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Hungary for America : interpreting the Hungarian encounter with American consumer culture through three… Macdonald, Agnes 2004

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H U N G A R Y FOR A M E R I C A : INTERPRETING THE H U N G A R I A N ENCOUNTER WITH A M E R I C A N CONSUMER C U L T U R E THROUGH THREE N A R R A T I V E FILMS by AGNES M A C D O N A L D B.A. The University of British Columbia, 2002 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF M A S T E R OF ARTS IN SOCIOLOGY in THE F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E STUDIES (Department of Anthropology and Sociology) We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard. THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH C O L U M B I A September, 2004 ©Agnes MacDonald, 2004 THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES Library Authorization In presenting this thesis in partial fulfillment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. A(3-AJ££ MACÙMAU) Name of Author (please print) Date (dd/mm/yyyy) Title of Thesis: H&Wtox~eïf wi'j-J? Art^i{i>aLr>.\ flewsuJy?e>r G^-lA^Lr^-Degree: Year : Department of The University of British Columbia Vancouver, BC Canada grad.ubc.ca/forms/?formlD=THS 1 - page 1'of 1 last uodi Abstract Through the analysis of three non-mainstream narrative films, this study examines the impact of 'Americanization' on the contemporary Hungarian imagination and experience. Gothâr's film Time Stands Still represents a vision of America in socialist Hungary, Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise suggests a bridge between desire and reality in the Hungarian experience of the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life," and Incze's I ^ Budapest depicts a material and ideological realization of American culture in present day Hungary. This paper also intends to show how Hungary's active acceptance of capitalism has assured the flux and flow of American commodity culture along with its perceived worth. As America exports its culture worldwide, it manufactures desires in its materialistic representations and manifests those desires through the unmistakably American emblematic icons. Through an analysis grounded in contemporary cultural theoretical concepts, this study aims to explore the 'Americanization' thesis by looking at these iconic symbols of American consumer culture and how they are interpreted in these films. Film semiotics and subversive readings of the selected scenes provide the methodological framework of the study and help me locate my personal experiences with America. An engagement with some of the concepts of American consumer culture through these films, using Hungary as an illustrative case, furthers theories about global 'Americanization' and seeks to call for a radical critique of its worldwide effects and its impact on particular societies. Abstract ii Table of Contents i i i Acknowledgments v Prologue i Introduction 3 Theoretical Frameworks 5 Methodology 8 A Brief Overview 11 I. Imagining America: Post-Revolutionary Hungary in Gothâr's Time Stands Still 13 American Consumer Culture in Socialist Hungary 14 Imagining America after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 16 Rock' n Roll and Coca-Cola 20 On the Road to America 23 II. Dreaming America: A Hungarian in America in Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise 26 A n American Reality 28 The "American Dream" 30 This is How We Eat in America 34 III. Realizing America: The Present-day Experience of American Culture in Hungary in Incze's I ^ Budapest 40 A Contemporary Hungarian Reality 42 I Love Budapest 44 Coal Dust and Burgers 48 Epilogue 55 Filmography and Film Commentaries 67 I am grateful for an invaluable graduate student experience at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of British Columbia. With utmost respect I am indebted to my supervisory committee for their relentless support. I thank Dr. Thomas Kemple for his devoted guidance and tremendous academic and humanistic support, and for inspiring me and taking me further in my studies than I had ever hoped. I thank Dr. Ken Stoddart, committee member, for believing in me and encouraging me, and providing me with indispensable tools and methods for writing 'sociologically'. I also thank my fellow students for their comradery, friendship and cerebral enthusiasm. My partner, Angus MacDonald has stood by me and given me a reason to pursue my endeavours of sociological discovery. I am indebted to him for his unceasing patience and support. Finally, I thank my parents for raising me as they did and letting me chase my dreams. This thesis was partially funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Canada Graduate Scholarship for Masters students. My interest in the topic of America's cultural impact on the diverse societies of the world grows out of my personal biography and my epistemological inquiry, which have led me to focus on the effects of American mass consumer culture in the Hungarian experience. While growing up in Hungary during the Cold War years of the 1970s and 1980s, I imagined America through a time and space collage of consumer goods and culture that stood for the "American Way of Life." My image of America was created through books, magazines and music records my parents had in our home, and through television news, movies, and the ratified imported merchandise sold in specialty stores, known as maszek in Hungarian. The maszek, or privately owned small shops that began to sprout after the 1968 reforms as part of the New Economic Mechanism in Hungary often referred to as 'market socialism', represented an important transmitter of tangible American consumer culture. These shops sold coveted Western and American brand name goods at inflated prices, such as Wrigley's chewing gum, M & M chocolates, pop music records, Levi's Jeans, Marlboro cigarettes, and canned Coca-Cola (as opposed to the state-sanctioned and produced bottled Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola) that were otherwise not available in state-run shops. The black markets served a similar purpose of offering consumers Western products, and by purchasing those, we could fulfill our imagination about the West. Family trips to Western Europe and contact with visitors from there and from the USA and Canada further expanded my image of America. I also lived and travelled in the US, primarily in California and in Georgia, for a year in the late 1980s. America was everything I had imagined. But I also experienced an entirely different universe contrary to what I was familiar with: a world of simulations. Baudrillard's words capture insightfully my experience in and with America: America is neither dream nor reality. It is a hyperreality. It is a hyperreality because it is a Utopia which has behaved from the very beginning as though it were already achieved. Everything here is real and pragmatic, and yet it is all the stuff of dreams too. It may be that the truth of America can only be seen by a European, since [s]he alone will discover here the perfect simulacrum - that of the immanence and material transcription of all values. (1989: 28) By the time I returned to Budapest from the States, the entire Soviet Bloc was undergoing profound political and ideological changes. In Hungary, the Kâdâr-led communist government had resigned and a new multi-party state with a democratic capitalist leadership claimed power. In 1991, when the transformation from socialism to capitalism was officially underway in Hungary, I immigrated to Canada. In the past thirteen years, I have been back to Hungary for only two brief visits. During those encounters, I not only witnessed intense American cultural domination and homogenization materialized in the form of countless fast-food chains like Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's and Wendy's, while shopping malls had replaced the maszek and multiplexes had sprung up along with an inexhaustible variety of television stations; but I also observed an increasingly ambivalent curiosity about America among many Hungarians I met. In this paper I will try to provide an understanding of the effects of American consumer culture on the Hungarian imagination and experience within the theoretical contexts of globalization and ' Americanization'. The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That is its task and its promise. (C.Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination) Today, more than ever before, many of the same cultural forms and patterns are prevalent worldwide. The English language has gained ubiquitous preference in global cultural, political and economic spheres, and the source of these cultural traits is considered to be the United States of America. American culture is being driven by the mass production and instantaneous consumption of goods and services, and by the omnipresent "culture industries" - Hollywood movies, fast-food chains, pop music and fashion - which shroud themselves in the American ideology and are relentlessly exported globally. The question whether the phenomenon of globalization is actually a form of 'Americanization' has been investigated and analyzed before. On the one hand, the effects of 'Americanization', stemming from American-led cultural imperialism and the capitalist economy, and the idea of 'homogenization' through 'McDonaldization' as a global phenomenon, have been studied, evaluated and declared as undeniable. 'Americanization' in this way can be understood as the dominant global dispersal of American culture embodied in mass-produced consumer goods and services, which also represent the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life" as a particular practice of freedom and lifestyle. On the other hand, this American source and dominance of cultural globalization has also been challenged, suggesting the re-emergence of 'difference' through the complex interplay of the local and the global, resulting in hybridized and sometimes heterogeneous cultural forms. Considering these ideas, I propose to further examine the theory of globalization as a form of 'Americanization' and its effects from a rather marginalized worldview. Consequently, my research intends to fill gaps in existing sociological and cultural analyses specifically concerned with how globalization as a form of 'Americanization' has been effecting and encompassing the Hungarian imagination and experience. This study explores the impact of American consumer culture and its ideology, the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life," on the contemporary Hungarian imagination and experience through a consideration of three non-mainstream narrative films: Time Stands Still (1981, Hun.: Megâll az ido) directed by Hungarian Péter Gothâr, Stranger than Paradise (1984) written and directed by American Jim Jarmusch, and I ^Budapest (2001) written and directed by Hungarian Agnes Incze. I have chosen these particular films because they exemplify the sociological imagination by illuminating the social and material contexts of 'Americanization' by representing historical processes that operate at the level of everyday experience. Accordingly, one aspect of this study is to address the impersonal social structures and large-scale historical processes of globalization and 'Americanization'. The other is to discuss the effects of globalization as 'Americanization' on personal milieu and ordinary experiences of everyday life. In light of these divergent perspectives, I treat the films as sites to analyze and as invitations to reflect upon the phenomenon in so far as they offer representations of this process from the particular standpoint of the Hungarian imagination and experience. Stressing the unlikeliness of the total eradication and/or homogenization of local cultures as a result of globalization, this paper argues that America dominates the world through the corn-modification of culture. Furthermore, while the local re-articulates incoming influences, 'Americanization' involves the adoption and incorporation of American things in a way that also changes the particular indigenous forms of a culture in the process. The aesthetic medium of these films raise questions about the force and impact of American mass consumer culture and its ideology and about the limits of cultural assimilation affecting the Hungarian imagination and experience before 1989 and since. Subsequently, these films provide me with a way of focussing, framing and answering my research questions regarding globalization as a form of 'Americanization', that is: How are American mass culture and its ideological expressions, such as the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life," perceived by and conceived for the Hungarian imagination and experience within the narrative structure of these films? Do these films suggest plausible ways of refuting or challenging the proposed effects of 'Americanization'? And, do they express the Hungarian experience as significantly different from, or even as an alternative to, this global process? My analysis of the three non-mainstream films is, therefore, intended to present an alternative and a complement to the political and economic approaches of globalization as a form of 'Americanization'. I am drawn to investigate this topic because I have a personal affinity not only for 'imagining' America but also for experiencing it. As I examine my own imagination and encounters with America the three films resonate deeply in my subjective experience. In order to capture and understand the effects of American consumer culture on the Hungarian imagination and experience, I must first identify ideas about globalization and 'Americanization'. This leads me to the theoretical approaches I employ in my analysis. Theoretical Frameworks My analysis is primarily grounded in contemporary cultural theory that examines the phenomenon of globalization as a form of 'Americanization' and its impact on the Hungarian experience. In this regard, Jameson's (2001) exploration of late capitalism is useful for my analysis. While globalization is not a new phenomenon, Jameson argues, late capitalism and its cultural representations are "the first specifically North American global style" that has gained primacy from the 1950s onward, as evidenced by the changes that began to take place in US politics and economy (xx). Furthermore, Jameson and Miyoshi (1998) contend that globalization is a "new kind of social phenomenon," which suggests rather "the sense of an immense enlargement of world communication," as well as of the "horizon of a world market beyond previous phases of modernity" (xi). Accordingly, the worldwide exportation of the USA's economic, political and cultural tenets is in fact what is now known collectively as 'globalization'. They argue that the ubiquitous dispersion of this global American mass consumer culture becomes a threat to local cultures. Similarly, in Featherstone's (1995) analysis, rapid 'Americanization', often coined as 'McDonaldization' following Ritzer's (1996) famous theory, also refers to a form of cultural imperialism through the global exportation of American mass consumer culture and media products, which then dominate and homogenize diverse cultural traditions. As a response to this universalizing hypothesis, Featherstone argues, theorists have recently developed the idea that the processes of globalization have actually brought about a hybridization of American global and local indigenous cultures as a way of guarding against these homogenizing forces by creating new forms of 'difference'. Appadurai (1990) makes one of these arguments. In it he refutes the idea that the worldwide dispersal of American commercial goods and culture creates economic dominance and cultural sameness. Appadurai suggests that while a "global cultural system is emerging" with an America-centred "imaginaire," this "Americanization" does not mean "global commoditization" because these forces of economy and culture have "become indigenized" (255-7). I also focus my analysis on theories of the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life" as a subset of cultural theory. Merton (1949), in his classic work "Social Structure and Anomie," explains how the patterns of social and cultural structures of middle class ideals in the U S A are embedded in the "American Dream." Furthering this idea, Adorno and Horkheimer (1947) conceptualize the "culture industry," as a profound aspect of American society, and Marcuse (1964) theorizes about the one-dimensionality of modern societies. Baudrillard's discussions about consumption, simulacrum and hyperreality are also pertinent to my study. Complementing these theories, by putting Mills 's 'sociological imagination' in dialogue with Baudrillard's reading of contemporary America, Denzin's (1998) sociological