Entertainment media are a powerful source of cultural influence. Films are especially adept at capturing and preserving for posterity the attitudes, actions, and landscapes of historical events and eras, making them part of cultural memory — society’s shared recollection of past events as depicted in cultural artifacts. Nowhere is this ability better demonstrated than in cinematic portrayals of American agrarian life. In 2001, the Kellogg Institute found Americans recall agricultural landscapes as a sort of pastoral fantasy of rolling green hills, forests, and pristine fields crisscrossed by dirt roads. These images, which constitute Americans’ shared cultural memory of agrarian existence, may have been influenced by film portrayals of agriculture. For this study, nine films that met criteria for inclusion of agricultural imagery, cultural significance, and release at least 10 years prior to the Kellogg study were content-analyzed for their visual and thematic adherence to the pastoral fantasy described by Kellogg respondents. Of those f ilms, only two presented agrarian imagery that did not conform to the pastoral fantasy, including depictions of a West Texas cattle ranch at the height of summer and a Midwestern farm muddied by fall harvest. The remaining films contained imagery strongly associated with the pastoral fantasy, indicating they may serve as vehicles for traditional agricultural themes.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.