Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cinema and Immigration

The movies were an important cultural bridge, mediating the immigrant’s transition into broader American culture. The movies were a collective experience where diverse groups experienced the same public phenomenon. Going to the movies was a common bridging experience between groups. The movies also allowed immigrants (and especially immigrant women who were very limited in their interactions with people outside of the family and “neighborhood”) to broaden their experience outside of the family and immigrant group. The movies helped immigrants organize exposure to new cultural experiences in their own terms in a benign environment. The movies also served as the catalyst for breaking down traditional immigrant norms among the younger generation who were now exposed to a broader range of options.

Cinema and other forms of mass communications helped to define the public and public opinion. In an earlier time this had been the province of the written word, but emerging technologies made “public spaces” (opinions about common ideas) accessible to virtually everyone. To be a public figure was to be someone who was before the public in a mass communications format. The public person (movie star, commentator, politician) because of his public presence came to define the norms, symbols, and values of the society. The consumption of the products of the mass media constructed the mass public.

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