analysis of various cinematic works explains how they can be read as "texts which mirror the everyday in [American] society and its popular culture," and offers theoretical and methodological guidance for my interpretation of 'Americanization' in the three films (ix). Film theory provides the framework to locate film as a cultural site for my analysis. Hungarian film theorist Béla Balâzs (1970) contends that film creates an illusion and thus opens up a new dimension between the real and fictional. According to Balâzs, cinematic codes, such as scene-setting, framing and the composition of sets through lighting and sound, camera angles, focus, and editing procedures are combined with the creativity of the filmmaker to provide a particular mode of expression for depicting the world around us. Along the same lines, French film theorist, André Bazin conceptualizes cinema from a "sociological perspective," whereby the camera records and the film represents and preserves our lives, projecting a coherence of time and space that no other technology-based art forms can do (1967: 10). Beginning from Bazin's theory, Comolli and Narboni further argue that film is a commodity that is produced in a particular system of economic relations; consequently it is "determined by the ideology which produces it" (1969: 60). Cinema, they contend, "reproduces reality" and "communicates the world to itself and to us its viewers by 'interpellating' us, following Althusser (1971), as the world is "experienced when filtered through the ideology" (Comolli and Narboni, 1969: 60-61). The task of the critical filmmaker then is to "disrupt... the connection between the cinema and its ideological function" through both form and content, thereby creating a kind of counter-cinema, as is especially the case among the directors and scriptwriters of independent and art films (61-63). My long-time, deep-seated interest in film, specifically in non-mainstream works, as a viewer and as an amateur cognoscente, has played a major motivating factor for me to choose narrative film as an analytical site for my research. While sociologists have been employing film as a site of representation of societies and cultural experiences, they rarely investigate aspects of 'Americanization' on a given society through cinema. There are several narrative films both in the mainstream and non-mainstream realms that depict individuals' experiences about and with America. My choice of films for analysis is based on my knowledge of the various cinematic works that best exemplify the aspects of 'Americanization' affecting Hungarians, and which also reverberate with my personal experiences. They provide empirical contexts and evidence to study this phenomenon because these films are able to reflect everyday experiences and personal sensibilities that are otherwise glossed or overlooked in many historical and academic accounts. From its beginnings, the film culture in Hungary1 was based on "a commitment to the idea of film as art," contrary to Hollywood's mass-entertainment appeal and financial motivation (Burns, 1996: 1). As Burns suggests, in the socialist era film directors in Hungary worked in a system free of financial constraints and at the same time were provided with excellent technical resources and a relatively free political and artistic milieu. Because of this state-controlled studio system during the period, the difference between commercial or mainstream films and art films is difficult to decipher. Gyôrgy Lukâcs suggested that "in Hungarian culture, film ... plays the By 1912 a lively film culture had began to grow in Hungary (Burns, 1996: 1). Not only would well-known stage actors play prestigious parts in Hungarian films, but also directors prided themselves on being at home both in the cinema and in the theatre. With the Soviet occupation, Hungarian film production was nationalized in 1948, and as an important aspect of the ideological state apparatus, committed to the Soviet-style communism's agenda of "responsible and realistic dramatization of the actual problems of the day" (Burns, 1996: 21). The preceding Kidârist cultural apparatus's political programme aimed to lift Hungarian culture from the dogmatic darkness that the first decade of socialism had concocted. In this rejuvenated and liberalized spirit, by the mid 1960s four state-sponsored studios operated under the aegis of Mafilm. However, as Burns explains, since 1985, major institutional changes have been taking place in the Hungarian film industry. While maintaining the principle of state funding, the increased autonomy of the studios became prevalent, and studios have begun to function as commercial entities. By the early 1990s along with the political and economic changes, most state sponsored studios became independently owned, and several new studios opened (Burns, 1996). role of an avant-garde" (cited in Hoberman, 1983: 55). It also means that screen writers and directors, such as Gothâr and Incze, strive to take up large historical topics and to combine them with the social concerns of everyday life, often adding a documentary bent and an allegoric aura that express a commitment to both a political and an aesthetic imperative. American cinema becomes 'independent', such as Jarmusch's, when it is conceived and produced outside of the established Hollywood studio system (Cook, 1996: 510). Independent filmmakers exercise creative freedom that "runs beyond fads and market developments" (Rosenbaum, 1996: 1). The relative marginality of independent films allows filmmakers to suggest more critically some of the complex workings behind American cultural dominance in ways that commercially successful Hollywood films, driven by American ideology, often uncritically represent as universal desires and goals. Both art films and independent films function as 'counter-cinema'; resisting traditional genres, they are capable of exploring complex political and social issues and afford a critical space for an alternative point of view to Hollywood cinema through which they are able to depict reality more profoundly. The use of photographic imaging and documentary techniques in these films lend themselves to a heightened realistic aura or 'reality effect' in order to show and critique both reality and fiction at work. The idiosyncratic characteristics, thematic connotations and stylistic particularities all make these works worthy of attention for critical sociological inquiry, serving as lenses and as sites to analyze the phenomenon of global 'Americanization' and its effects on the Hungarian imagination and experience. The method I employ to ground both the historical processes and lived experiences as depicted in the three films is based on a bricolage of film semiotics and Denzin's distinction between a "realist reading" and "subversive reading" of film (1991:10; also 1998), which in turn are supported with reference to my situated experience and a range of secondary sources. Film semiotics provides much of the vocabulary in delineating the filmic sign system in terms of the motivated cinematic significations between signifier and signified, and in turn the uses of denotation and connotation in the making of meaningful narrative contexts. In particular, I draw on Barthes's (1985; 1987) concepts of primary and secondary signification (meaning and symbolic levels), and the "third meaning" (excess or obtuse meaning). Film semiotics also helps me to show how filmmakers explicitly and self-consciously make use of and problematize cinematic and non-cinematic codes. Since these films are already purposefully ironic and critical regarding American culture and its global influence, they lend themselves for interpretations of diverse meanings. Therefore, I combine the basic concepts of film semiotics with an adaptation of Denzin's notion of realist and subversive readings. A "realist reading" helps me to illuminate the general plot, theme and the primary signification of the scenes in terms of their normative historical and social contexts, and to interpret these films in terms of dominant ideological meanings with reference to reviews and commentaries, which rarely address how these films are critical of American culture. Through a Marxist and contemporary cultural theoretical analysis, I juxtapose and contrast those understandings with a "subversive reading" of the filmic texts that enables me to unearth an America-centred critique and discourse located in the selected scenes. While these films are not transparent documents of social reality, particular scenes present points of comparison with my own experiences, reflections and memories. Consequently, in order to make sense of the social world through the narrative contexts and cinematic codes of these films, I bridge the macro structural and micro interactional levels of my analysis by locating a layered account of my own memories of imagining and experiences with America, as fairly typical, as forms of situated knowledge and lived experience. Lastly, in developing my case, documented ethnographies of Hungarian immigrants and my informal conversations with friends and relatives in Hungary have enriched my understanding and helped me to tell the story of the Hungarian imagination about and experience with America, or at least these versions of it. Thus, I do not claim that through these films I depict the 'objective truth' of this phenomenon or the actual subjective experience of all (or even most) Hungarians. A Brief Overview Through the selected films I intend to demonstrate the progression of'Americanization', by focussing on three distinct stages of development pertinent to the Hungarian imagination and experience over the past 50 years. Although I shall describe the general plot of each film as important for establishing narrative and historical contexts, I will focus on specific scenes that are most relevant to my analysis, in order to bring them together as connected vignettes or tableaux for representing both the general and the nuanced visions and particular experiences of 'Americanization'. The first part of my analysis situates a vision of America in Hungary after 1956 through Gothar's Time Stands Still. I problematize the concept of American globalization as a fragmentary aspect of life in socialist Hungary, in particular, I focus on the idea of imagining America through the interpretation of embodied experience of Hungarians in America and through the insurgence of American ideology and consumer goods such as rock'n'roll music and Coca-Cola. Secondly, I examine how Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise attempts to provide a bridge between desire and reality, and this helps me deepen my analysis of the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life" and its particular consumer culture as an experience in America in the 1980s from the point of view of a Hungarian immigrant. Finally, my argument explores the actual material realization of American culture in present day Hungary by analyzing the discourse of globalization as a form of 'Americanization' in Incze's I ^ Budapest. Through this film I aim to explore both the homogenizing effects of global American culture and the possibilities for challenging it. In this regard, the idea of 'gift exchange' as conceived by Mauss and Baudrillard, is an important underlying theme in each of these films since it presents elements of an alternative and resistance to American consumer culture. I conclude my study by elaborating on theoretical ideas of globalization and 'Americanization' fashioned from the analysis of the films. There is no cinema vérité, there is only reality fiction. (Frederick Wiseman) In an attempt to explore the dynamics of globalization as a form of 'Americanization', I seek to outline particular albeit complex discourses that capture and interpret the progression of the Hungarian imagination about and experience with America. With this aim in mind, I first draw on Gothâr's film, Time Stands Still, and through its narrative and cinematic contexts I analyze a distinctive aspect of the Hungarian imagination about America and reception of American consumer culture. A sociological interpretation of the film allows us to see the dialectical dynamics between socialism and the ubiquitous force of global 'Americanization' already taking place in Hungary during the Cold War. Socialist Hungary's economic liberalism (at least compared to other socialist countries), coupled with relatively relaxed cultural policies, granted opportunities for cultivating alternative and critical visions and practices in the intellectual and artistic realms of which Gothâr's work is an engaging example (Szemere, 2000: 162). As a photographer, stage director and documentary filmmaker in the early 1970s, Gothâr joined a new generation of Hungarian filmmakers who carried on the legacy of film-sociography with experimental and documentary representations of contemporary social conditions (Burns, 1996: 186). In the renewed liberating political and cultural field of the late 1970s, directors like Gothâr, were able to expose and criticize themes, which had previously been taboo, such as the 1956 Revolution. In 1981 Gothâr made his second feature film, Time Stands Still, with screenwriter Géza Bereményi, and cinematographer Lajos Koltai. It won several international film awards, among them the New York Critics' Award for the Best Foreign Film Shown in 1982 (Hungarian Film Directors, 1984: 49). Although its global distribution is somewhat limited, due to its international success in the world of art cinema Time Stands Still is accessible on VHS, and thankfully there is a subtitled copy available at one of the independent video rental outlets in Vancouver. American Consumer Culture in Socialist Hungary Through self-conscious satire and an experimental approach to the hybrid docu-fiction genre, Gothar has blended the real with the fantastic and used an "expressionist visual stylization in the gloomy palette of Time Stands Still" (Burns, 1996: 187). The editing is balanced between vigorous nervous teenage intensity and the exhausted rhythms of the everyday which are brought to a standstill by the stroboscopic flashbulb of a photo camera at particular points in the story. Darkness, shadows, half-lit images, crowdedness, and jagged camera moves produce a powerful aura and give an impression of a confused Hungarian society after the events of the 1956 Revolution. Rock'n'roll tunes such as Elvis's "Don't Be Cruel," Paul Anka's "You Are My Destiny," and Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," codify the era. These songs are also part of the action as they are played at dance parties and over the school's P.A. system, and they capture the young characters' imagination about America as they sing along. The story stretches from 1956 to 1967, but the year 1963 is the focal point of the film. 1963 is significant because it is the year of the first amnesty for those imprisoned after the 1956 Revolution. Also, as American film critic Hoberman explains, this was the year when new economic experimentations in short and long-term economic plans had commenced, travel restrictions were loosened, and the "[socialist] party even sanctioned rock'n'roll" (1983: 55). This Kâdâr-led Hungarian "goulash communism" differs from the systems prevalent in the rest of the Soviet Bloc through a unique combination of pragmatic economic reform, low-level cultural restraints, and sensitivity to public opinion (Hoberman, 1983: 54). However, the socialist social contract only guaranteed people food, clothing and employment, but it did not deliver quality, readily available or a wide choice in consumer goods as capitalist systems do. The film begins and ends with images of the Kôves family, and the plot centres on the two young Kôves siblings, the tenth grader Dini and his older brother Gâbor. They live with their mother and her partner, Lâszlô Bodor, who takes on the role of the father after Mr. Kôves has fled to America during the Revolution in November 1956. Much of the action takes place among the walls of the run-down school with its prison-like corridors which provide a representation of Hungarian society at large of the time. With their friends Pierre, Vilma and Magda, Dini and Gâbor face autocratic teachers and administrators in school, they experiment with sex, alcohol and cigarettes at school dances, rival each other for popularity, and discover the influence of American culture through rock'n'roll music and Coca-Cola at house parties. The film's adult characters come from all socio-economic backgrounds. They are revolutionaries, discredited Stalinists, party reformers, and Catholic intellectuals, "who scramble to find their footing in the new political climate" of the Kâdâr government (Hoberman, 1983: 55). As Hungarian-American political economist Tôkés explains, they remind us of the inherent