Films, Dreams and Popular Culture in the Global Village

Film, Dreamscreen and Western Civilization

Robert Eberwein's Film and Dream Screen offers a cinematic theory about how dreams function. Dreams are films whose images are projected onto a dreamscreen within the theatre of the mind. The primordial event of language opened experience to view life as an artwork. Individuals fill at least two roles in storytelling, those of spectator and actor. When we watch ourselves on dreamscreens, we can experience pleasure and we can experience pain. The heroism of one culture may be regarded as foolish risk-taking in another. The valued personality type projected toward members of a society will be reflected in its dreams. When anxiety dominates communication, this changes the images projected onto the individual and communal screen.

Communications technologies have progressively produced media that reproduce the physical characteristics of the dream, and export them around the globe. The combined presentation of visual and auditory animation most closely resembles the modern media of film, television and the Internet. Information is adapted to connect directly to primal patterns of human perception and understanding. We can think of these media as the communal dreamscreen. The dreamscreens of Western Civilization have been shaped by a variety of influences. Popular books like Gayle Delaney's Living your Dreams are anchored by the staging metaphor of the dreamer as film director who also scripts the dream "screenplay." The dreamer as dramatist acts out a soliloquy in front of an audience constituted and conjured up by himself, creating situations to act out relationships, thoughts, motives, feelings, and needs.

Writers such as Pedro Calderón de la Barca in Life is a Dream and August Strindberg in A Dream Play have used the dream as a plot device to review life's experiences and be enriched by them. It is only natural that our technologies should mimic our bodies, physically and mentally. In the theatre of sleep, the everyday philosophy of mind flashes across the dreamscreen of humanity on a nightly basis. The ritual communication process begins with the child's psychodramatic staging games which provide the psychological structures of mise-en-scene and mise en abyme of memory, consciousness, imagination, thought, desire and the mythopoetic. The dream becomes an autobiographical theatre, where a life story is imagined and acted out on our inner stage. Questions that become acted on are; Who am I? Where do I want to go?  Who do I want to become? A developmental itinerary can be viewed if we were able to see the longitudinal study life cycle perspective of one's dreams stretching from childhood until death.

The work of the dream is an auto-psychodrama, an attempt to master expressive and performance anxieties. As Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical fantasy, the film All That Jazz (view video clip)features the workaholic theatre director and choreographer Joe Gideon. His life is seen as a show and in his stage of the imagination he flirts with the angel of death who is a woman. Gideon is seen each day infront of a mirror, telling himself and the audience, "it's show time". The combined presentation of visual and auditory animation on the individual and communal dreamscreen is most closely duplicated in the modern media of film, television and the Internet.

For Daniel Boorstin in The Image or What Happened to the American Dream, the management of the consumed images of staged reality has created a misinformed public. In this sense Hollywood was a predominant industrial force shaping the American Dream in the 20th century. The producers of television programming carried similar weight, and they sometimes used their influence for the benefit of large advertisers, or powerful political constituencies. It is useful to understand some of various techniques that media experts use or hire to ensure the dominance of their dreams.

Screenwriting: The Recognition and Reality Effect

The concept of the recognition effect is relatively synonymous with the idea of the reality effect in literature, film, theatre and dreams. The spectator/audience believes and feels that s/he is being transported not into a fiction but into a symbolic reality, a real event (think of the film Mary Poppins (view video trailer), when the children, Mary Poppins and Bert are transported into a pavement drawing). This is why people think the dream is real, because on a certain level of consciousness it was and is always real. By using the literary devices of imagination, illusion and identification producing the enchanting fiction of a sublime world is allowed to develop. It has been said that the film The Wizard of Oz (see film clip) is America's greatest fairy tale. Judy Garland's Somewhere Over The Rainbow (hear and see film music trailer) attests to the durability of the dream and dreaming. For Cinderella (view music video trailer), a dream is a wish that your heart makes, this animated idea can lead us to think of the Dream Vision of Alice in Wonderland (view video clip). By producing, staging reality the traces of the machinery of the production of everyday meaning is covered up.

Screen-writers embed in their work the "suspension of disbelief" based on the "will to believe." Reportedly the poet Samuel Coleridge coined the term "willing suspension of disbelief," referring to the reader of poetry who, in order to maintain faith, must see the truth within the constructed fiction. It is a prerequisite that all idealism is grounded on the assumption that something presented in art is as it appears. Thus it is "as if" we are watching a real presentation. In 1938, fiction became psychological reality in Orsen Wells War of the Worlds (listen to a segment of the original radio theatre), a staged radio play which caused widespread Public panic. Dreams almost by their very nature provide the virtual stage, the characters and the plot where the willing suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite of the dream narrative.

