AMERICAN DREAM: Saturday 4th December, BBC2, 8.25pm ALERT ME
Cramming the American dream as a concept into three hours of factual television was always going to be a thankless task. But rather than struggling under the weight of the such subject matter, the BBC have found an excellent little work-around which involves, heading off in whatever direction the material illuminates and indulging in tangents like a tipsy OAP who has been asked about their youth.
The final part of this documentary trilogy concentrates on religion – a pretty broad subject at the best of times – and starts off with footage of good old 50s American Christiana. Door-to-door bible salesmen and Drive-In church services, this was an interesting glance at faith in the States. We then moved on to the 60s and heard various hippified accounts of new-age thinking. These started off pretty harmlessly as we watched a group of beatniks smoking a few joints and “blowing people’s minds” as they drove across the country, but before long everybody was naked and living in commune’s with names like ‘Black Bear Ranch’. But things were about to get muuuch worse. The shuddering low point of the whole episode was the Jonestown Massacre of November 1978.
This chilling fragment of American history, which was actually played out in Guyana, saw self-styled messiah Jim Jones and 300 of his mental followers kill themselves. That would have been fine, but unfortunately they decided to murder 600 children and pensioners on the same afternoon, plus a couple of investigative journalists. Bad times..
But American Dream doesn’t dwell on this tragedy, indeed it doesn’t dwell on much at all, which is envigourating on many levels. As unfocused as it is, this lucky dip of social commentary and history manages to get a lot closer to discovering the truth about the USA as a psyche than might have been possible under stricter structure. And it also has a fantastic clip of some genius shoving a fruit pie in the face of anti-gay rights God-botherer Anita Bryant. Instead of decking the pie-chucker, her husband asks her to pray for him. Best clip of the week..