By J Simpson.
Ponyboi‘s a deep dive into the American mythscape, a reflection on the “American Dream,” and the intersex experience.
Speaking on “the decline of the American Dream,” Feminist author and historian Stephanie Coontz writes “Americans are right to believe the American Dream is fading. But that dream only became a possibility for white men as a result of the labor struggles and reforms of the New Deal, and it began to extend to minorities and women only after the civil rights and women’s movements of the 1960s and 1970s.”
Coontz is right. The “American Dream” is fading, largely because we no longer know what it is. While WikiPedia offers the definition “a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers,” this egalitarian, utopian ideal has gradually diminished to the stereotypical “house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, containing a family with 2.5 children.”
Already, we begin to see the fissures in this once-indomitable marble facade. As Coontz notes, for much of America’s history, that dream was only available to certain select individuals, in this case, White Men. Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement saw that definition open up the dream to a broader cross-section of Americans, looking for the pursuit of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Unfortunately, this was roughly the same moment when global forces would undermine that pursuit, as stagnating wages and income inequality made the American Dream inaccessible once again, for vast swathes of Humanity.
It’s difficult to say, definitely, what the American Dream is, at this point in history. Just as it seems difficult to say what exactly it means to be American. Postmodernism has had its way, and we are living in freefall.
Luckily, we have River Gallo’s directorial debut, Ponyboi, to take a deep dive into the depths of the American subconscious, via the story of Ponyboi, an intersex youth working at a laundromat and dreaming of better things.
Ponyboi is a short, sweet vignette that operates with its own dream logic. Ponyboi dreams of better things, of being treated like a lady by a proper gentleman instead of the locals who use their body, never seeming to see Ponyboi’s spirit. As we see Ponyboi entertaining their callers, we are offered glimpses of Ponyboi’s past, as an intersex child, being forced to live as a boy instead of their true self.
Ponyboi dreams of a Southern gentleman in a white Mustang. Ponyboi gets a glimpse, a hint that this dream could contain a kernel of truth. Ponyboi takes a chance, hitting the road in search of their mysterious gentleman and his hot white car.
The dream gentleman was true to his word. The white Mustang was there, waiting, keys in ignition, just waiting for Ponyboi to crank the ignition and find a new life.
Ponyboi acts as a kind of waking dream, thanks in large part to Maddie Leach’s luminescent cinematography. In this dreamscape, objects take on a deeper resonance. The white Mustang becomes the symbol of autonomy. My Little Ponys become a symbol of liberation from masculinity. Coca-Cola glows like a midnight censor, while laundry machines sing hosannas into the empty night.
The American Dream is dead. No longer can we cling to some overarching universal narrative to justify oppression, genocide, and the success of the few at the expense of the many. Here, in the twilight of decaying myths, we are offered a chance, a wide open road into the heart of the American dreaming. In this psychic landscape, we can become whomever we want, recreating ourselves with the rising sun. We can go out and seek our destinies, in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The American Dream is dead. Long live the American Dreaming.
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