The alienation effects are what show us the nightmarish gaps and tears in the social fabric of the meanings of reality. This is where the enchantment fails, where re-cognition fails. The re-cognition fails due primarily to ideological-oppressive processes shaping dominant narratives, where author and authorization (i.e. through processes of censorship) fail. And yet paradoxically literary dystopias can be sublime in that they warn us via the recognition effect to avoid present and future dangers and tragedies. Hypnopaedia, sleep learning, was a device that, for Aldous Huxley in his dystopian novel Brave New World, represented the ultimate form of mind control. In the book, infant hypnopaedia is used to condition consciousness and ensure the compliance with the ideological order. Throughout the novel, characters spout what they were made to believe through hypnopaedia. Even those who are conscious of such mind control cannot fully escape its power.

Sleeping and Waking: Cycles of Dreaming and Storytelling

It follows that popular communications form communal dreamscapes, where collective ideals are given voice. It also follows that, when the techniques and devices of such collective communications are identified, they will be used to return information back to dreamers, modified to influence individuals and affect behaviour. These ideas enter individuals' dreams, creating acceptance or conflicts that are in return then reflected back out on the communal dreamscape. Films such as Birth of a Nation (1915/view video trailer) directed by D.W. Griffith defined the medium and the message in its early days. Other groundbreaking films like King Kong (1933/view film clip) staring Faye Wray set the benchmark for future film making. The 2005 remake of King Kong (view 2005/film trailer) attests to the development that the motion picture industry had undergone in seventy two years.

As Michael J. Arlen comments in Life and Death in the Global Village, the TV set is a global icon that has the power to be an "exorcisor of grief." On the noir day in November 1963 when John F. Kennedy (watch Zapruder video of shooting) was shot in Dallas, the TV set to which nearly everyone (especially in North America, myself included) was glued to, was a watershed event for the Global Village. Today, global positioning systems have mapped the planet and put under surveillance for military and commercial purposes. With the advent of the commercial Internet in the 1990s, the world started to shrink further and the pace of interaction and communication became faster, allowing story cycles to be shown instantaneously, such as through CNN eyewitnesses (see video clip) embedded with troops in a combat zone.

The cycles of sleeping, dreaming and storytelling have intensified with technological advances, to the point that it has become possible, within the space of a single day, to witness several cycles of stimulus and response between individual and collective ideals that follow widely and intensely attended events. Speculation about possible causes of 9/11 or the Columbine massacre (view video clpi) in Littleton, Colorado  had gone out in the media and initiated individual responses even as the events unfolded. Just as individual dreams can be analyzed as a coping mechanism, public storytelling, the music, art and literature that form popular culture, can be criticized on the basis of how well it represents the dramatic tension between individual ideals and collective realities. This tension can be viewed as being between utopias and dystopias. Many people across the globe reported almost immediately having had nightmares after 9/11 (view video footage),(plane hits tower video clip). The film The World Trade Centre (watch film trailer) is a testament to those who survived and those that died in the line of duty.

Postmodernism and the Popular Culture Industries

In the 19th century, the theatre, literary novels, the newspaper, railways and the telegraph changed Western societies consciousness. These media began changing the way we saw the world and the way we dream. Then with the invention of movies in the late 19th century, the analogy between dreams and film was self-evident. The old techniques of art, theatre, and literature were applied to the new medium. The surrealist soon asked is every dream a film? Is every film a dream? The camera in Citizen Kane was used as an omniscient impartial observer to show us what other narrators could not, namely the meaning of Kane's last dying word "Rosebud".

George Lipsitz in Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture tells us, the media began to cause a radical shift: "Time, history, and memory become qualitatively different concepts in a world where electronic mass communication is possible." Film, TV, and pop music have changed how we think and remember. The soap opera, game show, sitcom, nighttime drama, "reality" programs, and late-night talk shows entertain millions.

As Philip Roth sardonically says in On the Air, "Suppose entertainment is the Purpose of Life!"

The Global Village becomes an Entertainment Tonight (see 2008 winner of America's Next Top Model) stage, a venue for 24/7 live action. This global stage is erected by cable channels, media networks, movie studios, newsrooms, boardrooms, advertising agencies. The film The Truman Show (view video trailer) shows us how life turns into entertainment. If movies are similar to dreams and dreaming, then the yearly global pilgrimage to Hollywood the Mecca of film and dreaming is where dreams become realized. The American Film Institute promotes the history of film and has created several top 100 lists (view video of top 100) of best films and best stars. We can all watch this growing dream like film universe on DVD or You Tube.

