How Home Alone 2 Reflects the Simple American Dreams of the 90s

Published on December 26th, 2013

Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Culkin) had to deal with some pretty real shit during his plight in Home Alone, but it was nothing compared to the hijinks that befell him in the 1992 sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. His accidental foray into a city that was still perceived as terrifying during the early 90s showcased a number of common desires that America’s population seemed to have in this fresh new Clinton era. Prominent among these desires, of course, was taking an affordable luxury vacation.

The somewhat uncomfortable movie poster for Home Alone 2

The somewhat uncomfortable movie poster for Home Alone 2

As we’re introduced to Kevin’s upgraded new world (specifically, a Talkboy so he can record everything people are saying), it becomes evident that quite a bit has paradigm shifted in the two years since last we saw him. Instead of his family traveling to the far posher location of Paris as they did in the first film, expectations have become somewhat more realistic as Kate (Catherine O’Hara) and Peter McAllister (John Heard) decide to take their family to the everyman destination of Miami, Florida. Kevin, still trapped in an 80s mindset of excess and getting exactly what you want, complains of how annoying it is to go to a tropical climate without Christmas trees. His mother and other family members, particularly Buzz (Devin Ratray), are further vexed by Kevin after he refuses to apologize to Buzz in the wake of a Christmas pageant fiasco in which he causes the rest of his classmates to trip and fall during their performance.

Lying in wait.

Lying in wait.

When Kevin “accidentally” (though I think everything is deliberate with that wily mothafucka) follows the wrong camel hair coat wearing man (this is the problem with pervasive fashion trends) onto a plane bound for New York instead of Miami, the entire basis of the 90s begins to grow clear. Directed and written by John Hughes, who saw his plateau with Brat Pack movies in the 80s, the movie is early 90s enough to bear faint traces of the decade that preceded it. In this way, the predilection for excess and decadence is present in Kevin’s decision to go for a room at the Plaza Hotel (now in a sad state with its condos). And yet, his desires while in New York are modest and decidedly all-American in scope: Wanting to ride in a limo, wanting his own pizza and wanting to explore a store that appeals to his material whims. The emphasis is always on both the simple and the having of one’s own items, not to be shared with others.

A simple man.

A simple man.

Like so many other people inhabiting the 90s scope of ambition, life was about attaining something for yourself–a little piece of decadence to remind you that you were an American, and you could buy anything that suited your fancy, goddammit. Even the fact that Chris Columbus would later to go on to direct the film version of Rent in 2005 is in indication of how much the focus of story in film had changed to reflect the current economical climate. The Clinton years in comparison to the Bush years were indeed a drastic shift in terms of available wealth and general hopefulness.

Technology = hopefulness in 1992. Now it just equals apathy.

Technology = hopefulness in 1992. Now it just equals apathy.

The concluding scene of Home Alone 2 features a mound of presents under an ostentatious tree as members of the McAllister family gather round like pigeons pecking at one of the Pigeon Lady’s (Brenda Fricker) offerings. The glee and elation wrought by as many material acquisitions as possible is the ultimate symbol of the United States middle class (remember the middle class?) in the 90s. And while Home Alone 2 may be just another essential holiday film for some, it’s also a relic of what it used to mean to have the cleverness and chutzpah to get what you wanted out of life.

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