AFRS 326 - Challenging Ethnicity
Semester Offered: Spring
An exploration of literary and artistic engagements with ethnicity. Contents and approaches vary from year to year.
Topic for 2018/19b: Racial Melodrama. ENGL 326 ) Often dismissed as escapist, predictable, lowbrow or exploitative, melodrama has also been recuperated by several contemporary critics as a key site for the rupture and transformation of mainstream values. Film scholar Linda Williams argues that melodrama constitutes “a major force of moral reasoning in American mass culture,” shaping the nation’s racial imaginary. The conventions of melodrama originate from popular theater, but its success has relied largely on its remarkable adaptability across various media, including print, motion pictures, radio, and television. This course investigates the lasting impact of such fictions as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life, the romanticized legend of John Smith’s encounter with Pocahontas, and John Luther Long’s Madame Butterfly. What precisely is melodrama? If not a genre, is it (as critics diversely argue) a mode, symbolic structure, or a sensibility? What do we make of the international success of melodramatic forms and texts such as the telenovela and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain? How do we understand melodrama’s special resonance historically among disfranchised classes? How and to what ends do the pleasures of suffering authenticate particular collective identities (women, the working-class, queers, blacks, and group formations yet to be named)? What relationships between identity, affect and consumption does melodrama reveal? Hiram Perez.
One 2-hour period.
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