Dream Vision reveals the mind being fashioned by the invisible hand of the media and the icons and idols of pop culture. In dreams we also find the Who's Who of pop culture feeding our imaginations. These idols and icons of pop culture fashion our minds and inform childrens dreams. As Freud says in Interpretation of Dreams, his eight-year-old son "already had dreams of his fantasies coming true: he dreamt he was driving in a chariot with Achilles and that Diomede was the charioteer. As may be guessed, he had been excited the day before by a book on the legends of Greece that had been given to him by his elder sister." Today, the stories and characters of Troy, Star Wars (view trailer), Lord of the Rings (view video clip) and Harry Potter (view video) projected on the silver screen kindle our children's imaginations.

The culture industry toils to tailor products for mass consumption. Brand products, even "no-name" ones, identify and classify consumers so that no one escapes the influence of the market. The postmodern market creates a dream factory. Hollywood movies, commercial television, radio, and advertising shape leisure entertainment. In them, virtual reality becomes, not an artistic fiction, but a real event. Culture industries rely on group illusion, identification, and conformity for its solidarity, and must veil the traces and clues that reality is a rhetorical story telling construction of the marketplace.

If belief creates reality, then it is through the suspension of disbelief that this story telling process operates, as in such tabloids as the National Enquirer. We can listen to and watch ourselves on phone-in and talk shows, websites, and blogs. When the enchantment of the culture industries and the suspension of disbelief fails, disillusionment and disappointment become the property of the oppressed and disenfranchised. Again, the novel that best describes the dystopian plots of many dreams is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. The entertainments often found in dreams can represent the "soma" ingested in this dystopic novel. Soma is the essence of a hedonistic society, the measure of all things. In a postmodern society, all information is enslaved by the media imperatives of pleasure, excitement, entertainment, and other forms of escape.

In the era of postmodernism, arts and fashions are really concerned with consumerism and the explosion of communications technologies, reflected in Andy Warhol's repeated images of Campbell's Soup cans, and of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor. Tradition, history, and faith in deeply held values have given way to conspicuous consumption, hedonism revolving round the ostentatious display of goods, and superficial visual stimuli.

Media Rituals of Dream Vision

News stories brandish ritualistic outpourings of grief following tragedies such as mass murders or the deaths of social icons. Humans need to witness and participate in rituals that express communal identity. Rituals that were once played out in the small theatres of church and family are now often large-scale media events. Have we then created news stories that require tragedy to provide a psychological tension that will fulfill the need for ritual?

The film Network (view video clip) satirizes the electronic press. The TV network news anchor Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, is about to be fired because of low ratings. Beale melodramatically responds by telling the audience he is going to commit suicide on the next live broadcast. Beale is fired immediately, but is reinstated for one final swan song, in which he is supposed to apologize for his outburst. Instead Beale tells his audience that he is no longer going to take this (the social problems) anymore. Ratings skyrocket. With the advent of the Internet, the blogosphere and social-networking sites have become the outlets for rants and diatribes.

The dream also provides a vision and voice through which to critique the frame stories of frustration, bullshit and discontent. When the spell of enchantment in communal living fails, disillusionment most often is the result. Disillusionment and suppressed resentment are unconsciously projected and acted out on the communal dreamscreen and, more consciously, through poetry, literature, theatre, and film. When trust in our fellow humans and in government fails, a sense of betrayal is the outcome. When the dream is betrayed, paranoia becomes the currency of imagining and identifying with social reality. Then paranoia will often breed a sense of dark conspiracy. Nightmares and broken dreams become the communicative coin. The dystopic disequilibrium of dreams, communication and socialization affects the philosophy of mind when failures to adapt, learn, or conform to social norms take place.

The broken dreams of disillusionment can be found in numerous Hollywood films, especially in Sin City (video trailer) and Taxi Driver (see video clip). Taxi Driver's  misanthropic anti-hero Travis Bickle takes justice into his own hands, and ends ambiguously: the audience can't discern between reality and fantasy. The distorted reflection of city lights in the taxi's rear-view mirror taxi is a clue, as is the film's signature line, "Are you talking to me?" Such films put the dream of a people's governing themselves into question.

Disillusionment, disenchantment, and the disappointment of broken dreams is the common coin of the oppressed and disenfranchised. Feelings of devastation, helplessness and dejection all serve to illuminate both the reality and alienation effects of everyday life, especially its political and economic sides. We can respond rationally or irrationally (i.e. insanely) to the cognitive dissonance we sense when social reality fails us and our expectations are defeated creating dystopian experiences.

