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Family entertainment: representations of the American family in contemporary Hollywood cinema

By Claire Jenkins


The family plays an integral role in Hollywood films of almost every genre. Hollywood’s renditions of the American family, however, remain largely traditional and no longer reflect contemporary reality. This thesis explores how contemporary Hollywood deals with the family, posing the question: ‘Has Hollywood created its own monolithic family model?’ The thesis demonstrates that, rather than offering a solid monolithic family model, the Hollywood family displays a tension between traditional and liberal attitudes, wanting to move forward but unable to let go of the past. The thesis places Hollywood’s representations within a wider cultural framework, utilising social history, feminism and psychoanalytic discourses. This is done through three case studies exploring the nuclear family, and a fourth extended chapter that analyses Hollywood’s alternative families. \ud Chapter One takes as its focus the father-daughter relationship in sequels and series. This relationship is symptomatic of a shift towards a new generation in Hollywood where masculinity is not necessarily the central concern. Although the father-daughter films indicate a renewed interest in women’s familial roles they essentially demonstrate a crisis of masculinity and a traditional, patriarchal model. \ud Chapter Two analyses the mother’s role through the films of Meryl Streep. This chapter situates a discussion of the Hollywood mother within a postfeminist society and questions whether this new generation of Hollywood has promoted a diversification of the maternal role, finding that traditionalism still dominates as maternity and ‘traditional’ femininity remain central concerns. \ud Chapter Three explores the superhero family. This unconventional family is a further symptom of Hollywood’s new generation. That said, the unconventional is used as a tool to promote the conventional – the nuclear family. Superheroics are used to recuperate dysfunctional families and provide an easy ‘fix’ for their troubles. \ud Chapter Four examines the prevalence in contemporary Hollywood of alternative family models. Although these are many and varied, Hollywood’s alternative families (discussed here in terms of single-parents, divorce, gay and lesbian families, the working-class family and the Black American family), ultimately conform to the standards of the nuclear norm, giving further credence to the argument that Hollywood’s families are torn between traditionalism and attempts to embrace liberalism and diversity

Topics: HQ, PN1993
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