The Truth Behind the American Dream


The Louisville Flood
, a photograph taken by Margaret Bourke-White in 1937, demonstrates how photographs can cause viewers to re-evaluate the original or superficial messages sent through an image in order to uncover the photo's subliminal meanings. Bourke-White’s photo exposes the contradiction behind the American dream, which emphasizes equality and prosperity for all, by capturing a scene that reveals the actual hierarchical system and discrimination of American races. 

In Bourke-White's photo, several factors contribute to exposing the contradiction behind the American dream. The physical characteristics of people illustrated in the billboard and picture, framing of the photograph, which exposes a hidden metaphor, and the phrases displayed on the billboard, serve to send a message in opposition to equality and opportunity regardless of race. 

Additionally, dissecting the history of stereotypes and racism allows for a greater understanding of the racist implications hidden beneath the billboard's superficial message of American greatness and opportunity. Understanding the definition and effects of commodity racism and binary oppositions reveals why racist messages are imbedded in the billboard, and how those messages "justify" a hierarchical class system. 

All in all, Bourke-White's photograph pulls all of these factors together to visually represent the history of racism and discrimination, whose founding ideologies guide not only our culture, but also the political leaders that determine our nation's dominant ideologies. Moreover, her photo displays how mass media is used to form an imagined community, which allows people to understand what it means and looks like to be an 'accepted American.'