In film noir the dark side of the communal dreamscreen, provides a perspective by which we can read pathological aspects of mind and the communicative framework of a society. Films that portray the mind's ability to create dark alternate realities include Fight Club (view video) and Jacob's Ladder (watch video clip). As a story of a person's memory, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (see video trailer) provides a metaphor for the mind's ambivalent desire both to remember and to forget. In Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (watch film clip) dreams were used as a plot device to reveal the causes of amnesia and mental illness thereby restoring the characters reason and sanity. The surreal dreams represented a coded message which when properly decoded expose the true identity of a murderer around which the whole film revolves. 

Cyberpunk, the SF genre whose setting is that of a lawless subculture of an oppressive society dominated by computer technology, has been a fertile source of novels and films. Bladerunner (view film clip), based on the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  by Philip Dick, and Videodrome (see film trailer),directed by David Cronenberg are examples. Cyberpunk evokes distrust of the global marketplace, geopolitical militarism, and mind control. Dream Visions are rapidly undergoing a paradigm shift, whether dreaming in the Global Village becomes a political landscape represented in the SF films such as Metropolis (watch film trailer), Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 (view video trailer), The Handmaid's Tale (see video clip), A.I. (view film clip), Minority Report (view video trailer), The Matrix (watch film clip) or a textual admixture of these is a Dream Vision of epic history in the making. Cyberpunk seeks to inspire disquiet and, in the words of the Matrix character Morpheus (Greek god of dreams), "Free your mind" from the system (Matrix training program video clip).

History, Film and Cultural Dreamscreen

Northrop Frye has argued that literature provides an organized myth of experience through its universe of words and narratives. Humans encounter the world through their imaginings, thereby molding their experience according to their desires, needs, conflicts, and anxieties. Dream Vision is the domain in which fictional and nonfictional histories finds an outlet. Raymond de Becker's The Understanding of Dreams: or the Machinations of the Night tells how dream stories mold life and history. Becker asks, "Might not history, with its burdens of wars, revolutions, murders and irrationalities, be an immense ‘machination of the night?'"

History's great spectacle is beamed like a film on a screen of past, present, and future, everything that produces and organizes the social stage and reality. Shifts or changes in ideas, knowledge, and communication, which may involve rites of passage, institutions, and technology, alter the screenplays. This confluence of forces creates, represses, destroys, and reforms cultural energies. Such forces power the stage and textual loom that weaves the narrative fabric of imagination and behaviour into writing, reading, and speaking. The unconscious process generates how life is received and interpreted. Collectively we call our dreams history; individually, we call it biography.

The dream gives insight into what Hayden White in Metahistory calls the "tropics of history." Revealing the deep structures by which a community operates, permits understanding the motifs that it is built upon, and the spectacles it mounts through ceremonies, rituals, and myths. Kenneth Burke in Attitudes Towards History says that symbolism guides the purposes and plotting of historical imagery. Burke tells us that we can either accept or reject the historical symbols of leadership and authority.  

The dream that stands the test of time since the Bible and ancient Greece continues to form our thinking and our everyday histories. Films such as The Ten Commandments (view trailer), Troy (watch film clip), Gladiator (watch fim trailer), Antony and Cleopatra (see video trailer), Gone With the Wind (see video clip), and Saving Private Ryan (watch film clip) do not point to historical reality, but work dramatically to view the varieties of theatric stages of humanity in the rear-view mirror. The dream is a never-ending epic of theatric theory and practice. Over time, the dream in Western philosophy had lost the relevance that it once enjoyed in Biblical and Ancient Greek times. Thanks to Freud, the silenced Delphic Oracle and the Oracle at Jerusalem, which had provided wisdom for a thousand years, experienced a renaissance and was reborn in Western consciousness and began to reattain the status it had once enjoyed.

Michael Wood The Road to Delphi sees the oracle at work in the stage plays of Sophocles Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare Macbeth and in films such as The Matrix and Minority Report. In the philosophy of religion, the ruling metaphor is that God is the playwright, director, actor, and infinite observer of an unfolding and interlocking play featuring an ongoing staging of the battle of good versus evil within the universe. In the medieval allegory of Psychomachia (Battle of the Souls), a morality play personifies the minds' battle between good and evil, virtue and vice, sin and vice being the work of the devil. Many films have screened this inner religious battle, such as the films Last Temptation of Christ (see film clip) and The Exorcist (watch video trailer).

