Understanding the Visual Media Culture of the American Family

An American Family -or- Understanding Visual Culture

One of the main archetypal group of characters found in American TV and film for the last 60 years has been the family. Many of us remember "All in the Family", "The Cosby Show" and the "Addams Family" to name a few. One of the first "reality TV'" shows was the 1971 docudrama "An American Family". The social psychological issue and need of "media literacy" was raised in the episodes, by the fact that dramatic role of the camera was not one of just passive observer, the film lens played an active media role, influencing and shaping how the message of non fiction stories (in this case the family romance novel) were told, perceived and acted out.

Our primary socialization takes place first through the family, then our socialization mediums expands to friends, education and society at large. All these social influences, especially "friends" as we grow older find significant influence in our dreams. In dreams such as the one below we can see social psychological influences of media on the American family and the visual cultural  environment it lives.

Here is the dream;

The American Family: A Journey of Dreams

Linda, 21 American

I had a dream that I was traveling with my family. We are in a truck and the windshield is broken. I can see the cracks on the windshield. We stop to get it fixed. My Dad refuses to buy the better quality shield. We head back on the road and the windshield starts to crack again and I tell my Dad he needs to stop being cheap and buy the more reliable one. We get the new shield and head back on the road. We arrive at my old high school gym and enter inside where a volleyball game is in progress. I am on the sideline holding a tuba and I see a girl I attended high school with. She is laughing and talking to me.

I tell her I need to go to the bathroom and if she can hold the tuba (I was not in band in high school). When I return my Mom tells me not go in the gym because there was a shooter that went into the gym and killed people. We are walking in and stepping in pools of blood on our bare feet.  I keep wiping it off my feet.  I can see people in body bags and blood everywhere. My Mom tells me that the girl got killed that I was talking to earlier.  I see my tuba shattered and tell my Mom I was right there and I would have been dead too.

I woke up not crying or even scared.  I just felt like something bad was happening to me.

The American Shield of the Family -or- Bowling for Columbine: Rated R

Marshal McLuhan "Understanding Media" provides a media literacy dictionary for understanding the influence of American media on the dream above. The technology found in the dream such as a words, gun (weapons), cars, roads, games, money, music all find expression in the book. While McLuhan used James Joyce's "Finnigan's Wake" as a transpersonal dream vision template for his book "War and Peace in the Global Village" to mirror the progress of technology and human history, I believe he omitted factoring the dreaming role of the family in its transmission of technology from one media generation to the next. Most relevant for our discussion of the effects of media on dreams, is McLuhan's "From Cliché to Archetype", where the medium of the satellite transforms the planet into a "global theatre" one which can be media programmed 24/7. This is in fact where visual culture stands today, global media platforms have created a global anthropological theatre which is increasingly influencing our dreams nightly.

In the dream above we can identify that Linda "sees" a problem in the "cracked" windshield. Whether this is an allusion to drugs (crack) or just a psychological problem of visually seeing is uncertain from the manifest dream itself. What is certain, is that at first, a cheap band aid solution and quick fix is undertaken by the father. As a consequence, the windshield starts to break again. Achilles Shield was a masculine visual symbol of community life for the ancient Greeks, is the car windshield in the dream an allusion to security of the family? This interpretation of the family's need for social security gains strength, when we read that Linda tells her Dad that he "needs to stop being cheap and buy the more reliable one". Reliability and security are intimately related concepts.

The dream's graphic violence of body bags and blood in the school, has the associative ring of the collective memory of the Columbine tragedy where media was blamed in part for the violence. Michael Moore's film "Bowling for Columbine" believes that American politics and media create a "culture of fear". Moore's global violence montage of "What a Wonderful World" underscores McLuhan's "global theatre" of violence, death and destruction. Ironically, Moore's film was "R" rated, is anyone regulating or researching the media effects of graphic violence on dreams and by extention behaviour?. Ironically about the time of the posting of the dream interpretation another school shooting occured.



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