ambiguities of the "two-class-and-one-stratum" model that socialist Hungarian society claimed but could never establish due to the system's social policies that failed to correspond to socio-economic realities (1996: 133). The dual crisis of the plot arrives when teen heart-throb Pierre is expelled from school after interrupting the principal's speech, and Gâbor, despite his mother's connections, is unable to gain admittance to medical school in Budapest due to the stigma of his father's flight to America. Pierre and Gâbor plan to drive to the western border, and from there head over to America to meet up with Kôves. In the denouement after a house party, Gâbor changes his mind about leaving, and Dini decides instead to escape to America with Pierre. But at the last minute, Dini falls in love with Magda, and he too stays behind. In the concluding scene situated in 1967, Gothâr switches from the film's murky colours to black and white, indicating a return to the beginning of the film, as i f in fact, time has stood still. But time has not stood still, because now we see Dini as a grown man, wearing a soldier's uniform and drunkenly urinating on the street comer. In the counter shot, his father, Istvân Kôves appears on New Year's Eve, lighting candles with his wife and his friend, Bodor: he has come back from America. On one level, Gothâr's film can be interpreted as a skeptical vision of the post-1956 generation of Hungarian youth burdened with a defeated revolution against the Soviet occupation and its long lasting effects in a reformed socialism, and who mature through struggle and strive to claim their place in society. As the British film aesthetician Burns argues, Gothâr's effort is to accommodate this burden and to allow space for its acknowledgement and criticism (1996: 190). Exemplifying Mills 's (1959) classic formulation of the sociological imagination, Gothar draws out the relationship between personal troubles and public issues. Parallel to the theme of the post-1956 generation of Hungarian youth, the narrative also embodies an ironic America-centred "imaginaire" (Appadurai, 1990: 255). Following Denzin, I shall focus on a subversive element of desire in the Hungarian imagination of America ignored by the critics in order to analyze four scenes that help me frame concepts about 'Americanization'. Imagining America after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 I begin my exploration with the first images of Time Stands Still: the black and white documentary footage of battles in the streets of Budapest during the 1956 Revolution . I choose 2 With the background of arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, Hungary's economy had been subordinated to Moscow's interests for over a decade following its inclusion in the Soviet Bloc after World War II. Communist Party leader Râkosi's long-standing Stalinist-style regime had brought terror and substandard living conditions to the Hungarian people. The preceding government of Imre Nagy was not able to deliver instant remedies for social dissatisfaction and economic crises. Eventually in October 1956 a student assembly of the Szeged University began their protest demanding better social conditions and educational freedom (Lirvan, 1996). Their protest turned into a nationwide political revolt on October 23, with a focus on the Soviet occupation of Hungary. The Soviet Union responded by armed aggression against the Hungarian revolution. In effect, the pervasive terror of the state security and forces the continuous decline of living conditions had eventually transformed the entire population into opponents of Hungarian socialism copied after the Stalinist regime (Schopflin, 1996). Conversely, the Revolution of 1956 was about freedom, in the form of national independence from the Soviet Union, the restoration of national identity and civic liberty, and democracy (Csepeli & Ôrkény, 1996). After ten days, the Revolution was defeated, compromise was struck, and Kâdâr's consolidatory socialist reform government was put in power in early November (Lirvan, 1996). Nearly a quarter million Hungarians emigrated from the country as a result of the uprising in search of refuge and new prospects in the Western world, primarily in North America (Tôkés, 1996: 13; Litvân, 1996: 105). Many of them left to escape imprisonment or even execution for their active participation in the revolution, some saw no future in socialist Hungary, and others to commence my analysis with this scene because the significance of historical events lies in our interest concerning how the past contextualizes the present. The present we live in is ultimately our history. And in order to try to make sense and meaning of our lives now in the midst of "mass-mediated ... images," as cultural theorist Sobchack suggests, we reach for "iconic correspondences" (1997: 13). Quoting Walter Benjamin, Sobchack proposes that to understand the past in relation to the present, we need to use a "visual, not a linear logic" that relies on "concepts ... imagistically constructed, according to the cognitive principles of montage" (13). In making sense of history, Gothâr achieves verisimilitude through cinematic codes, employing the Eisensteinien editing method of formalist montage to evoke certain cognitive and emotional responses to what originally was framed as problematical, and in so doing calls for a responsible recognition of the event. Gothâr combines actual footage of a specific historical moment with narrative fiction to create a realistic aura. The selection and careful editing of this clip legitimizes his representation of history through storytelling. He amalgamates the black and white images of the outside to take us into the home of the Kôves family where father Kôves urges his wife and two young sons to flee with him to the West, a dilemma typical of many Hungarian families at the time. The mise-en-scène places the action in the small space of the Kôves's living room, where Gothâr arrests the heightened drama of the scene in a jagged formalist style with a clearly directed perspective and sharp close-ups to define the antagonistic dynamic between Kôves and his wife. To Kôves's demand that his family leave Hungary with him and head to the West, his wife replies with a decisive "No." Kôves then disappears into the dark street under the gaze of his family. Looking through the window, Mrs. Kôves sighs and declares, "Well then, we are going to live here!" . were looking for better opportunities for the wealth and success that the West had to offer (Litvân, 1996). (More on the 1956 Revolution in Gyôrgy Litvân (Ed.). 1996. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956. London & New York: Longman.) 3 1 use my own translations for all the quotations of dialogues instead of the subtitles provided in Time Stands Still so that the idiosyncratic and nuanced meanings of Hungarian can be captured in more detail. Gothâr ironically emphasizes this statement by freezing the black and white image of the three figures into a photograph-like still that slowly dissolves into colour as they keep staring out the window. These opening scenes are important because they introduce Gothâr's ironic vision and his subsequent critical narrative through which the characters begin imagining America. By addressing the 1956 Revolution and the mass emigration of Hungarians to the West, in most cases to North America, Gothâr foregrounds his critical question that provides a baseline argument for the film. As Hungarian film critic Liszka (1997) points out, the dilemma of whether to stay or to leave Hungary in 1956 stands as a relevant problem of the early 1980s. Socialism by the early 1980s did not usher in greater work satisfaction, the promised material abundance, nor social bonds or a new meaning of life (cf. Kirâly, 1983: 6-7). By dramatizing the beginnings of this existential debate Gothâr establishes not only the political and historical context of the film regarding the social consciousness about life within Hungary but also anticipates the formation of a certain image of the West. A subversive reading of the two blended scenes of the documentary footage and the domestic drama also draws out what is not enunciated but only alluded to, namely, an ever present and lurking image of America. That is, the Revolution of 1956 not only weighs down on the ensuing Hungarian generation with moral questions, but also ironically invokes an image of America that is transmitted through the embodied experience of Hungarians who immigrated to America to those who are left behind. When I asked my parents why they did not leave Hungary in 1956, my mother said she and her family just did not think of it as a viable option, and my father, as a young graduate, had just received his first teaching position at one of the universities in Budapest and felt that he could or should try to make a difference in Hungary. However, many of their friends did leave Hungary, and the legend about their travels and new lives in the 'West', which most often meant the US and Canada, occupied an intense place not only in my parents' imagination but also in mine. In the 1970s and 1980s an image of America slowly filtered down into our daily lives through picture postcards from these friends, depicting tall, shiny buildings and gleaming automobiles in the streets of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, and through the hand-me-down wool sweaters, faded Wrangler jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with images of Disney cartoon characters that they sent to us. In fact, as American anthropologist Wedel confirms, thousands of Hungarian households received relief parcels both from relatives and from religious and charitable organizations from America (1998: 23). Wearing those clothes signified that one had something the socialist system could not provide or had condemned. Stories of success, of 'making it in America', spurred our imagination about an abundant material culture, where everything was available and possible. As Hungarian-American historian Puskâs suggests, letters and photos sent from America depicting the success of Hungarians who had emigrated there, and visitors returning from the US describing their experiences and lives, further helped to create the "image of an America where good luck, success, and happiness were the just reward of hard, diligent work" (2000: 87). Images of the prosperous West, especially of America, were also confirmed by visitors from there, who gained symbolic status in Hungarians' eyes, and Hungarians associating with them felt privileged in displaying a "sign of fashionable otherness" (Wagnleitner, 1994: xiii). Associating with these 'Westerners' conferred an identity that set them apart and enabled them to differentiate themselves as individuals in the face of an undifferentiated collectivity. America therefore was the dream of many Hungarians. For them, people in America seemed to live 'the good life'. They 'saw' America as a source of precious goods, money and opportunities. Many Hungarians imagined America as the standard-bearer of freedom and democracy, of wealth, and modernity, but also of violence and youthful rebellion, despite the official propaganda that depicted the Western imperialist world as demonic. From my own standpoint as a member of the post-revolution generation one of the significant aspects of Gothâr's film lies with how it is able to speak to 1980s Hungarian teens while depicting the lives of the 1960s generation. When I first saw Time Stands Still in Budapest sometime after it premiered in 1982,1 instantly felt an affinity with its protagonists' endeavours, experiences and reality, and most significantly with how they imagined America through the inflow of its consumer culture. While the high schools I attended were better maintained, and the music we played at parties were current hits of the early 1980s, though still mostly American, the images we had about America from consumer goods and mass culture were reminiscent of those portrayed in the house party scene of Time Stands Still. I elaborate on this house party scene in order to analyze how the mass culture and consumer products of the US further evoke imagination about America. At Dini's teacher, Mrs. Lovas's house party, teen couples are dancing to Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" in the green neon-lit and smoke-filled rooms. The visual and audio effects of the mise-en-scène codify an enervated party atmosphere of the 1960s. The filmic space is framed so that we see the events from Pierre's perspective as he makes his way to the back of the room where Vilma is getting wasted on a 1 Litre bottle of Coca-Cola his parents brought back from a trip to London, along with the Philips tape recorder that blasts the rock'n'roll tunes. The delirious Vilma offers Pierre a taste, insisting that "This is a drug, ... You all gotta try it! I am getting high!" The realist reading of this scene suggests that Gothâr takes the materials of "sentimental national myth -the loss of morale that occurred after 1956," and presents it in an ironic light (Bums, 1996: 190). Myth is not an "object" but "a mode of signification, a form," and "its function is to distort" (Barthes, 1973: 109,121). The "myth" of Hungarian traditions and values associated with unique cultural experiences is shown to be in crisis as a result of widespread disenchantment over the unfulfilled promises of socialism. This crisis in Hungarian morals, as Hungarian film aesthetician Kirâly argues, represents an "ethical gap" in the Hungarian consolidation period between those who strive to maintain socialist values that benefit the entire society and those who desire a consumer culture based on individual interests (1983: 6). At another level, further analysis indicates that the scene is also about something other than the loss of (socialist) Hungarian morals. Albeit somewhat fragmentarily, Gothâr affirms that America's cultural influence occupies a pervasive presence in the Hungarian imagination with respect to the dominant ideologies and cultural practices of the socialist state. By doing so, he shows Hungarian teens of the early 1960s to be the first generation of the socialist era to fully embrace American pop culture, and as Hungarian film critic Kôhâti argues, to make it their own subculture on the level of personal experience and the everyday (1985: 591). Conversely, the rock'n'roll tunes such as "Tutti Frutti" or "Don't Be Cruel" also connote an allegorical meaning, and Coca-Cola becomes a symbolic codifier of America for these Hungarian teens. As this scene illustrates, Vilma experiences Coke as a 'drug'. While illicit street drugs were not widely available in Hungary during the 1960s or even in the 1980s, America itself was perceived as a 'drug', an opiate to those living in socialist Hungary. As it is well-known, since its inception Coke was designed as a narcotic, and highly addictive (containing real cocaine), but marketed as a symbol of the 'real' American experience. Consequently, as cultural theorist Pells points out, "[n]o export served as a more potent symbol of the American way of life than Coke" (1997: 199). Despite its powerful influence, Pells denies that Coke has "Americanized" (Western) Europeans, while sociologist van Elteren asserts that American goods, such as Coca-Cola appeal to people in Eastern Europe specifically because of their "strong connotation with 'freedom', 'casualness', ... and fantasies about the 'American Way of Life '" (1996: 18). In fact, until the collapse of the Soviet system, in most parts of Eastern Europe Pepsi-Cola dominated the soft drink market as a result of a negotiated deal arranged between Pepsi's C.E.O. and Khrushchev in Moscow in 19594 (Pells, 1997: 200). Coke, therefore, stood "as the apotheosis of American capitalism," a highly desired and envied commodity in the Eastern Bloc (200). Furthermore, Pells contends the mass cultural imports of Coke and popular music epitomize the global flow of US popular culture in a fashion that make the United States seem unique and appealing to Eastern Europeans (1997: 86). They represent the dominance of America's cultural values, capturing the 'collective imagination' of even those living behind the Iron Curtain. These are products of the American culture industry which presents these mass consumer goods as homogenous global styles and desires. Adorno reminds us that "mass culture allows ... outsiders to participate" because all "mass culture is fundamentally adaptation" to "the sold-off spirit [of] 'amusement'" (1990: 58,72). Thus, products of the American culture industry, from rock'n'roll to Coca-Cola, as Gothâr shows in this scene, capture images about America and provide an illusory model for the "American Way of Life" that can be "selectively borrowed, interpreted and reinterpreted" by the people living outside it (van Elteren, 1996: 10). As Appadurai suggests, "the United States is already a huge, fascinating garage sale for the rest of the world," where American ideology embodied in mass cultural products "captures the free-floating yearning for American style, even in the most intense contexts of opposition to the United States" (1996: 174). Though anachronistically associating Coke with a drug, in our subversive reading Coke delivers Gothâr's ironic comment about America as the alternative to socialism in his present-day Hungary. 