Since the financial crash of 2008 and the painfully slow recovery of most of the American economy, the ‘precariat’ has emerged: often young and college-educated, this group is a nascent class of workers who subsist on low-income, short-term, low-status jobs, crippled by anxiety and uncertainty. After some failed attempts to arrest control from the neoliberal establishment, the precariat feels increasingly ‘locked out’ of achieving the American Dream they once imagined was their birthright.
This paper will argue that, in the absence of tangible political process, the anger, anxiety and hope of the precariat has come to be embodied in the star image of Jennifer Lawrence, whose emergence charts almost precisely the various stages of the aftermath of the financial crisis. Rising to prominence in the depths of the Great Recession through indie hit Winter’s Bone (2010), where Lawrence played Ree Dolly, an impoverished young girl from the Ozarks trying to save her family from destitution, through her zeitgeist-capturing turns as reluctant revolutionary Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2012-15) series, to wildly successful entrepreneur and single mom Joy Mangano in Joy (2015), Lawrence’s stardom has mapped the contours of America’s decline and potential recovery. Through the exploration of these films and Lawrence’s star persona, this paper will demonstrate how her image has provided a salve for the precariat’s feelings of powerlessness, offering hope that the American Dream can be restored.