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Inherently American Parts in the Documentary

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The documentary The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple is one of the most emotional films due to its tragic ending when over 900 members of the sect die in result of mass suicide. It is unfortunate how people who have joined a religious movement in search of better life end up tragically losing their lives because their leader has a distorted view of reality. The documentary contains some elements that can be considered as inherently American and some of which stand as perennial issues that America has been struggling with since the middle of the 20th century. As it is evident in the documentary, such phenomena as racial inequality, fear of a nuclear attack, and significance of social movements stand out as the elements that are inherently American.

One of the distinct elements of the documentary that is inherently American is the issue of racial equality. A viewer can see rare scene where a Caucasian church leader believes in a society of racial tolerance, something that the entire American nation is struggling to actualize. Notably, Jim believes that religion can offer a permanent solution to the issues of racial prejudice and racial discrimination that have been a problem to the American nation. In the documentary, it is noted that Jim is hated for the opinion that the blacks and whites could co-exist in one neighborhood and as one community. In the Peoples Temple, African Americans live and communicate well with their Caucasian counterparts without the issue of skin color influencing their relations. One of the families adopts several kids from different races including African American, Indian, and Caucasian, something that is less likely to happen in the contemporary American society. Therefore, the People Temples managed to deal with the issue of racial inequality that persisted in the country.

The choice of the place where the Peoples Temple was to be established was inspired by the immunity it had from any possible thermal nuclear attack. The place named Ukiah in San Francisco, California is identified as one of the nine places in the world that are immune from a nuclear thermal attack. American community has always lived in fear of a possible attack from the Axis nations and especially the former Soviet Union nations. The fear culminated into the long Cold War between America and Russia under a threat of possible nuclear attack (Kuhelj 1). As such, Americans not only live in fear of a possible attack but also utilize any geographic location that would protect from such an attack. In this particular case, the leader of the church Jim Johns is seen as the person leading his congregation to establish a community where they would be safe from a nuclear turmoil.

Another element that is salient about the documentary and can be considered to be inherently American is mass shooting. The incident which happened to Congressman Ryan was not only tragic but also unfortunate. The issue of mass shooting remains a consistent problem in America. The fact that people create a clear distinction between different groups of population results in mass shooting and killing of innocent and armless civilians. Congress Ryan suffered the gun attack because of his belief that the Peoples Temple was holding people against their will and when he attempted to leave with a part of them, they became victims to a mass shooting. It is always important to allow people to have and exercise independent thinking and ability to make their decisions without any form of external influence which especially includes blackmail and intimidation as it was the case in the Peoples Temple.

Furthermore, another element that is noticeable in the film includes the significance of social movements. Specifically, in the 1960s, social movements became a tool for achieving and fighting for democratic rights (Biggs & Andrews 416). In this particular situation, the members of the Peoples Temple were led and made to believe that they could change the world through the use of social movements. It is interesting that the paranoid state of Jim Johns made his members believe that the government was against their course which was not the case. This led members to engage in unnecessary social movements, campaigns and protests on streets that would sometimes turn out to be violent. The death of renowned leaders and social movement activists like Martin Luther and Malcolm X was an inspiration to the members of Peoples Temple. Jim always believed that people should die with a sense of dignity and for the right course as it was the case with Luther and Malcolm. Therefore, the element of social movement in the documentary reminds the viewer of the contribution that these movements had especially on the life of African Americans and struggle for economic and racial equality.

In conclusion, it is clear that the documentary manages to highlight some elements that are inherently American. Some of these elements include the demand for racial equality, significance of social movements, issue of mass shootings, and fear of nuclear attack. These elements present some of the most critical issues that America as a society and nation continues to face even in the 21st century