4 From the mid 1970s Coca-Cola also became available in Hungary. Both Pepsi and Coke were bottled and sold in Hungary in the original 'hourglass' shaped bottles with aluminium caps exclusively until the early 1990s. The transmission of a wide range of American cultural forms find their basis in ideology. In Althusser's formulation, ideology is the imaginary or represented version of our relation to the real world. It structures our culture and the way we think and understand our place in it as subjects. One of the chief means of dispersing an America centred ideology was carried out through radio waves. American sponsored radio stations, such as Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe, became one of the prime ideological weapons of the Cold War, broadcasting America's views, values, interests and news to the Soviet Bloc. The last scene I elaborate on helps me engage this issue for my analysis. After the house party, Dini and Pierre slip away into the night, steal a car and pick up Magda 'on their way to America', and imitating the style of American road-movies, the three head out in their stolen Wartburg (a popular East German automobile). Gothâr bridges the three consecutive shots of the scene with a nonsynchronous sound bite from the familiar trademark jingle of "Voice of America" emanating from the car's radio. This loud sound in the foreground eventually becomes so quiet that it takes an effort to decipher it. It not only signals the protagonists' quest of finding America, but also creates a sense of alliance with the audience in a familiar but prohibited act. Anti-communist propaganda made listening to V O A or Radio Free Europe in Hungary illegal in the 1960s and early 1970s. I remember seeing my parents tuning in to these stations on Sunday afternoons, gluing their ears close to the speakers to catch the sound through the static scramble turned to a low volume in fear of the neighbours who might catch them and perhaps report them to the authorities. Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, which are actually now known to have been in part sponsored by the CIA, have become important means of the USA's Ideological State Apparatus for projecting its messages in Europe (Beatty 1997; Pells, 1997: 34). Along with Radio Free Europe, V O A provided a portal to the West for many Hungarians, and "were seen as beacons of freedom and democracy" (Beatty, 1997). During the Cold War, Voice of America programs aimed to deliver images of a wealthy and progressive America and to create an appreciation for its values and institutions (Pells, 1997: 36). The subversive impact of these radio stations was immense, not only for their political message, but also for their music. One of V O A ' s most popular programs was Music U.S.A, with an estimated 30 million listeners, many of them in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (Pells, 1997: 85). As state-sponsored music stores rarely carried American pop music records in the 1960s and 1970s, and since most Hungarians could not afford to buy such coveted records on the black market or from the maszek shops, most people were compelled to depend on these American sponsored radio stations for their "fix of rock'n'roll" (Wagnleitner, 1994: xi). The programs of V O A thus served a vital role of disseminating American ideology and culture in constructing Hungarians' imagery about America. My objective in this first part has been to explore how America had already become a presence in Hungarians' lives, a part of their imagination, during the Cold War years. I have selected particular scenes of Gothâr's Time Stands Still that provided loci for theoretical analysis and for my personal insights within the framework of the larger story. I have shown that as an avant-garde filmmaker, Gothâr materializes a form of heuristic consciousness-raising in his film in order to critique both socialist authoritarianism and global American hegemony, but without offering a solution to either. Gothâr does not offer a solution because he cannot, either from an aesthetic stance, as a result of the cinematic codes he subscribes to, or from an ideological perspective due to his ironic sense of the conflicts within and between both state socialist Marxism and American cultural influence. This inability, however, should not be taken as his failure, but rather as an affirmation that although globalization is an uneven process both in time and space, as Featherstone suggests, "the boundaries of local cultures are seen to have become more permeable and difficult to maintain" against the forces of global American influence (1995: 93). Gothâr's is an ironic warning against capitalist assimilation, against the sell-out to America's commodity culture that he sees taking place in Hungary. As Jameson explains, no societies seem to remain immune from "American economic interests and American cultural influence [that] coincide to produce the export of a way of life itself (1998: 64). According to van Elteren, "selective borrowing" and "active appropriation" may express local resistance, but they no longer necessarily represent a defence of older traditions, but rather "operate within the logic of globalization" (1996: 4,9). It may be, as Jameson argues, that "a distinctive way of life capable of standing as an alternative" to American cultural dominance that was once sought but not found in socialism must now remain a sublime quest (65). Gothâr's Time Stand Still has helped me interpret a certain dimension of the Hungarian imagination about America as an aspect of 'Americanization' during socialism. This imagination gains actualization in Jarmusch's depiction of American society in Stranger than Paradise, which allows me to deepen my analysis from the perspective of a Hungarian's experience in America in the next section. In America I saw more than America; I sought there an image of democracy itself, of its penchants, its character, its prejudices, its passions; I wanted to become acquainted with it if only to know at least what we ought to hope or fear from it. (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America) What is this America like that occupies the Hungarian imagination? In the summer of 1988 I ventured out on a trip to the United States as a result of connections I had made with American students who were studying at one of the universities in Budapest for a year. I had travelled in Western Europe before, and so I imagined America to be somewhat similar but also vaster and wilder. I was curious to find America's symbols materialized in the limitless opportunities, freedom and abundance of products I had heard so much about and imagined. In fact, I was interested in the everyday experience of Americans, the American society and culture. What I experienced was a place that both seduced and perplexed me. The mass quantity of consumer goods and many Americans' assertive, proud attitude toward their culture based on this claimed freedom and the profusion of consumerism enticed me. I thought, contrary to how I lived, here in this country one can easily forget all about one's problems just by going to the mall or turning on the television. But what bewildered me was the realization of an underlying artificiality in this consumer culture. Instead of liberty, a unifying lifestyle - based primarily on the fulfillment of material needs, where goods from food to music become quickly consumed and easily dispensed with and replaced - suggested to me some other tangibly meaningful way of life. My experiences in America, though certainly not unique, therefore impel me to try to elaborate on some of the main sociological concepts of American consumer culture. I do so with the help of Jim Jarmusch's (1984) film Stranger than Paradise to illuminate a Hungarian encounter with America, and to complement and confirm these ideas with Jean Baudrillard's (1989) travel diary of America. As Baudrillard contends elsewhere, "the cinema of Jarmusch explores the insignificance of the world, [it] add[s] to its real or hyperreal illusion" (1997: 10). By analyzing the narrative and visual context of Stranger than Paradise I aim to substantiate concepts about the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life," juxtaposing those with Baudrillard's (1989) observations about America. Baudrillard's concepts of the simulacrum and hyperreality help me examine how American society is dominated by simulations, in so far as the real is only representational and illusions are taken as reality. In this way Stranger than Paradise provides the context for the American experience in my study, linking the Hungarian imagination about America during socialism, as I have demonstrated in the previous discussion of Gothâr's film, with the realization of mass consumer culture in contemporary Hungary, as I will argue through Incze's film in the following section. Independent American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch creates films in direct opposition to the big-budget world of the Hollywood studio system. He exhibits an approach to filmmaking that is reminiscent of the styles of neorealism and the French new wave that are underpinned by influences from Japanese filmmaking. A salient difference between him and other independent filmmakers, as Rosenbaum explains, is that "he's strong enough to afford the luxury of brooking no creative interference when it comes to making production and postproduction decisions" (1996: 21). As a writer-director, he owns the negatives of all his films. A dropout of New York University's film program, Jarmusch made his first short film, Permanent Vacation, from his withheld tuition money, which he eventually turned into Stranger than Paradise with the help of German director Wim Wenders, who provided the extra film stock, and of cinematographer, Tom DiCillio (Hertzberg, 2001: 121). Jarmusch won the Camera d'Or for Best First Feature at Cannes for his Stranger than Paradise in 1984, which most certainly paved the way for his ensuing success and resulted in films such as Down by Law (1986) with Italian film star Roberto Benigni, and Dead Man (1995) with Johnny Depp, that gained him wider distribution and publicity. Stranger than Paradise, however, remains relatively unknown, although it is now among the most revered American art house and cult movies. Indeed, I became familiar with Jarmusch's work through the more popularized films, and saw Stranger than Paradise only a couple of years ago for the first time. For my analysis, I highlight two scenes which Jarmusch titles "The New World," and "TV Dinner," that best illustrate certain elements of the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life," and therefore I leave out many others that are interesting but less pertinent but which I contextualize in the plot summary. Also, I call on the idea of 'gift exchange' in two other scenes as a plausible way of challenging the overbearing effects of capitalist mass consumption. An American Reality Stranger than Paradise is a bite of satire which makes use of edgy humour. It also represents a slice of the American experience of an indefinable time period, and yet the setting is largely purged of contemporary references. As in Gothâr, Jarmusch's composition and style also has a photographic quality. In fact, the framing and editing of Stranger than Paradise replicate the atmosphere of black and white photographs. Jarmusch uses the simple technique of having the camera patiently wait at a predetermined location, where seemingly nothing happens, for the characters to enter the frame. The shots communicate with one another through long takes, silence and title captions that structure the plot into three parts: "The New World," "One Year Later," and "Paradise." This motivated minimalization of anything forged or forced resonates with a certain feeling of reality, and evokes the mundane in everyday American life. Fade-ins and fade-outs, like "fill-in-the-blank puzzles," are the primary technique of editing, at one point accompanied by a somber Bartok piece and at another blanketed by the shrilly-blaring music of Screamin' Jay Hawkins (Siskel cited in Cinemania, 1997). The Ohio native Jarmusch declares: "I feel like I'm American only coincidentally" (Edge of Hollywood, 1994). He refers to the simultaneous cultural connection and disconnection he feels with the States. "America's a kind of throwaway culture that's a mixture of different cultures. To make a film about America, it seems to me logical to have at least one perspective that's transplanted because ours is a collection of transplanted influences" (Jarmusch, cited in Cinemania, 1997). In order to arrest this notion in an ironic self-reflexive commentary on American society he solicits the help of an outsider. The dream-like American cultural landscape is uncovered through the eyes of the Hungarian newcomer, Eva. The linear plot of Stranger than Paradise depicts the lives of three young characters, Willie, Eddie, and Éva, played by the Hungarian born and now New York based actor Eszter Bâlint (Cinemania, 1997). Willie, the unemployed, laconic and cool New Yorker, reluctantly plays host when his young cousin, Éva, arrives on a surprise visit "straight from Budapest." It is not clear with what purpose Éva comes to America, whether for a holiday or to stay permanently. At Willie's place she is introduced to an American culture of Chesterfield cigarettes, television, football and TV dinner. She quickly announces that football is a stupid game, and she questions the idea of prepared frozen food. Willie and his friend Eddie spend their days watching TV, smoking and drinking, playing cards and betting on horses. They repeatedly abandon Éva, and Éva eventually abandons New York and moves in with her old Hungarian aunt in Cleveland, Ohio. In the second part, "One Year Later", Willie suddenly finds himself feeling lonely, and convinces Eddie to set out with him on a road trip. During their drive they decide to visit Éva in Ohio. Éva seems to have embraced the "American Dream" and now works in a hot-dog diner in Cleveland. After a short stay, they say good-bye to Aunt Lotte and Éva. As they are leaving town they decide to head down to Florida. On a whim, however, Willie and Eddie turn around and go back to Cleveland to persuade Éva to join them in their escapade. Here the plot offers a parallel with Time Stands Still's road trip in so far as it suggests a fable of the three characters' ironic exile and search for their dreams as envisioned in Florida, the ultimate 'Paradise'. As in Time Stands Still, the theme of drugs also surfaces in Stranger than Paradise and advances the plot. In the not so paradisiacal Florida, during a walk on the cold beach Eva serendipitously acquires an envelope full of money as a result of mistaken identity in an apparent drug deal. In Jarmusch's work, this mistaken drug deal stands as a form of symbolic exchange, an alternative to capitalist exchange, and as an ironic stereotyping in associations America with drugs, a place that is not only infamously associated with obscure drug dealings and use but also which itself is in a hallucinatory state. In the end Éva decides to leave Willie and Eddie in their 'Paradise', giving them a share of the found-money accompanied by a farewell note she places on the table of their empty motel room, and goes to the airport. When the two men return flush with winnings from the dog races they find the money and Eva's mysterious letter and rush out to the airport to catch Eva. Jarmusch, however, brings no real resolution and concludes ironically by showing a plane lifting into the sky that Willie has boarded instead of Éva, heading to Budapest. The "American Dream " Jarmusch's film takes on the imagery of an 'American Paradise' in Stranger than Paradise. Accordingly, after her Biblical namesake, it is a young woman named Eva who sets out to find the "American Dream," as I show in my analysis of the scene titled "The New World." This scene helps me trace the origins and the meanings of the "American Dream." Upon arriving in New York, Éva is walking through the desolate city streets in search of her cousin, Willie's place. In contrast to Baudrillard's depiction of New York as "electrifying, turbulent, ... filled with crowds" (1989: 18), Jarmusch shows the New York streets as deserted, bleak and covered with litter. A right