which he describes as “besides the discourse of anti-Americanism and of counter-Americanism, we may have to find the terms of another discourse […] the discourse of karaoke-Americanism – that doubly coded space of identity as overlap and deferral, as compliment and camouflage” (Kooijman 100). Kooijman’s quote “to go beyond the rigid dichotomies that traditionally mark the divide between America and Europe” (Kooijman 96) is in my eyes completely right.
There is so much more than the things we see as stereotypical for Europe as well as America. He gives some examples “American artificiality versus European authenticity, American populism versus European intellectualism, and American lack of history versus European sense of history” (Kooijman 96), which are cliches. Of course, Europe has been in the eyes of contemporary notions much older than America, while in truth this is not completely true.
The American continent was there just like the European continent, only they started cultivating here sooner. These views of both continents are being fed by people who do not accept there are many ways to look at these continents good or bad. So Kooijman has made the right choice to go beyond these dichotomies to really enrich his book and make it worth to read because it goes deeper than the already existing notions about America and Europe. Otherwise Kooijman’s book would not have been credible.