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Presentation
Something Worse: Frank Capra's Populist Noir and Springsteen's "The River"
English and Linguistics Faculty Presentations
  • Michael E. Kaufmann, Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne
  • Michele R. DeVinney, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
Document Type
Presentation
Presentation Date
9-15-2012
Conference Name
Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium
Conference Location
Monmouth University, West Long Branch, NJ
Abstract

In Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen relies on film noir imagery to relay the cinematic yet stark lives of his protagonists. By The River he takes a more populist turn, but unlike director Frank Capra, he explores the dark side of populism that subsumes the desire of individuals to the larger will of the group. With each holiday season comes the viewing of the classic Capra film "It's a Wonderful Life," and the sentimental message that every person's life has value. But hidden more deeply is another message, a somewhat darker one, that in order to fulfill the destinies of others we must suppress our own dreams. In Bruce Springsteen's song "The River," the narrator speaks of his own dashed hopes as he, like Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey, is brought up "to do, like your daddy done." When marriage and children are brought into both stories, the protagonists of both "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The River" have sealed their fates. When Springsteen asks "Is a dream a lie that don't come true, or is it something worse?" he asks the question for all who have found themselves lost in the dreams of others, being forced to abandon their own visions of success. In portraying his characters trapped in the realities of family expectations and economic realities, Springsteen undermines Capra's own idealized vision of success and questions how each of us measures our own value to society.

Citation Information
Michael E. Kaufmann and Michele R. DeVinney. "Something Worse: Frank Capra's Populist Noir and Springsteen's "The River"" (2012)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/michael_kaufmann/3/