10 Myths About America Most People Believe Because Of Hollywood

By Renee Barrett on March 20 2020 in Society

Hollywood cinema is known to dramatize many real-life figures and situations.
Hollywood cinema is known to dramatize many real-life figures and situations.
  • You have to pay to have a star on Hollywood's walk of fame.
  • Hollywood emerged as the epicenter of filmmaking because most movie making patents were held by Thomas Edison's company in New Jersey and filmmakers were sued to stop their productions. To escape this, they moved out West where enforcement was difficult.
  • Ronald Reagan was active as an FBI informer in Hollywood, reporting on other actors who he suspected of subversive activities.
  • Throughout the 1930s Hollywood allowed the German government to censor films in the US or around the world that were unflattering towards Germany or the Nazis.

Why struggle through jargon-laced tomes fact-checking a topic when a more exciting, albeit, erroneous version of the subject is glamorously dramatized on the silver screen? As Maxwell Scott, the arrogant newspaper editor said in John Ford's iconic film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Here are 10 myths about America that most people believe because of Hollywood.

10. The Cowboy Hat

Photo by tiago claro on Unsplash

One of the most iconic symbols in American history and the wild west is the cowboy hat.  

In Hollywood westerns, cowboys, are lone gunslingers; outlaws who stand apart from society, appearing only to fulfill its deep-rooted desire for vengeance in the form of vigilante justice, and then he disappears into the sunset, just as mysteriously as he appears. Hollywood loves westerns and cowboys represent frontier legend. Man, a la John Wayne, shows up to a duel against an outsider in his Stetson, conquers unknown territory and wins! The thing is, the Stetson wasn't around until 1865; it became popular at the end of the 19th century. Before then, the legendary outlaws preferred Derby's, also known as the bowler hat. 

9. Houston, We Have A Problem

One of the most recognizable quotes in cinematic history is a misrepresentation. What was actually said on that famous mission was, "Houston, we've had a problem." The line is recognizable from Apollo 13, the movie in which Tom Hanks played Commander Jim Lovell, and as the main character, he delivers the line. However, in real life, the line was said by the back-up Command Module pilot, Jack Swigert played by Kevin Bacon in the movie.

8. Nobody Wants to See Diversity on the Big Screen

Photo by Sarunyu L on Shutterstock.com

Women represent half of all movie-goers. The Motion Picture Association of America has found that movie-goers who are women of color are on the rise, while the rate of white movie-goers is declining. 

Hidden Figures, starring 3 black female actresses collected $60 million abroad for $229 million worldwide; Straight Outta Compton raked in $40 million overseas in addition to $161 million domestically. Moonlight, the 2017 Oscar winner for Best Picture made $1.5 million and took in $53 million with nearly half those sales abroad.  The Fate of the Furious, with a black director and diverse cast, topped $1 billion globally. Black Panther made 1.3 billion worldwide its $700 million domestic gross outweighed that of Avengers: Infinity War, which made $678 million domestically. 

7. Hollywood vs. The CIA

Unlike every Hollywood movie depicting the CIA, not every agent is a spy using tools like robot fish, microscopic listening devices, nor drinking stirred, not shaken martinis. Case officers commonly depicted in Hollywood are one specialized occupation and they recruit people in foreign countries who have access to reliable information. They are not spies. The CIA does not spy on American citizens-the FBI takes the lead on domestic intelligence. The CIA and FBI do work together to protect national security but the CIA has no law enforcement authority, its mission is foreign intelligence collection and analysis. The CIA informs foreign policy. The president and policy-makers make policy decisions.

6. Laser Guns

Lasers are supposedly a highly lethal alternative to bullets. Perhaps someday, but not today, since every laser gun depicted in Hollywood movies are visible. Not that visible lasers are unrealistic, but invisible lasers are far more powerful. Visible light beams scatter photons in a person's eyes so it can be seen, which makes its lasers less energetic and less potent. Even basic lasers use non-visible light wavelengths.

5. Police Have To Read You Your Rights

"You have the right to remain silent..." Every fan of police films has memorized the infamous Miranda rights, which are supposed to be read before a criminal is placed in handcuffs and stuffed into the back of a police car. The story is familiar; cops arrest the bad guy, but they get off on a technicality because they were not read Mirandized. Actually, police are not required to read Miranda rights when a person is cuffed-their rights are read to them only when they are in police custody-which happens during an interrogation, where there is an official record of the arrest. 

4. The Alamo

The Alamo, where the attack took place.

Hollywood spins the tale of the 250 or more Americans who died at The Alamo as Texans fighting for freedom and independence from Mexico, but Texas already belonged to Mexico. Unhappy that slavery had been banned from Mexico in 1829, General Santa Anna allowed Mexican immigrants from nearby slaveholding states to keep their slaves. 

Mexico offered land to a "limited number of immigrants" for a price, in return for becoming Mexican citizens. Soon, the immigrants outnumbered the citizens, eventually demanding their independence.  

The siege began on February 23th and lasted under two weeks. General Santa Anna could have waited and starved the rebels (Texan immigrants and Mexicans) out reducing the number of fatalities, but he feared rebel reinforcements. The attack began on March 6th at 5:00 am and lasted about an hour and a half before all the rebels were killed. Unlike the popular film starring John Wayne, Davy Crockett was not killed blowing up the powder magazine taking a load of Mexicans with him-it is not known exactly where, when, or how he was actually killed.

3. America Always Gets The Glory

While not totally unjustified, when it comes to Hollywood's portrayal of America at war, America always gets the glory. However, it is unfair not to give credit where credit is due. In the film U-571, the United States Navy is credited with capturing the first Enigma machine, which Germans used to send coded messages. It was actually a British mission, not American. It also happened months before American entered the war.

2. Pocahontas and John Smith Were In Love

Hollywood not only romances history, but it romanticizes relationships too! While it is true that a young Native American girl befriended an Englishman, and their relationship may have saved the Jamestown Colony, but since Pocahontas was only 12 years old, and John Smith was 28, a romantic relationship between the two of them was improbable. Also, Pocahontas was a nickname, roughly translated as "Little Playful One," or "Little Mischief." She had several formal names including Matoaka and Amonute.

1. Appalachia

When most people think of Appalachia, they think of banjo strumming inbreds, illiterate and mean-hearted villains, based on the film, Deliverance, starring Burt Reynolds and John Voight. 

While Deliverance had a huge impact, it is not the only depiction of Appalachians as backward, toothless hillbillies. Box office hits of the silent film era from 1904's Moonshiner and 1905's Kentucky Feud, to 1916's Mountain Blood all perpetuate hillbilly stereotypes, which have remained constant in Hollywood portrayals of the region. 

It should be noted, Appalachians are not the only Americans stereotyped on film. Natives, African Americans, and New Yorkers, and those from Fargo, North Dakota have stereotypes that are promoted by Hollywood.

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