The Open Road and the Traffic Stop: Narratives and Counter-Narratives of the American Dream
57 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2011 Last revised: 10 Sep 2012
Date Written: August 5, 2011
American culture is steeped in the mythology of the open road. In our collective imagination, the road represents freedom, escape, friendship, romance, and above all, the possibility for a better life. But our shared dream of the open road comes to a halt in the mundane reality of the traffic stop - a judicially-authorized policing procedure in which an officer may pull over a vehicle if she has cause to believe the driver has committed even the most minor traffic violation. This paper examines the cultural texts - books, movies, songs - celebrating the open road and juxtaposes them against those documenting the traffic stop. The traffic stop, I conclude, interrupts the open road narrative closely associated with the American dream. Those stopped most frequently - in particular, racial minorities - are consequently denied full participation in an abiding national fantasy.
Keywords: road, traffic stop, American dream, Fourth Amendment, culture, law and culture, race, racial profiling
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