to left tracking shot follows Éva to enhance her bewilderment, as she is looking around mesmerized about this American 'Paradise'; it is not quite like what she has imagined in Hungary. A close-up of Éva captures her confusion and tension, as if to suggest that the past is better than the present, or at the least different. She stares off-screen and begins to play Screamin' Jay Hawkins's R & B song "I Put A Spell On You" on her single-speaker cassette player. As she walks on she sees advertisement slogans at the gas station that proclaim this place to be "Kings County" and "Quality you can trust." And the graffiti on the garage door demands, "U.S. out of everywhere, Yankee go home." It perplexes Eva. It is difficult to deny Jarmusch's obvious irony in depicting a less than ideal America in this scene. Conversely, the message of the advertisements forecasts what Éva will not find in America. Jarmusch not only employs an ironic judgement on the free-floating signifiers of a mass consumer culture in these slogans, but with the protest graffiti he also practices a self-conscious political critique of America's hegemonic global presence. Furthermore, he deploys a paradoxical allegory in playing Hawkins's music, since it was actually banned on many radio stations in the US at the time of its release in 1956, due to its 'screaming' sound and rough lyrics (Screamin ' Jay Hawkins, 2004). But this song provides an allegory for Éva, because as the plot reveals later, it would have represented a wild and free America for her back in Hungary, and literally 'put a spell on her' to come and see this America for herself. Rock'n'roll and blues, especially less main-stream works, were highly coveted by Eastern Europeans looking for alternatives, as I noted before, in part because the access to them was quite difficult through the state-sponsored radio stations and record stores. Thus, this music worked as a means to help create Hungarians' imagination about America. Jarmusch picks up on this paradoxical reappropriation of the song, and intriguingly gives it to Éva to play back to the America where it was first expelled and then commercially exported from. By playing this song now, it helps Éva to re-establish the imagery of America that she had before her arrival. A further subversive analysis of this scene also suggests what movie critic Harlan Jacobson contends: "[i]n the backstory Budapest was probably in colour . . . . Life in Budapest was much nicer" (cited in Hertzberg, 2001: 13). Jarmusch's brilliance is to reverse the American picture of Eastern Europe as grey, depressing and culturally backward, in contrast to the Hungarian imagination of America as its exact opposite. "In coming here," explains Jarmusch, "Éva experiences an incredible decline in standards and values" (cited in Hertzberg, 2001: 14). Then why do people come to America? Why do they come to New York? Baudrillard explains that "[p]erhaps because the entire world continues to dream of New York, even as New York dominates and exploits [that dream]" (1989: 23). America is contrived as the 'promised land' in a global human conscience. Visitors and immigrants come to America with a set of a priori illusions, which silently codify their expectations. As Baudrillard argues, "[fjor the European even today, America represents something akin to exile, a phantasy of emigration and therefore a form of interiorization of his or her own culture" (1989: 75). Jarmusch proposes this cultural interiorization in Stranger than Paradise. America, as he suggests, is a "state of mind" (cited in Hertzberg, 2001: 13). It is built on the "American Dream." American historian Richardson identifies the origins of the "American Dream" in such ideals of the Enlightenment as "rationalism and individualism, as basic foundations, ... implying] [that] expression of individuality [and] diversity should be positively received" (1988: 103). The exploration and colonization of North America seemed above all to promise wealth for people from diverse cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, and the imagery of 'Paradise' in the newfound land had made "a lasting association between biblical symbolism and the accretion of mythology" about "nature, openness, tolerance and freedom of expression" (104). America has come to be seen as the "epitome of potential that is inherent in a Christian civilization" (105, 109). It is essential to note, however, that while the "American Dream" had a potent attraction for immigrants, at least before their arrival, for most subjugated minorities such as Blacks and North American Indians living in the United States, rather, the 'dream' has been a nightmare. As Richardson explains, the "American Dream," as a composite of the conflicting visions of conformity and diversity, has been a catalyst that attracted thousands of immigrants from Asia, Europe and the Americas to the United States (1988: 101). New opportunities offered by the rhetoric of the "American Dream" have been an important part of the American experience. More concretely, the emphasis on wealth symbolized in success is the basic ideology behind the "American Dream." But to reach this goal the legitimate means are not equally available to everyone. Merton's (1949[1938]) insights into the structure of American society and culture in the late 1930s are still relevant and vital to our understanding of the "American Dream" today, which have been expanded into a global imaginaire through the phenomenon of 'Americanization'. As Merton explains, what is embedded in the "American Dream" are the patterns of social and cultural structures of middle class ideals, mores, culture, values and language upon which America's ideology of ultimate success through limitless wealth is constructed (136). Accordingly, dominant institutions systematically shape perceptions of conformity and deviance, and culturally prescribed goals validate both the objectives that all members of society must strive for and the modes they must employ to achieve them (Merton, 1949: 137). The "American Dream," therefore, demands assimilation as a condition for attaining the American identity, and for participating in the American experience. Subsequently, the idea of living the "American Dream" with its "continuing pressure to retain high ambition" is itself the major motivating factor for people to immigrate to America (138). People "came to [America] not because there was no place else to go but because the vision of life in the Unites States was so alluring that they left behind everything that they had previously known in order to pursue it" (Richardson, 1988: 100). According to historian Dreisziger, this image about America also played a crucial role in the decision among many Hungarians to immigrate to America after the 1956 Revolution and even in the later years under socialism (1982: 50). The impression is further supported by the money Hungarian emigrants send back to their relatives, accompanied by letters and gifts that "paint pictures of an El Dorado," and hence encourage those at home to join them in America (Puskâs, 2000: 83). As, Rôzsa, a Hungarian immigrant, who left Hungary in 1978, explains, "we recognized that our children's future would be better here than anywhere... .[In Hungary] we had everything, we had a good position. But it's not enough for your children... . We had our own apartment as well as a weekend home, good positions, our own jobs" (cited in Warren, 1986: 55). Similarly, as another immigrant, Mary, recalls: "My husband hoped to have a better life here. By better life, we mean of course higher wages, more chances to enjoy ourselves, better food, clothing, furniture and houses" (cited in Warren, 1986: 39). In the 1970s and 1980s many Hungarians became increasingly alienated from socialism due to the country's escalating economic crisis and political confusion, which were results partly of domestic structural and political struggles and also of global capitalist expansion, and critical of its achievements that "presented consumption as a 'right'" (Verdery, 1996: 28, 32). Therefore, they saw the "American Dream" as a promise of economic affluence that they thought they could never attain in Hungary. This image of America, that presents profound earning opportunities to secure a particular life style, have encouraged Hungarians to set out optimistically to find their dreams. In this way, as sociologist Kroes argues, America in the idea of the "American Dream" embodies the phantasm of "the mythical West," with its associations of material abundance and opportunities in the Hungarian imagination (1996: 172). This is How We Eat in America The focal point of Jarmusch's work is the apparent contradiction that exists between the popular perception of the "American Dream" and what that dream actually holds in the "American Way of Life." Éva thus comes to America to discover her dreams, but what she finds instead is her cousin Willie's squalid one room apartment and his shallow life. Eva's cultural encounter in the "TV Dinner" scene helps me to explore concepts about the "American Way of Life." In the simple production design of the "TV Dinner" segment, the framing circumscribes a confined setting with minimal action and dialogue as Éva and Willie are seated at a small dinner table. Willie is eating a tray of TV dinner, and offers some to Éva. But the bemused Éva declines it and curiously asks about the meal: "What does that meat come from?" "It comes from a cow," answers Willie confidently. "It doesn't even look like meat," insists Éva. Willie cannot tolerate Eva's incomprehension and proclaims: "Éva, stop bugging me. This is how we eat in America: I got my meat, I got my potatoes, I got my vegetables, I got my dessert, and I don't even have to wash the dishes," as we see his tin-foil plate and plastic fork and knife. The primary message of this scene communicates that Willie lives a robot-like existence, unable to relate to or communicate with Éva as he is so immersed in his meal (Cinemania, 1997). He is a "dead-pan deadbeat character [who] live[s] in a dead space," argues film critic Kael (1997). Into this stultifying atmosphere Eva's character enters as a foreign presence with a different viewpoint, exposing the shallowness of Willie's existence. At the symbolic level or the level of motivated signification, following Barthes (1985), Jarmusch's intention is to capture the idea of Durkhemian 'anomie' and to dramatize the concept that Marcuse (1964) defines as "one-dimensional society." By illustrating how the characters experience the extent of their boredom and disillusionment symbolized in Willie's TV dinner, Jarmusch depicts the absurd and banal other side of the "American Dream." Jarmusch represents America as a tedious, boring place although the inhabitants like Willie pretend to live in a kind of freedom that is enveloped in the false glamour of convenience food. The use of humour here is double-edged, as it turns back on Willie's small world while exposing the hypocrisy of the "American Way of Life." A subversive reading of this scene also allows us to see what else is significant here: the "third meaning" (Barthes, 1985: 42). While it is difficult to define the "third meaning," as Barthes explains, it refers to "the obtuse meaning," the excess that also "has something to do with disguise" and it "sides with the carnival aspect of things" (1985: 44, 48). In this scene this carnivalesque element is suggested by the kitschy peacock statuette that serves as a centre piece on the table and Willie's use of a napkin; these details are excessive in so far as they codify the conflict between the symbolic materiality of the film and what Barthes coins as the "filmic," "where another language begins,... the third meaning" (59). Even though excess is non-systematic, it helps create a new meaning in the film beyond what is motivated. Conversely, in describing to Éva what a TV dinner is, Willie insists, "you're supposed to eat it while watching television." But Willie is not eating his TV dinner in front of the television. He is at his dinner table, with Éva glaring at him. Here Jarmusch provides us with an opportunity for tackling the concept of simulacrum and hyperreality as elements of American consumer culture. T V dinner is hyperreal, because it recontextualizes our reality. Hyperreal is the "domain where you can no longer interrogate the reality or unreality, the truth or falsity of something" (Baudrillard, 1993b: 146). In Baudrillard's (1989) words, "what is new in America is the clash of the first level (primitive and wild) and the 'third kind' (the absolute simulacrum). There is no second level (the self-reflexive and authentic).... Let us grant this country the admiration it deserves and open our eyes to the absurdity of our own customs" (104). The 'third kind' is what I am calling the obtuse meaning, which functions in the excess of Jarmusch's mise-en-scène, "marking the heavy layer of information and signification" (56). The obtuseness of this scene lays in its endorsement to what is considered real. TV dinner was invented to simulate authentic food and fits Baudrillard's idea of simulacrum as an identical copy for which there is no resemblance to the original. A TV dinner, initially conceived to use up scrap meat in the 1950s, is a naive and strange concept for Éva. Although Willie means to stereotype Éva as being from Eastern Europe by trying to explain to her what a television is, in fact Éva is puzzled not just by the artificiality of the food and its nutritional value, but also by a kind of throwaway consumer culture, the excess time and consumption that TV dinner requires of Willie. As Raymond Williams points out, to consume used to mean "to waste" and "to exhaust" (cited in Featherstone, 1991: 21). In late capitalist American society this kind of wasteful consumption and its circulated images suggest "alternative pleasures, desires, [and] consumption as excess" (21). TV dinner, as a feature of American mass consumer goods, therefore confirms van Elteren's thesis that such products are "self-referential," they "ostentatiously ignore... all consumers outside America," and yet at the same time they posit "an alternative universe of consumption, [and] of infinite possibilities" (1996: 16). In Stranger than Paradise, America presents this alternative universe for Éva, because, in Baudrillard's words, "this is the country which gives you the opportunity to be so brutally naïve, . . . this is the land of the 'just as it is" ' (1989: 28). Therefore, "you must accept everything at once, because it is this telescoping that gives the American way of life its illuminating, exhilarating side. If you approach this society with the nuances of moral, aesthetic, or critical judgement, you will miss its originality" (67). It is the ultimate of all "dream worlds," as Walter Benjamin puts it, the vast phantasmagoria of commodities (cited in Featherstone, 1991:23). Stranger than Paradise exemplifies particularly this notion in the "TV Dinner" scene by divulging the "American Way of life" based on the consumption of simulacra. Stranger than Paradise poses a critical question with respect to how we can identify the real when it is turned into a fetish, given a mystical character and transformed into the hyperreal of the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life." In America's effort to achieve the most authentic lived experience, as Denzin explains, the real becomes mythical, banal and Utopian, despite America's paradoxical preoccupation with its "myths of origin" (1998: 31). "Reality becomes its own ideology through the spell cast by its faithful duplication" (Adorno, 1990: 55). The 'real' found in mass culture and consumption, for example, in the fetishized commodity form of TV dinner, then replicates the settings of consumption and products of the capitalist mechanism. As Baudrillard argues, in this industrial system the semiotic code dominates, and "brings with it a possibility of control" that far exceeds previous capitalist modes of production and consumption (cited in Ritzer, 1998: 127). In the late capitalist or postmodern world, "objects and commodities are signs" (128), and as Adorno argues, they constitute "a system of signals that signals itself (1990: 71), and that we consume under the illusion of endless choice. In an effort to challenging the overwhelming effects of domination and control of American mass consumer culture, the idea of 'gift exchange' presents elements of an alternative and a form of resistance in Jarmusch's film. As Mauss claims in his seminal work, The Gift, "[i]t is our good fortune that all is not yet couched in terms of purchase and sale. ... Our morality is not solely commercial" (1974:63). In Stranger than Paradise Jarmusch depicts this concept of the gift economy in a couple of key scenes: Willie presents Eva with an ugly dress when she is getting