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The Invisible Hand in Popular CultureLiberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV$
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Paul A. Cantor

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780813140827

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813140827.001.0001

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America as Wasteland in Detour

America as Wasteland in Detour

Film Noir and the Frankfurt School

(p.243) 8 America as Wasteland in Detour
The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture

Paul A. Cantor

University Press of Kentucky

Chapter Eight analyzes Edgar Ulmer's classic film noir Detour and its bleak portrait of America as a land of frustrated desires and lost dreams. It explores the affinities between Detour and the Frankfurt School critique of Hollywood as a dream factory. Detour deconstructs the American myth of the West, especially Hollywood, as a land of opportunity. The chapter argues that film noir is not a purely home grown American product, as many have claimed. Like Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Ulmer was a European émigré who looked at America from an alien perspective, and found himself alienated even from its landscape. This alienation surfaces in his characters, who drift hopelessly through a world empty of love, family, and companionship. Aspects of America that represent freedom to its citizens—like open roads—look like sources of disorder and chaos to Ulmer's European sensibility.

Keywords:   Edgar Ulmer, film noir, Detour, Frankfurt School, Hollywood, dream factory, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno

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