The many con men, gangsters, and drug lords portrayed in popular culture are examples of the dark side of the American dream. Viewers are fascinated by these twisted versions of heroic American archetypes, like the self-made man and the entrepreneur. Applying the critical skills he developed as a Shakespeare scholar, Paul A. Cantor finds new depth in familiar landmarks of popular culture. He invokes Shakespearean models to show that the concept of the tragic hero can help us understand why we are both repelled by and drawn to figures such as Vito and Michael Corleone or Walter White.
Beginning with Huckleberry Finn and ending with The Walking Dead, Cantor also uncovers the link between the American dream and frontier life. In imaginative variants of a Wild West setting, popular culture has served up disturbing -- and yet strangely compelling -- images of what happens when people move beyond the borders of law and order. Cantor demonstrates that, at its best, popular culture raises thoughtful questions about the validity and viability of the American dream, thus deepening our understanding of America itself.
"Paul Cantor combines a critic's acumen with a fan's love of popular culture in a tour that takes us from the con men of the Mississippi in Huckleberry Finn to the self-reliant individuals in the postapocalyptic world of The Walking Dead. All possibilities are open to us in America. But when we choose to change our lives, the dream can become a nightmare." -- William Irwin, coeditor of Introducing Philosophy through Pop Culture: From Socrates to South Park, Hume to House
"Paul Cantor is one of our liveliest cultural critics and historians, and one of the few whose works will endure. Cantor is a profound analyst of the subjects he studies, and the range of his subjects would daunt almost anyone else. Shakespeare, economic theory, romantic poetry, the literature of the Weimar Republic, the political crises on Gilligan's Island -- Cantor has written superbly on all these topics. Now comes Popular Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream, a subject on which it seems that everyone else has written. Can Cantor say anything new? The answer is yes, emphatically. Cantor's style is lively, but his research is rock solid, even when he's concerned with the zombie apocalypse. Again, this is fun, and this will last." -- Stephen Cox, University of California--San Diego
"In this book Cantor continues his vital work analyzing American popular culture and shows why it's well worth investigating. The five essays comprising the work focus on Huckleberry Finn, W. C. Fields, The Godfather, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead. Each insightful and highly readable chapter exposes elements of the American dream gone awry. Cantor shows us yet again why he's one of the leading authorities in popular culture and philosophy." -- Mark T. Conard, editor of The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers