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and proletarian audiences who had flocked to the movies during the medium’s first two decades. After the Market crash, however, attendance fell sharply, and the empty movie palaces were widely seen as ornate symptoms of “a failed capitalist order.” Smaller, strictly functional theaters were constructed in working-class neighborhoods, and attendance increased by more than 100 percent. With single entrances and uniformly priced seats, the modern movie theater was, claims May, “a utopian critique of the old order and a renewal of the republican commonwealth.” It is hard to credit its direct descendant, the shoebox chamber in a shopping mall multiplex, as an instrument of radical democracy rather than an efficient profit center. But in abandoning the hierarchical structure and ambience of a class-conscious opera house, the new Bijou reinforced the egalitarian themes of many films made in the 1930s. This history, of course, ignores the fact that in many cities African Americans were forced to sit in separate sections of the theater or even in separate theaters, and that stereotypes of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and women were more often promoted than subverted. What was put on the screen in the 1930s by producers and directors, who were often immigrants or a single generation removed from Ellis Island, however, generally did replace a static, hierarchical view of society with a narrative about the need for political and economic justice. A bona fide social scientist, May supports his claims with empirical dataa series of appended graphs illustrating information gleaned from plot synopses of 24 randomly chosen films per year for the years 1914-1960. They reveal that, for example, 50 percent of the films released in 1936 portrayed wealthy people as a danger, compared with 5 percent each in 1924 and 1928. In 1930, 20 percent portrayed big business as a villain, while almost no Earl Nottingham movie did in 1914, 1918, or after 1940. In 1938, one in four movies featured a romance across class lines, while none did in 1946. The problem with this approach is that abstract synopses ignore context and style, which is where mere events acquire significance. It surely matters whether a wicked tycoon is presented as a tragic or comic figure. And simply summarizing plots at random presumes that all movies are created, and received, as equal, when the invention of the Oscar in 1928 proved that they are not. A little more than a decade after the death of the amiable rebel Will Rogers, John Waynewhose characters used violence to protect established institutions became the leading Western hero, and Hollywood had deserted the revolution. After Pearl Harbor, the movie industry rallied to win the war by suppressing dissent and reverting to earlier, narrower models of American identity. After World War II, the NOVEMBER 17, 2000 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER