Racism, Society and the Vietnam War in the 1960’s in Forrest Gump

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Memories can be formed in many different ways. Often times they are images and sensations that one can associate with a time or event in the past. A certain smell can have the effect if transporting you to a special place that you remember dearly. The creation and retention of memory is both conscious and unconscious, with the end result being a stored piece of information that can be dug up at any given time. More intriguing are the memories an individual can have about a time or place they have never experienced in their lives. In this case, it could be said that these are more the work of preconceptions and assumptions. Through word of mouth someone born in the 1990’s can overtime develop an image of what they believe the 1920’s to have been like. Pictures, printed works and live recordings from the time itself, further support the stories that are passed down through the generations. A picture of 19th century European soldier may allow us to perceive what life may have been like at that time by visualizing his clothes and expressions. Beyond this mostly factual depiction of the past is something far more powerful. Cinema. The modern movie screen is a medium that recreates all sorts of era’s, landscapes and scenarios, from the daily life of an ant, to the farthest reaches of the universe. In Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump, we are given a look into America during a time of radical change. Through the eyes of a simpleton, Forrest Gump, Zemeckis guides us through the social and political goings on of the 1960’s. Within his depiction of the 1960’s, we are able to form opinions of the time. Forrest is a symbol of the struggle to hold onto 50’s America, during an era marked with race riots, distrust of the government and the Vietnam War. In this essay I will attempt to connect the events of Forrest’s life as we see then in the film, to the collective memory that many American’s have regarding the 1960’s. By encompassing crooked political action, aggressive anti-war movements and the emergence of the counter-culture movement, Forrest Gump has become a strong driver of the perception of the country in the 1960’s.

A product of the utopian 1950’s American dream, Forrest Gump is exactly that, an All-American boy. This is of course with the exception of his IQ rating of just a 75. As a boy in Savannah, Georgia, his classmates treat Forrest very poorly. By the actions of those who want no part of Forest, we are led to believe that this was the norm in 1950’s Georgia. We are constantly taught in our education process of the mistreatment of African Americans in our nations past, but we are rarely reminded of the struggles that those with disabilities had to deal with. Living in a much less widely accepting culture Forrest was forced to fend for himself as an outcast. Forrest’s leg problems also point to the development of technology that has taken place in the past 50 years. A viewer can look at the rusted metal leg braces that the young boy is forced to wear and assume that this is the equivalent of a wheelchair or crutches. One cannot help but feel for the boy’s unfortunate situation. However, it is his leg braces that allow Forrest to have his first major impact on his country in the unpredictable form of rock and roll. In an encounter with a young Elvis Presley, Forrest does about as much dancing as his leg braces would allow while Elvis strums away on his guitar. It was this hip bouncing and swiveling motion that Elvis went on to use to drive every young girl in the 1960’s absolutely wild.

His mental disabilities also bring into question the state of education in the time period. In very short sequence we see Forrest being denied entrance to an elementary school based on his ineptitude, then shortly after, playing football for the University of Alabama. By having Forrest play for the infamous coach, Zemeckis expands the reach of his film as a collective memory. For some, the 60’s cannot be remember without bringing up the Bear...
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