Dreamers, Dreams and Film in Search of Lost Time

Marcel Proust In Search of Lost Time fashions a work of art from his life experiences using the allusions produced by memory and imagination taking flight. As if, out of the depths of sleep, a voice narrates in retrospect the metaphoric fragments and pastiche of a memory of the myriad of poetic paths, stories and a sequence of rooms with people, places, friends, and lovers. In autobiography, we both review and interpret the past. Memories, thoughts, feelings, and sensations are the staging points of a life's journey, as in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol with its ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, or the Ingmar Bergman film Wild Strawberries (see video clip), which reanimates the dreams and nightmares of a life.

In the film Titanic (view video clip), the courageous heroine Rose, the narrator, recalls an iconic monument (the sinking of the Titanic) with its story of life, death, and survival, while celebrating the memory of her soul mate, Jack. The survivor Rose narrates her romance with Jack, who had heroically sacrificed himself. The film ends enigmatically with the reunion of the much younger Rose and Jack. The viewer must decide whether she meets Jack in the afterlife or this is her nocturnal dream. Citizen Kane provides us with a different story, though one also involving loss. In this roman à clef story (based on the life of William Randolph Hearst) the story is told in classic film noir fashion (a newspaper reporter stands in as the film noir detective). A career that began with an idealistic dream ends up as an ego trip, a life marked by the malicious, ruthless pursuit of power. The enigma of Kane's last dying word, "Rosebud," remains cryptic to the reporter. The audience, however, realizes through the camera's eye that "Rosebud" was the name of the sleigh that Kane lost in childhood when his mother sent him away, thus unlocking a Freudian riddle. We, too, can use flashbacks conveyed through dreams.

Flashbacks make time travel down memory lane possible. If we assume that the average person living in Western society lives to 75 years of age, and has four dreams a night, the number of dreams that person will have potentially approaches 110,000. If we were able to collect all these dreams, what would they tell us about the intersections of the individual and the community? An individual's story contains numerous stories, represented by a variety of  genres, such as romance, comedy, tragedy, satire, and horror. The mind that is informed by experience is not the same in youth, in middle age, or in old age. The mind is incrementally reconfigured by experience, sometimes radically and quickly, at other times imperceptibly slowly, sometimes not at all, sometimes reversing itself in its development. In this sense, the principal story is the personal growth of the person in all its aspects.

An Inconvienient Truth: The Day the World Stood Still? 

In Al Gore's didactic documentary An Inconvenient Truth (see video clip), Gore presents a cautionary tale of a planet in peril, perhaps unconsciously alluding to the SF film The Day the World Stood Still (watch film trailer). If civilization dies, it will be because we have not been able to renew the ideals of Western philosophy. In The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System Fredric Jameson turns to cinema, especially the conspiracy film, in an attempt to explain the political landscape. The geopolitical influences the formation and shaping of the minds apparatus and its working parts of the projector, the reel and the projection of the words, images, sounds and lyrics of society onto the dream screen. The political conspiracy theory films such as the X-files (see trailer), Three Days of the Condor (view video trailer) All the Presidents Men (see film trailer/after many years Deep Throat was revealed to be William Mark Felt Sr.) attest to the corruption and cover-ups perpetrated on the Public by those in power.

I believe, that it is the threat of war which presents the most clear and present danger of our times.

War is a perpetual site of dramatic interest in all genres. In film, the delusions of grandeur and the grotesque sweep of the human carnage of war has been featured in the classics of Gone with the Wind (view video clip), Dr. Zhivago (see movie trailer), All Quiet on the Western Front (see film trailer), Lawrence of Arabia (watch film clip). Much as in dreams, the war film also dramatizes individual struggle, as in Bridge on the River Kwai and The African Queen (see film trailer). Although war has been a human constant, new technologies have accelerated destructiveness to such a level that all life on the planet could be annihilated. The political goal to destroy the enemy has been outstripped by love of technological mass destruction. The film Apocalypse Now provides a signature line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." (see video clip). The film Patton (see film trailer) tells us about the perennial fascination and attraction to war. The 1983 film The Day After (see video clip) provides a chilling perspective of the possibility of World War 3. The popular TV series Jericho (see TV trailer) provided a different political perspective for the use of nuclear weapons.

We collect dreams at IIDR partly to provide the basis for a peaceful understanding of the dreams of humanity. We delve into science, art, film, literature, poetry and theatre as they relate in aiding to understand dreams and dreaming. The IIDR has attempted to mimic the total dream of the 6.6 billion dreamers living in the Global Village. Dream Vision makes the cosmopoetic theatre of this Great Dream visible for all to hear and see.






All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.