Deborah E. R. Hanan
Graduated: May 2011
Committee: Sarah Banet-Weiser
, Chair G. Thomas Goodnight
, Jonathan Taplin
, Steven Ross
National Transgressions: Representing the Mobile, Boundary-Busting American during Periods of Major Economic Crisis
This dissertation investigates how embodied tropes of mobility and transgression have circulated in U.S. entertainment media when apprehensions over employment, housing, and the economy have dominated the national psyche. It assesses America’s “crisis in representation,” in which competing ideals of unfettered liberty and sedentary acquisitional culture vie for dominance within the ideological collective. More specifically, this project focuses on unregulated white male mobility and transgression:
boundary-busting characteristics that have served as cornerstones upon and against which an “exceptional” archetypal American character has been constructed.
Assessing popular illustrated, television and film constructions of “dispossessed by choice” Americans (e.g. “tramps,” “hobos,” “white gypsies,” Travellers, bourgeois adventurers, and carnies), I discuss the ways in which nomadic white males have been represented as both standard bearers of an American esprit de corps and principal violators of the nation’s ideological geographies. I examine mass-distributed products circulated during the Long Depression (1873-1896), Great Depression (1929-1939) and Global Economic Crisis (2000-2010) as artistic, historical and political economic artifacts. In so doing, I demonstrate how representations of the peripatetic allegorical American have reflected a variety of ideological interests and fostered an ongoing debate concerning the nation’s competing ideals of unfettered liberty and sedentary acquisitional capitalism.
As an interdisciplinary project, this study builds upon and responds to existing discourses in media cultural studies, American studies, cultural geography, sociology, political science and cultural history. Transgressing more orthodox applications of queer theory, I explore this critical theory’s application to geopolitics by considering the “impossible object” of the American project and deconstructing U.S. identity into two distinct subjectivities. I do this to argue that understanding America’s imagined and narrated community requires that it be examined through both its national and imperial symbolic caches. By examining how embodied tropes unique to the American collective have evolved over time, I am suggesting an analytical model for charting the perceived health and wellbeing of the nation in relation to the perceived lifecycle of the empire.
Keywords: Crisis in Representation, Transgression, Mobility, Mass-Distributed Media, Allegorical American, National and Imperial Symbolic, Heretical Geographies, Economic Crisis, Economic Depression, Tramps, Hobos, White Gypsies, Travellers