ready to leave for Cleveland, and later in Cleveland Aunt Lotte welcomes Willie and Eddie with a traditional Hungarian feast of a bowl of goulash and pieces of krémes (a dessert). Reciprocity between giver and receiver, however, is not necessarily equal or symmetrical, and even ingratitude is articulated as significant in preserving the symbolic form of exchange. In both instances, after the receivers accept their gifts they reject them: although Éva seems touched by accepting the gift, she tells Willie she does not like the dress, which Willie counters by insisting that "If you come here you should dress like people dress here." In response, on her way to the bus station Éva discards the hideous dress in the garbage. On the primary level, Eva's action expresses simply her dislike of the dress, and on the secondary level it symbolizes how she does not want to be part of this American culture. In the other scene, Jarmusch's blunt irony is obvious as Willie and Eddie appear grateful for Aunt Lotte's offer: however, they will not willingly eat a meal that has not come from a box. In Marx's conception exchange value underwrites the interactions between these characters; their oppositional attitude requires alternative economies such as waste and elements of what Baudrillard (1993a) calls "symbolic exchange." Gift exchange is then subject to a symbolic order, because as Baudrillard argues, it fulfills the "reversibility of the gift" (1993a: 2). The "symbolic is inevitable," stresses Baudrillard (2), even though gifts maybe bought then disposed of and food offered amicably may then be refused, their circulation and waste ironically subverts the dominance of capitalist exchange-value, however fleetingly. Through the narrative and cinematic context of Stranger than Paradise I have argued that the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life" are based on a mass commodified culture that is rooted in simulations of reality, and in turn the consumption of simulacra also suggest the possibility of an alternative and potentially more authentic existence. In the final section, I seek out how this simulated reality of America has actually gained a persistent global presence by implanting its signs, symbols and goods worldwide, for which Incze's narrative film, I ^ Budapest provides a framework. III. Realizing America: The Present-day Experience of American Culture in Hungary in Incze's I ^ Budapest I'm afraid of Americans I'm afraid of the world I'm afraid I can't help it I'm afraid I can't I'm afraid of Americans (David Bowie, "I'm Afraid of Americans") During my most recent trip to Hungary in December 2003,1 was surprised by how Western and particularly how American consumer culture had come to dominate the landscape since my last visit. The Budapest I found seemed more like Eva's New York in Stranger than Paradise than the Budapest that she or I had first left behind. What I observed and experienced about the Hungarian social and cultural transformation can be interpreted as a parody of the American hyperreal: graffiti covering buildings and walls with slogans of popular and high art forms with a detectible influence of the capitalist Western world, a large quantity of cheap American brand names sold at high prices at new shopping malls, sexist fast food merchandising (Burger King billboards depicting a woman's chest with two burgers in place of her breasts), and TV and radio advertisements 'interpellating' consumers by using catchy expressions with a tone resonant of American commercials. I was less surprised to see Hungarians' contradictory acknowledgment of and identification with the phenomena. The notes I took after conversations with relatives and friends about the effects of these changes reveal divergent opinions, from extreme right and xenophobic nationalist sentiments, such as "Hungary has finally found its allies [in the USA]" to a middle of the road attitude: "This is still better than the communists," to some confused and more anxious responses: "This is a lion's den," or "It has become a man-eat-man society," and "It is just like America here; life is worth nothing, everything is illusionary,... not to mention all the McDonald's, the Multiplexes and the influence of Hollywood movies. ... Where are the old values and traditions?" Across this spectrum of opinions many people also expressed their frustration and disenchantment to me: "The city is full of crazy people and those who are chasing money at any rate, doing all kinds of gangster businesses. ... This guy one day just started shooting on the Oktogon [a square in Budapest], killed two innocent young people just like i f he were in America. ... Such pathology is the result of an annihilated and disillusioned consumer society." But some others articulated hope and optimism: "One always has a choice: to accept or to refuse what is offered." Evidently, there is some sense of 'nostalgia' about the old (socialist) system in Hungary, similar to the trend in Germany that is sometimes called 'Ostalgia' (cf. Hôrschelmann, 2001: 997). But there is also support for Western and American style consumer culture-based developments, notions which could perhaps be compared to the opinions many Hungarians had in the 1960s and 1970s about the West and/or America as a land of 'milk and honey'. These perceptions call for further examination and closer scrutiny. In examining the long post-socialist moment, I do not mean to add to or take sides with these judgements, but rather to seek out ways to understand, acknowledge and explain the phenomena they are responding to. Incze's (2001) art film, I^Budapest, dramatizes these different and often ambivalent views and the way Hungarians have been affected by these sociocultural changes, and thus provides me with a useful way to expand the discussion to consider the effects of globalization and 'Americanization' in present day Hungary. The political context of artistic production under socialism facilitated and enhanced the expression of some contested and often subversive views, as Gothâr's work has indicated. The dissolution of that system has resulted in a situation where young Hungarian filmmakers, working primarily in independently owned and operated smaller film studios, now strive to leave.behind.the so.called 'socialistrealist' traditions in order to expand both in experimental and mainstream works, although 'hybrid' docu-social satires and romantic works are still prevalent. Women have been actively involved in Hungarian cinema both under state socialism and after its collapse, which guaranteed, at least on paper, more equality for them. As a member of the middle-generation post-socialist Hungarian filmmakers, Agnes Incze, like Gothâr, began her film career as a documentary filmmaker upon graduating from the Academy for Theatre and Film Art in Budapest in 1987. After numerous documentaries, Incze wrote, directed and edited her debut narrative film, I ^ Budapest, in 22 days on a shoestring budget with a student cast from the Academy for Theatre and Film Art (Pestimusor, 2001:4). I ^ Budapest won several awards at the 32 n d Hungarian Film Festival in 2001, was shown both in smaller art house cinemas and in the big-screen theatres of Lloyd Odeon in Hungary, and it also gained international attention. I first saw / ^Budapest a year ago during the Hungarian Film Week at Vancouver's Pacific Cinematheque. Unable to find a copy of the film here for my analysis, I ordered the D V D from Hungary, an indication that it has yet to register even on the alternative circuits of the cinematic culture industry. A Contemporary Hungarian Reality I ^ Budapest is loosely based on two of Incze's recent documentaries; Gyorsulâs (1998) (trans.: Speed), which focuses on a young man whose shady wheeling and dealing businesses make him tremendously wealthy in a very short time, and Robot (1999), which depicts the horrendous conditions women work under in factories in Budapest. As Hungarian film critic Âgfalvi (2001) suggests, Incze's background as a documentary filmmaker gives her an advantage in depicting the human condition in Hungary's newfound capitalism (yadkapitalizmus) in a credible and realistic way in I ^ Budapest. Incze claims that her film is a "modern fairy tale," a story of moral and material seduction, with both good and bad heroes (cited in Domjân, 2001). 1^Budapest depicts the story of a young woman from the country, Anikô, who moves to the capital city of Budapest at the invitation of her old friend Môni, who has been living there for a while. The plot unfolds as Anikô is leaving behind the wheat fields and the dusty one-road village in search of her dream of a 'good life' in Budapest. Môni has already found what she was looking for in Budapest: she wears the latest fashions, speaks the appropriate slang, and is well-acquainted with the tricks of finding the right man with money and an exciting lifestyle. In fact, she is convinced she has struck gold with her sly boyfriend, Krisztiân, who is rich, drives an expensive car, and conducts shady business deals. She quickly passes her recipes on to Anikô. But Anikô does not have the finesse for fashion, she daydreams constantly and falls for Mik i , the klutzy and poor security guard. The two young women experience the adventures of nightclubs and diners that allow them to escape from their hard work at the factory. As in Time Stands Still and in Stranger than Paradise, a road trip and drug deals also advance the plot in I ^ Budapest, and lead to the crisis whereby Anikô realizes she cannot fit into the trendy, cool world of Budapest because she sees its corrupt and filthy underside. Anikô feels she has no other choice but to go back to her village, or be stuck working at the factory. As if to reward her for remaining honest and true to herself, the film offers her a third option in the end: fleeing from the police in a rusty old car, after Mik i gets shot and fails to deliver the 'goods' to Krisztiân and his older macho gangster partner, the couple suddenly catapults into the air and the story comes full circle as Anikô and Mik i , as i f in a dream, are flying out of the city and returning to the very wheat fields the story has departed from. This closing scene shifts the realist context of the film to a surrealist fantasy ending, suggesting perhaps in a bit of outdated fashion but ironically, that only in our dreams we can defy the trappings and false promises of late capitalism. Incze's neorealist approach portrays the lives of these young characters as typical of the now capitalist Hungary's rough social and cultural milieu, from the extremes of mundane factory work to the underworld of gangsters. Like Jarmusch, Incze takes the experiences of an outsider, the young Anikô from a small village, to reveal a new reality in Budapest. The cinematic codes and the production design Incze employs all indicate a departure from the traditional Hungarian social realist tools of expressionism. Fast-paced camera moves, bright colours and lighting effects and the soundtrack of popular Hungarian DJ Yonderboi evoke the atmosphere of a music video clip. New computerized digital technology, previously not available in Hungary, is used to create the vivid, shiny, glass like luminous colours (Pestimusor, 2001: 10). Sharp and abrupt editing creates a feeling of tension and intrigue that characterizes the new society emerging in Budapest and lays the groundwork for the film's surrealist conclusion. In contrast to the worlds represented in Gothâr's and Jarmusch's films, Incze's work displays the effects of American consumer culture that are already taken for granted in the Hungarian vision and experience. In fact, even the familiar icons of consumer goods, such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's hamburgers and American pop music are often only referred to in passing (if at all), without much of the iconographie signification, and the drug dealing and use are part of everyday experience. America in effect has moved to Hungary. The capitalist transformation of Hungary and its 'Americanization', as Incze shows, is nearly complete. This final section of my paper engages themes of the transplanted American consumer culture as it is played out in / ^Budapest through the intersection of insider-outsider, rural-urban, Eastern-Western and class and gender categories by the realist and subversive readings of selected scenes. While there are many interesting elements in I ^ Budapest that deserve study, I shall focus first on two scenes from the beginning of the film that highlight the contrast between Anikô's small village and the metropolis in order to examine the symbolic changes that have taken place in Budapest partly with the help of the Lacanian formulation of the mirror phase. Then I look at the idea of consumer culture by contrasting scenes taking place at the dirty factory where Anikô and Môni work with the vibrant diner the young characters visit. Once again, the idea of 'gift' will help me locate an alternative to mass consumerism. I Love Budapest I begin my analysis by noting the contrast between the tiny village, Pâhokszoboszlô, depicted in the roadside café with wheat fields in the backdrop and the cosmopolitan Budapest. As the film begins, Anikô, accompanied by her mother, is leaving the village. The scene finds its resolution in the next shot as Anikô is reading Môni's letter out loud to her ex-boyfriend, Feri, who is driving her to Budapest. "Do you know what T V Budapest' means?" asks Môni in her letter, which we see from Anikô's perspective, and draws the symbolic heart shape for the word 'love'. During their drive Anikô talks about how she imagines living in Budapest. But when she arrives and sees how different Môni looks now that she has been living in Budapest, Anikô expresses her worries that she will remain an outsider: "I feel that people can always tell I am not from here."5 Môni who has already found her dreams by learning the current fashion, vernacular, and how to make connections in order to fit in in the metropolis, now teaches Anikô: "You are not in Pâhok anymore! ... You must forget where you come from I know already how things go here." "Élni a tutitban!" or "Live life big!" is Môni's creed. At the denotative level these opening scenes provide us with a simple picture of a naïve but pretty country girl who moves to the city in search of her dream, encountering struggle and humiliation along the way without losing sight of her roots. As Hungarian film critic Bârsony (2001) suggests, what Anikô's dream of living in Budapest means is not defined beforehand, but must be discovered through Môni's tutelage. As Domjan (2001) explains, their sometimes provincially garish dream of Budapest registers with many young Hungarians' hopes and dreams about a world of material goods, opportunities and money. Anikô's manner, her way of speaking and her taste in fashion, easily betrays her rural upbringing. She must learn how to be part of the 'big life' in Budapest. By doing so, the moral dilemma of trading her soul for material abundance is both pronounced and critiqued at the same time (Agfalvi, 2001). Anikô's outsider/learner and Môni's insider/teacher roles personify the dichotomy between rural and urban, and are depicted in these first scenes by Incze in terms of "cultural prejudice" 5 1 use my own translations for all the quotations of dialogues instead of the provided subtitles in 1 ^ Budapest in order to draw out the finite details that the subtitles do not always deliver. (Wolff, 1994: 3). These tensions are then elaborated upon at the connotative level by associating the rural with everything that is backward, poor, traditional and morally pure, and the urban with all that is modern and rational, while also corrupt and tainted; the former is also 'dark' and 'Eastern' while the latter is 'enlightened' and 'Western' (cf. Wolff, 1994: 4). Hungary's backward status in Eastern Europe was often emphasized during the Cold War, in which the contradictory cultures of communism and the Middle Ages were perceived as operating in tandem. As American historian Wolff describes it, this lasting project, "has seized upon the imagination and seems to represent worlds of difference" (1994: 14). Hungary has looked to the West, particularly to the United States of America, not only for political guidance and legal expertise, but also for cultural identity (Bigler, 1996: 209). Budapest has learnt from America how to become civilized. Civilization represents the qualitative trademark, a "fundamental aspect of identity" of the West (Wolff, 1994: 14). The film's title, echoed in Môni's letter "I V Budapest," arrests the idea of this 'difference' located in the 'civilized' as an irony: the symbol alludes to an obvious and well-known slogan, 'I V N e w York'. Interestingly, none of the criticisms and reviews I have found discuss this aspect of the film. At a subversive level, this ironic iconic imitation projects the cultural and ideological transformation of Hungary, embodied in Budapest as the heart in relation to the rest of the country. Though Budapest is depicted in colour in the film, it is not shown as a collection of postcard images, but as a puzzle composed of fragmented glimpses. In fact, Budapest remains in the background throughout the film, and is represented mainly through Anikô's experiences that take place in interior spaces such as Môni's one-room apartment, the factory, and Krisztiân's gangster world with its status symbols and glitzified mass consumer goods of expensive clothes, cell phones and clubs. 