American Dreamz

Stupid people shouldn’t attempt satire.
American Dreamz is so far over its head that it’s natural to want to toss it a life preserver, especially if you’re a leftist. After all, we’ve been beaten up by bullies – had sand kicked in our face at the beach – and we’re the party of big hearts, baby.
We don’t mind dumb people on the left anymore. We’ve learned to value blowhards like Michael Moore BECAUSE they’re slobs. We now see the wisdom of creating coloring book realities for our constituents, just like the right does, and don’t shy away from simplification. 
Unfortunately, American Dreamz isn’t even a dumbed down version of Wag the Dog; it’s just dumb. As ridiculous and phony as the subjects it attempts to critique, this is a film even a liberal can’t really love.
The day after he wins a landslide election, President Staton (Dennis Quaid) begins reading newspapers. This intellectual reawakening leaves him stunned and confused, and the public begins to suspect that he’s had a breakdown when he doesn’t show his face for weeks. 
Staton embodies liberal fantasies about George Bush. A puppet who is literally given his cues from a remote-control earpiece, this is the Bush delusional leftwingers saw wearing a wired box in the second Kerry debate.    
The film’s political hyperbole is funny, but only because it’s taking a very wide swing at the barn door. The movie becomes squeamish when it gets close to something real. Happy to show how entertainment bleeds into the battlefield, where terrorist and soldier share a love of American trash television, American Dreamz never faces the reality about how the Staton’s stupidity translates to dead bodies.
Staton doesn’t seem to wrestle with his choices, even after he shakes off the control of a chief of staff who resembles –you guessed it – Dick Cheney. *yawn*
American Dreamz couples its analysis of presidential power with a jab at reality television, particularly shows like American Idol. Stalking the authentic, reality television has paradoxically made us more fake and phony.
In order to be real, you have to be so outlandish and loud that you seem like a character from a sitcom. The film’s stale post-modern critique of media is about eight years behind the times. Can anyone doubt that reality got KOed in the steel-caged match against reality TV? The machine swallowed the horrors of 9/11 and the war in Iraq and beamed back more mirages, more Survivors and American Idols. Is this news?
The contestants on American Dreamz’ are anything but real. Sally Kendoo (Moore) is a small-town girl with big dreams of stardom. Born in a hyper-real age, Sally accepts that her life is simply a role. She rehearses this role in preparation for the contest, scripting a faux proposal with her young soldier boyfriend to drum up support and singing songs that reinforce the idea that she’s white trash. 
Reality breaks through in this supercilious film only when Sally talks about her childhood as a fat girl. Sally weighed 200 pounds when she was 10. She felt out of place in her school, but after she lost the weight she became popular. The lesson: Americans are superficial, and this superficiality breeds justified contempt.
This personal and real story sticks while the slimy hyper-real criticism slips away, becoming part of the very thing it’s attacking.
American Dreamz shows us a country seduced by images and reliant on entertainment, but it’s too shallow to pose a serious threat to the machine. We don’t need another critique of mass culture dumbed down so even the common folks can understand it. We don’t need liberals speaking like conservatives, because this is a spiritual – not political – problem. 
What we need is a Gong Show moment that wakes us up from this dream once and for all.


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