Americans like to claim they're "Number One." In hard times, it's nice to feel like you're on a winning team. Many still believe in the American Dream that says everyone can become successful by lifting themselves up by their own bootstraps. But the staggering truth of widespread and lingering unemployment and rampant poverty and homelessness reveals these claims are a long way from the reality.

In the litany of low points in the nation's history are obsession with military might; slavery and modern day racism; and environmental degradation resulting from industry and citizen irresponsibility. Now three very different movies reveal other shadow sides of the American experience: addiction to violence and conspicuous consumption.

  • Dirty Wars is a hard-hitting documentary on the shadow excesses of endless war and assassination carried out by U.S. operatives.
  • The Purge is a scary drama set in 2022 when the nation's belief in the purgative value of anger and violence is manifested in a yearly slaughter with the poor as the main victims.
  • The Bling Ring is based on the true story of some Los Angeles teenagers whose love of the extravagant possession-fueled lifestyles of celebrities leads them to a series of robberies of Hollywood stars.

Jeremiah Abrams, a Jungian therapist, consultant, and author of The Shadow in America, has observed:

"America is waking up to the reality that our problems are not just the result of an economic slump but the result of a long history of denial, of accumulated darkness, that has been so thoroughly integrated into our national character that it's become virtually invisible to us. The American ethos, our endearing yet naive tendency to deny one's own share of human imperfection, has finally become a collective burden, embedded in our institutions, our nation's policies, and even in what we'd like to believe is our 'individualistic' national character."

Although Dirty Wars is near perfect, the other two films have their weaknesses but deserve to be part of our look at the destructive forces at work in American society and increasingly in the world at large where the same tendencies are spreading, often due to the exports of American culture. By realizing the dark powers in our private and public lives, perhaps we can balance and integrate the shadow with our high ideals. By seeing and working on the shadowy aspects of our culture, perhaps we can snap out of our deep sleep and begin the hard task of renewing the vitality of the American dream.