47 The first real and only recognizable picture of Budapest is presented in the reflection of the shiny glass windows of the terrace café on top of the 'Mammut' shopping centre -the 'Plaza' as it is called by Hungarians, which overlook the sunlit buildings of the city and which are presented as the backdrop to the silhouettes of Anikô and Môni. The mirrored image of the city in which inside and outside as well as reality and its reflection are confused, suggests both an illusionary, or even hyperreal quality, and thus seems to function as the Lacanian mirror phase, the imaginary which involves the acquisition of 'self. Although in this case it prefigures the invention of a new self, the establishment of "an identity within a [transformed] universe of meaning" (Stam, Burgoyne & Flitterman-Lewis, 1998: 128). Incze invites Hungarians to see themselves in the mirror through this Lacanian T here represented in the foreign language and familiar icon of the film's title. But in order to realize its own identity the subject also becomes alienated in the moment at the formation of the self. Once its identity has been presented as forever fleeting and fading, Budapest is then depicted only in the sharp perspectives of cold, neon-lit streets in front of nightclubs against the black night sky, and through the washed out, warm pastel colours in the alleys and rundown tenement buildings of working class neighbourhoods, all of which could be sites of any modern metropolis from London to New York. Just as New York is imagined by the rest of the world, as exemplified in Stranger than Paradise, so does Budapest gain its self-identity once it has been named as a space here with the village Pâhokszoboszlô serving as its opposite. Naming is a practice through which things and concepts obtain their meanings. As Moisio argues, "nothing can exist without a name, and a name is not just a word but it also signifies something" (2002: 98). Naming signifies and provides a meaning in relation to other meanings that become coded in our imagination. Since its birth the West (as in Western Europe and North America) has occupied the geographical and ideological centre that requires its 'other' in the East (as in Eastern Europe) which has always indicated something alien to and peripheral from the centre (cf. Moisio, 2002: 98). The symbolic substitution of T V New York' with T V Budapest' therefore, subverts these concepts of 'Western' versus 'Eastern' in an obvious irony that breaks down these dichotomies and at the same time reifies the idea of the 'civilized centre' and its necessarily 'backward other'. Coal Dust and Burgers There are conflicting arguments among scholars whether Hungary's transition from socialism to free-market capitalism has been gradual. As Bakos (1994) reminds us, in fact a hidden 'shock therapy' was employed in the early 1990s because reforms during the socialist economic system failed to resolve basic social and cultural problems (1193). Shock therapy, as American economist Sachs envisioned for the restructuring of the Eastern Bloc, is grounded in the totalization of capitalist market forces that quickly "activate themselves" through privatization, liberalization of prices and trade and cutbacks of state subsidies (1191). Because the Hungarian reforms of 1989 still left the "basic issues of state ownership and Soviet relations unresolved," perpetuating a downward economic trend, as Bakos argues, drastic and swift changes were needed for adopting a truly capitalist system (1192). Others like Szemere (2000) suggest that because some of the structures, policies, and predispositions associated with capitalist production, culture and consumption had already been in place during socialism, the sudden introduction of free markets produced less of a shock in Hungary than in other post-socialist countries (161). A l l in all, after the collapse of socialism, Western countries, but particularly the US, were promptly given an unparalleled historical opportunity to extend into Hungary their own ideas of freedom, efficiency and equality, and in turn they played an important role in assisting Hungary's transition to free market economy and democracy (Verdery, 1996). Hungary's expectations of Western help in its economic reconstruction have indeed largely been met. Many of Hungary's state owned and controlled industries and companies have been privatized and/or sold to Western investors. More concretely, as Bigler asserts, US companies became the largest investors with 29% of the total foreign investments by 1993 (1996: 207). An imminent cultural and cognitive change based on the old regime's ideological demobilization was expected to allow for greater flexibility, enabling a liberal capitalist market with a class of first-generation bourgeois entrepreneurs to develop, and producing a mass of consumers hungry for even more Western products. Subsequently, members of this new middle class, representing diverse occupations and ownership, have become the chief carriers and transmitters of "global mass-mediated cultural forms, with strong overtones of US popular culture" (van Elteren, 1996: 13). These issues are dramatized in two contrasted scenes in I ^ Budapest, which take place at the factory and at a diner respectively. My subversive reading of these scenes is aimed at providing a better understanding of the effects of the new capitalist production and the material realization of American culture on the personal experiences of everyday life in contemporary Hungary. The factory scene is in fact filmed at the same factory where Incze made her documentary investigation, Robot, in 1999, about Hungarian women working in the now capitalist-owned factories (Pestimûsor, 2001: 10). With such a realistic setting Incze is able to convey a very believable picture for her protagonists, who sometimes work 16-hour days on age-old machines. While it is not clear what the factory produces, it is depicted as a noisy, dangerous and frightening place. The women's faces and hands are blackened from the coal dust that stains their skins permanently. ft is lunch break at the factory. Sitting in a corner between the unrelenting machines, the tired, dirty and hungry Anikô has no food and so gladly accepts a sandwich from a co-worker, commenting that she feels life is really tough here. The symmetrical patterning of human forms bracketed by the inhuman machines builds tension and frames the cramped cage-like space in which a conversation takes place between Anikô and her older female co-worker. Advising Anikô against daydreaming, the woman explains: "Getting up at three in the morning ... and going to bed at seven at night. It's what life is about. That's it. There is no time for daydreaming." Anikô replies in horror: "That's terrible! I have imagined life something totally different. There's gotta be something better than this." Her pale skin is covered in black soot, and her red lipstick is smeared around her mouth, giving her face a clown-like expression that mirrors her inner confusion and struggle. The misery of the factory lunch scene becomes pronounced when contrasted with the subsequent scene that takes place at a restaurant that evening. Anikô, Môni and their boyfriends, Mik i and Krisztian, hit a dinner spot in a trendy part of the city. This American-style hamburger diner is a popular hang-out for Krisztian and his macho, drug dealing friends and their molls. Incze bases these characters on the real life people she met when filming her documentary, Speed. The place is all fresh and new. Bright red leather booths, shiny metal fixtures, clean, checkered floors, the bartender's smooth, self-assured moves, and the burgers and fries the two couples are eating tell us we are not in a traditional Hungarian setting. It is here at this diner that Anikô finally feels that she has found what she has come to Budapest for. Hunched over her french fries, her eyes glimmer, she is speaking fast like a child: "I like it here. This city is really cool now. I think, I could live my entire life here and now. ... It is really good now." The message is clear: Anikô's dream has become realized; she is 'living life big' because she feels elevated by hanging out with her 'cool' friends at a hip place that is all so different from what she was familiar with in her village. The price she pays for this life is not only roboting at the factory for minimum wage, but also submitting her gender identity to be sexually attractive in order to gain access to this experience. In the diner's restroom, Môni instructs Anikô, "you have to look really good i f you want these cool guys to be interested in you. Otherwise, you don't have a chance!" Môni then stuffs tissue paper into Anikô's bra to make her breasts look bigger, a trick she had learned from a fashion magazine. As Âgfalvi (2001) argues, Incze's irony is to manifest how this culture of consumption is based on false appearances and suggests that chasing 'big life' is not a respectable endeavour, but rather despicable. These scenes illuminate an aspect of everyday life characterized as routine by mundane labour and by isolating experiences and notions, in contrast to what Featherstone describes as "the sense of being together in spontaneous common activities and playful sociability" (1995: 55). In effect, Anikô's exuberance is spoken in a monologue and has little effect on those she is speaking to. Marx's theory of labour alienation and Adorno and Horkheimer's argument about how mass culture offers a new promise of happiness through the escape from the everyday drudgery helps to illustrate this implicit critique of the erosive impact of late capitalism in Hungary. The exploited worker is personified in Anikô who expresses her shattered dreams in the face of a system that leaves her no other option than to conform, and stands for the disillusionment among many Hungarian women in the wake of the euphoria of capitalist transformation. High expectations for improved standards of living and more equality for women have not been achieved with the political and economic changes, and now these women face new difficulties they were not prepared for. As a result of the sudden privatization of state owned and controlled industries, hard working conditions, unemployment and a growing incidence of working class poverty have become the order of the day in combination with the spread of gangster capitalism. Finally, these scenes ironically suggest that in late capitalism the two young women can only break out of their alienated work conditions through simulations that merely seem to provide the experience of a carefree American lifestyle. Hungarians now also have easier access to a cornucopia of American consumer goods from hamburger diners to 'muscle cars' and the latest popular fashion. Looking at this phenomenon through Adorno and Horkheimer's theoretical lens (1993 [1947]), it seems that the availability and array of so many desirable consumer goods dictate the need for fulfillment, and make people "feel to be the eternal consumer" (40). However, these products of the culture industry now come at a price that ordinary Hungarians cannot afford. It is not necessarily the presence of American mass culture in Hungarian society that is so striking, but rather, as Pells stresses, "its pervasiveness" (1997: 205). American culture has become dominant in Hungary, a phenomenon that in Ritzer's view can be interpreted as the American "incursion into the day-to-day, the most mundane," the saturation of everyday life with "American ideas, American methods, American customs, American habits of eating, drinking and dressing, American amusements, American social patters, American capital" (1998: 72-73). This American mass consumer culture creates us as superficial sensation-seekers through its homogenizing effects: The burger is not only consumed physically as material substance but is consumed culturally as an image and an icon of a particular way of life. ... the burger is clearly American and it stands for the American way of life. It is a product from a superior global centre, which has long represented itself as the centre. For those on the periphery it offers the possibility of the psychological benefits for identifying with the powerful. Like Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Levis, McDonald's is one of a series of icons of the American way of life. They have become associated with transportable themes which are central to consumer culture, such as youth, fitness, beauty, luxury, romance, freedom. The American dream has become intertwined with those of the good life. The extent to which these images and artefacts are exported around the world has been seen by some to point to the global homogenization of culture in which tradition gives way to American mass consumer culture. In this model of cultural imperialism the weight of economic power possessed by US corporations backed by the world's most powerful nation-state is sufficient to provide a point of entry into national markets around the globe. In effect culture follows economy (Featherstone, 1995: 8). Featherstone's argument goes beyond Adorno and Horkheimer's early notion that "culture now impresses the same stamp on everything, ... as a whole and in every part,... all mass culture is identical" and gains expression as "the absolute power of capitalism" (1993[1947]: 30). While Appadurai urges us to understand globalization as a 'disjunctive' process and effect wherein its products and ideologies are "absorbed into local political and cultural economies, only to be repatriated" as heterogeneous local variants of the global (1990: 264), I argue that America's presence in the lives of Hungarians has become reality, and in that sense their lives unmistakably have undergone an 'Americanization'. As van Elteren proposes, "to be or feel 'American' no longer means either moving to the USA or sharing its consumer tastes. Its very cultural forms are now available everywhere" (1996: 20). America, as the epitome of late capitalism, has won the propaganda battle over the hearts and minds of people in Hungary. Through America's rhetoric of freedom, casualness and modernity, and through the attraction of those values materialized in its globalized consumer culture, the socialist project that initially provided a cultural alternative to capitalist mass culture was undermined and finally brought down. I ^ Budapest tells us about a paradoxically 'heartless' world of the capitalist metropolis in post-socialist Hungary. I have tried to illuminate how the structural changes aimed at Hungary's 'westernization' have also brought about a symbolic reordering of the Hungarian imagination about and experience with America. Incze exemplifies an aspect of a new reality and provides possibilities for interpreting the narrative as a means to challenge the domineering American influence in the Hungarian experience through the characters' reception of this influence. Incze's ironically critical approach seeks out and shows the obvious problems, which are not necessarily unique to the transformation of Hungary within the process of globalization. However, by treating her characters with a tenderness that humanizes the lout and cradles the dreamer, Incze provides us with a sociological depiction of everyday life that intertwines with the totalities of social change. But at the same time, resistance to the homogenizing global process of 'Americanization' can be located once again through the subversive strategies of the 'gift economy'. I^Budapest also contains scenes regarding this alternative to commodity exchange: once when Môni gives Anikô a fashionable blouse upon her arrival to Budapest, and again at the factory when a co-worker gives Anikô a sandwich, and when Anikô offers her dinner to Mik i upon their first meeting, and finally Mik i surprises Anikô with a turtle, her favourite animal, in the midst of their escape from the police. Môni's gift has a specific purpose for Anikô: to lure wealthy men; when she eventually fails to do so, Anikô in fact gives the blouse back to Môni when she runs out of clean clothes to wear. In a sense she 'regifts' the blouse to Môni. This gesture reminds us of Baudrillard's idea of symbolic exchange that