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Hollywood’s domination over our cultural lives shows few signs of wilting, even as it evinces an exhaustion with reality, increasingly churning out tiresome fantasies about vampires, superheroes and serial killers. Yet we continue to watch, perhaps transfixed by an unfolding tragedy, a really real reality show in which a superpower dissolves into unreality, week by week, fading to black on our TV screens, culturally if not economically and militarily … yet. The history of the US has been tracked by and reflected in the country’s movies and TV programmes that have become the modes of leisure in every country around the globe. In broad strokes, the changes in form, mood and content of Hollywood productions since their peak in the 1970s tell us much about the country. Heroic Westerns and biblical epics from the 1950s and 60s, produced as the US approached the apogee of its reign, gave way in the late 1970s and 80s to small-time heroes like Rocky (1976) and John Travolta’s disco dancing...

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