Friday, October 26, 2007

The Universal Symbol


Anxious about declining numbers of foreign tourists to the U.S., Walt Disney Co. has created a seven-minute film for the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to welcome visitors from overseas.

Backed by some very upbeat, Aaron Copland-esque orchestral music, the film’s hundreds of Americans pause for a moment to smile for the camera. Cuts of these welcoming, diverse mugs are interspersed with photos of famous American landmarks (the Chrysler Building, Hancock Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Lincoln Memorial, Statue of Liberty) and landscapes (canyons, forests, seacoasts, painted desert, amber waves of grain).

The film portrays an almost exclusively blue-collar America at work: cooks, waitresses, building framers, showgirls, cowboys, truck drivers, baristas, farmers, fishermen. Only a few shots—a businessman walking down a city street in his suit and a shot or two of ministers, for example—reveal a white-collar world, and these images are general enough to be understood immediately.

There are problems with portraying white-collar work in a photograph or two. For example, a photo of me pausing from my work would show me turning my head to glare at the camera, never taking hands from the laptop’s keyboard except to gulp coffee. These actions would not be accessible to the casual foreign visitor in a second or two of screen time: What is that man doing?

Focusing on visible, blue-collar America serves two purposes: It portrays occupations that foreign visitors can connect with immediately regardless of their own station in life, and indirectly shows Americans as more down-to-earth and humble than many foreign visitors may think from portrayals in their own media.

There are no shots of office workers, none of the White House or U.S. Capitol, none of Disney properties, and none of any famous American.

The film, which Disney produced entirely on its own dime, is currently being shown at entry points at the Washington Dulles and Houston airports; see State’s press release for more details.

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