endows a form of opposition, the "reversibility of the exchange" (1993a: 2). In the first two scenes mentioned above the gift is materialized in the offering of food, and embodies both a symbolic means and a ritual function. The co-worker's act of sharing her lunch with Anikô and later Anikô's offering her leftovers to Mik i illustrate what Featherstone claims to be, "a sense of home [that] is sustained by collective memory" (1995: 94). Furthermore, the turtle displaces these symbolic gestures into a fantastic, absurd, and hyperreal domain, but at the same time signifies Anikô and Miki 's fondness and love for each other. These simple gestures call on our sense of the past, which depends primarily on enacted bodily practices, ritual performances, and the formalism of ritual language, and they evoke emotional bonds between people that potentially renew their notion of the sacred. These symbolic interactions recall the basis for all social life, and can therefore be regarded as operating on an alternative principle to that which governs capitalist, in fact American global consumer culture. From a cultural theoretical perspective, this project is a contribution to the debate concerning whether 'globalization' is a form of 'Americanization', and attempts to interpret how this phenomenon effects Hungarian encounters with consumer culture. Scenes from Gothâr's Time Stands Still and Incze's I^Budapest are taken as illustrations of 'Americanization', and Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise is treated as depiction of the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life." Each provides stylized representations and symbolic manifestations in the form of a visual story conveying a Hungarian imagination about and experience with America, which also resonates with my own imagination and experiences. Although these films do not necessarily represent objective social reality, they are useful as cultural sites for exploring some of the impacts of American cultural dominance in the Hungarian imagination and experience. At best, these films have helped me demonstrate that 'Americanization' as a late capitalist global process in the form of mass consumer culture has had a continuous and progressively dominating impact on Hungarians and Hungarian society. Aspects of the social world where heterogeneous cultures become integrated into a prevailing mass consumer culture can then be read through these films' contents, which in turn point out that they are by no means uncontested. A l l three films are apprehensive and ironically critical of American mass consumer culture and its effects on Hungarians. My 'eclectic method', which is comprised of film semiotics, realist and subversive reading techniques, and is supplemented with my personal accounts and secondary data sources, has helped me to build interpretations of the selected scenes to (re)capture some of the ideological meanings of'globalization', 'Americanization' and 'culture' as they are formulated in concepts of contemporary cultural theory. In turn, these films, are collective cultural works that serve as empirical resources, or as Raymond Williams might put it, as fragments of "documentary culture." While the socialist system gave the sense of a uniform structure within the Soviet Bloc, each of the member countries were distinctive, and the specific elements of each was rooted in century- old traditions and mores that effected their place and relation to the world as a whole. The collapse of the system further sharpened these particularities with respect to the economic, political and cultural climate of each nation, but also pronounced the effects of globalization as endemic and even irreversible. Hungary therefore offers us a unique site for a cultural analysis of the impacts of global 'Americanization'. The Cold War, as "a form of knowledge and a cognitive organization of the world," shaped the work of scientists and artists, perhaps especially cinematographers (Verdery, 1996: 4). Primarily because the official dogmatic interpretations of Marxism prevailed in the Soviet Bloc, for many filmmakers, like Gothâr, the concept of Marxism was practically synonymous with the repressive practices of state socialism. Yet Gothâr consciously appropriates a materialist and ultimately Marxist view of the social context and subjectivity of his characters. Through his docu-drama approach, Gothâr is able to both critique the failures of the socialist system and express his suspicion of the imported American consumer culture. Time Stands Still presents a unique facet of the Hungarian imagination and reception of America and American consumer culture in socialist Hungary. The protagonists are not led by providence but are rather defined by historical events that shape their lives, and who then react to the affects of the social world through their imagination and experiences. As Gothâr demonstrates, imagining America for Hungarians was already part of American dominance in what the German filmmaker Wim Wenders describes as "colonizing the ... subconscious," whereby the lure of America, the appeal of its mass culture and consumer goods, function as a substitute for the "pleasure principle" (cited in Kroes, 1996: xii). Gothâr's metaphoric though ironic depiction of the Hungarian imagination of America presented as fantasies and dreams on subjective and collective levels, illustrates how America manufactured a fascination with its freedom and access to material goods through ideological propaganda and the export of its symbolic codes as ubiquitous desires. Through Time Stands Still I have argued that despite the political and economic disjunctions the Cold War had created between 'Western' capitalist and 'Eastern' socialist countries, the boundaries of culture had become more permeable, but not reciprocal or symmetrical between America and Hungary. The film captures the underlying argument in contemporary cultural theory (cf. Jameson, 2001), that late capitalism is characterized by the perpetual global flow of signs and symbols, and that images of the endless consumption of mass-produced goods emanating from America create a culture of confusion and superficiality in a country that was structured as the opposite and alternative to capitalism. As Time Stands Still manifests, the socialist countercultures of Hungary in fact have been significantly affected by global consumer culture. Contemporary globalization is driven by the economic interests of selling commodities and by a cultural-ideological project of global capitalism that finds its source in the United States and, in particular in American inventions such as modern democracy, free enterprise and human rights (Appadurai, 1996). In fact, the accumulation of capital for private profit is in America's interest, and hence promoted as a global desire by a culture industry which has as its primary goal to persuade people around the world to want and to consume American-style commodities. In turn these produce an image of America and export a way of life. The "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life," Jameson reminds us, first had to be constructed as "a unique system of mass culture and consumption" (1998: 64). Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise illustrates this notion in my analysis by tying the idea of desire as depicted in Time Stands Still to its dreary commercial underside. Jarmusch's self-reflexive critique is depicted through cinematic codes that line up events as photographic documents of an American society as they are actualized from the perspective of the Hungarian imagination. Stranger than Paradise helped me locate my experiences in America insofar as they are reminiscent of those of Eva's in the film. In my analysis of the scenes I draw on Buadrillard's travels in America which are expressed through the concepts of the hyperreal and simulacra, and suggest that American mass consumerism and commodification can be understood as rooted in the rhetoric of a dream space and freedom. The selected scenes in Stranger than Paradise and Baudrillard's observations of America are framed in a contemporary Tocquevilliean spirit, and have helped me to sketch a society of consumption that enforces social conformism. Furthermore, through Merton's (1949) early insights into the social structure and cultural values of the USA, I emphasize that conforming to standards of behaviour set by social stratification is based on middle class ideals that define the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life." I have attempted to show that the impact of consumer culture is corrosive and is in fact imbedded in capitalism's false consciousness. Consumption in America and other Western societies is usually considered to be a socio-economic problem, where 'needs' are created, especially by the culture industry, when people are convinced that they need things in order to feel happy. American consumer culture repeatedly renders desire and creates an illusion of satisfaction. As the "TV Dinner" scene in Stranger than Paradise indicates, this illusion is to be taken as real, but the real is actually the reproduction of the real that becomes hyperreal, the "surfeit of lived experiences" (Denzin, 1998: 31). Furthermore, I have suggested that the symbolic subculture of gift giving potentially subverts America's commodity culture, producing human networks that counter the capitalist exchange-value of objects. Through Stranger than Paradise I have problematized a concept of contemporary America that captures the imagination of many Hungarians, and which also has led me to examine a prevalent aspect of contemporary Hungarian reality as depicted in I ^Budapest. In I ^ Budapest Incze retains the documentary style that is reminiscent of traditional Hungarian narrative cinema, while adding distinctively new cinematic elements that enable her to illustrate certain aspects of post-socialist Hungarian society. I ^ Budapest confers the material and ideological realization of American culture in present day Hungary. I have suggested that the West remains a dominant theme for Hungarians both as saviour and as demon, and the developments of capitalist transformation call for analyses that question ideologically and culturally embedded representations and images of progress under the tutelage of the United States. As Incze shows in 1VBudapest, 'Americanization' both offers alternatives and poses a threat and a force of disintegration of traditions. America's crusade to bring democracy and a liberal market economy to Hungary is pronounced by American policy elites and pundits who, according to Cohen, believe that "the United States offers the quintessential model for [Hungary's] future"; their aim is to make sure the Hungarian transition turns out the "right way" by dictating economic policies and cultural identity formations (2001: 63). I ^ Budapest implies that Hungary is undoubtedly part of the global consumer cultural experience with America remaining in its focus. In this way, what Creighton saw in the early 1970s American influence on Canadian society is now directly applicable to post-socialist Hungary: ... in accepting American capital, American management and American technology, they have unwittingly received the spirit that animates all three. They have not only become subjects of the American continental empire; but they have also become converts to its characteristic philosophy of life, to what might legitimately be called its religion. The central doctrine of this religion is the belief that progress is the only good in life . . . . (cited in Friesen, 2000: 194). Globalization, therefore, "is about what is happening to us all" (Bauman, 1998: 60). Even though, I ^ Budapest does not suggest that the Hungarian experience of global 'Americanization' is significantly different from others, it critiques and challenges its homogenizing effects as proposed by depicting the idea of 'gift economy' as an alternative to capitalist economy. While its surrealist ending may be interpreted as a self-destructing resolution of the story that subverts the film's realist approach, it also makes a case for Incze's desire to reject the hegemony of global capitalism and American consumer culture. In this paper I have examined some Hungarian images of and experiences with America, and considered how Hungarian local traditions and conditions influence the adaptation of American consumer goods and culture, as manifested in Time Stands Still, and I ^ Budapest. I have also tried to indicate how the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life" are questioned and contested through the experiences of a Hungarian visitor in America in Stranger than Paradise. These three films, when looked at together, not only display a chronological progression of 'Americanization' in a Hungarian imagination and experience, but they also convey particular themes through curious narratives and visual continuities in allegories of home and journey, dreams and desires, and the idea of gift exchange. While the common themes of escapes through drugs and drug deals and road trips may be coincidental, they also indicate an underlying aim in these works to express archetypal visions about and stereotypical encounters with America. My analysis suggests that in the global phenomenon of 'Americanization' aspects of homogenization and heterogenization coexist. Consequently, I agree with Featherstone's argument that "it is not helpful to regard the global and local as dichotomies separated in space or time; it would seem that the processes of globalization and localization are inextricably bound together in the current phase" (Featherstone, 1995: 103). At the same time it is important to remember that the United States "is not just one country, or one culture, among others, any more than English is just one language among others. There is a fundamental dissymmetry in the relationship between the United States and every other country in the world" (Jameson, 1998: 58). While Appadurai contends that "the United States is no longer the puppeteer of a world system of images, but is only one node of a complex transnational construction of imaginary landscapes" in the context of multiple economies and cultures (1990: 256), Ritzer emphasizes that globalization is distinctly American, because although America's hegemony in other industries from automobiles to electronics may have declined, it continues to dominate the global consumer culture in the form of popular music, movies and food. McDonald's and Coca-Cola "have penetrated deeply into local life," they retain their "American identity even when [they are] sold and consumed in other cultures" (Ritzer, 1998: 177-178), or stripped of their iconic significance as we saw in I ^ Budapest. Not only their establishment but also their iconography creates the American dreamscape that is based on the conviction that reality and dreams are, or in effect should be, indistinguishable. It is here in the American dream factory that diverse cultures of the world are molded into one big culture, which makes it not only attractive but also necessary as the normative precedent for a universal culture. In turn, the image and the simulated experience of the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life" concoct both admiration and alarm in the local Hungarian, as well as in the American experience and existence. Late capitalism is the era of American capitalism whereby the United States has become a global power, having led the struggle against communism and emerged victorious (cf. Verdery, 1996: 4). In this "third stage of capitalism," as Jameson argues, "the cultural and the economic collapse back into one another and say the same thing, ... the base, ... generates its superstructures with a new kind of dynamic" that has a global cultural impact (2001 : xxi). In effect, this global American cultural domination is more than just cultural, because "the underside of culture is blood, torture, death and terror" (Jameson, 2001: 5). While studies of globalization and the effects of America's worldwide influence have now been done so many times and in so many different ways that they almost have a redundant and skeptical character, I brave these dangers by proposing that these studies are themselves evidence of an ongoing process that they validate the necessity of further sociological and cultural inquiry. In this paper I try to show that theorizing about the global American consumer culture by taking examples from a particular society is a vital task, and that critique of the consumerism that capitalism produces is in fact an attack on global American capitalism. This paper may project a nostalgia for a society that was in fact not able to live up to its promises in Hungarian socialism, or perhaps also a blunt rejection of capitalism. 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