This essay describes the attributes and significance of the iconicized body in American culture. Lists such as People Magazine’s annual 50 Most Beautiful People in the World and FHM’s annual 100 Sexiest Women and the locations of CBS Survival series in areas in which its predominantly young and ultrabuff contestants need to wear as few clothes as possible demonstrate the American obsession with the body perfect. The fetishizing of young-looking, lean, often surgically altered, hairless bodies has become an American preoccupation. Moreover, the perfect body of a succession of American superstars such as Cindy Crawford and Halle Berry has become a recognizable American icon outside of the country.
The iconic buff body in its male and female variations stands in radical contrast to the increasingly obese bodies of the vast majority of Americans. Most Americans lack the means to make their physiques look anything like those of celebrities or celebrity look-alikes. Instead, the fat and ever-fatter majority pays to watch, covet, and measure their own inadequacies on perfected physiques. On the basis of increasing rates of obesity in the States and the concomitant greater outlay of money for cosmetic surgery and other ‘body-enhancing’ measures, I argue that the perfected body represents a borderline between the haves and have-nots in US society. Some few pay fiercely to make their bodies competitive in very-fierce body stakes. Most others continue to feel insecure about themselves when they look at images of perfected bodies in the media but, nonetheless, continue to pay to see these images. The iconic American body, I conclude, has little to do with pleasure and much to do with class membership and marketing.
Daniel Boone Recast
In Daniel Boone American has received a new iconic hero. Iconic character is more than a type – to brand Boone as a hunter or a frontier-man, means to simplify the complexity and indeterminacy of this icon, to reduce its mirror-like quality to reflect a flattened image of the cultural contents that power of nostalgia brings to focus. It is no coincidence that Boone’s tale and consequent myth came to being in the time when the eastern board was steadily “planted”, wherefrom also its maker, John Filson, a teacher came. A cultural icon, at the same time, is not a mere reflecting surface, but a luminous image that dazzles the Eye/I and submits us to its magnetic force and thus weakens our analytical responses – we avert our eye, or we get spell-bound.
This paper try to find ways of looking aslant at the object of fascination and will endeavor to identify the components of nostalgia and will try follow the transformations of the Boone myth from Cooper’s Natty Bumppo to Michael Mann’s "Daniel-Nathaniel-Natty-nutty" Poe of the latest film version of The Last of the Mohicans.
THE KILLING ICON: MICKEY SPILLANE'S MIKE HAMMER.
When it comes to fictional icons, few have been more popular than Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. Hammer burst into print in "I, The Jury" (1947), selling
millions of copies and making his creator the biggest-selling author of the 1950s. By the end of that decade, Spillane held seven places in the top ten best-selling novels of all time. Hammer has helped Spillane sell over two hundred million books to date.
He has also appeared in almost every other media: comic strips, commercials, record albums, radio serials, television series and feature films. Hammer has become an icon--and in the process he has disappeared.
In other words, Hammer's entry into the mainstream simplified his character to the point where he no longer seemed to have one. Hammer became a caricature, the big man with a big gun, a big car, and lots of big women. Parodies began early, with the 1953 film "The Bandwagon" featuring a 'Rod Riley' thriller by 'Mickey Starr,' in which Fred Astaire struts as a super-tough private eye while Cyd Charisse stalks him as a spread-legged femme fatale. Spillane himself contributed to the simplification, appearing for nearly twenty years in Miller Lite beer commercials that spoofed the Hammer persona and milieu.
It is hard to see the original Hammer through all the simulcra that followed. Moreover, critics argue that the Hammer of the novels is himself "a degenerate copy
of Marlowe and Spade." Nevertheless, by deconstructing both the icon that obscures him and the critics who abhore him, I hope to rehabilitate a character who has been too often dismissed as "the perversion of the hard-boiled tradition."
Wallace Stevens: “from an allegorical point of view”
The abiding American interest in icons, and the concomitant hermeneutical conviction that the world is legible down to its smallest detail, finds its roots in Puritan typology — the idea, that is, in the words of Jonathan Edwards, that “the things of the world are ordered and designed to shadow forth spiritual things.”3 In Edwards’s view, the “material world” of nature is “wholly subordinated to the spiritual and moral world.”4 Moreover, just as a lowly tree can serve as “a lively emblem of many spiritual things,”5 America itself apocalyptically stands as the shadowy type for the anagogic City of God: “The changing course of trade, and the supplying of the world with its treasures from America, is a type and forerunner of what is approaching in spiritual things, when the world shall be supplied with spiritual treasures from America.”6
Arguing that God “makes the inferior in imitation of the superior,”7 Edwards shows (albeit belatedly), not only his debt to Baroque notions of interpretation, but his desire to marshal what Walter Benjamin has called “the antinomies of the allegorical.”8
What would remain of Edwards’s typology in what Wallace Stevens calls “an age of disbelief”9 — an age, that is, abandoned to the immanence of the “material world” and without any recourse to redemptive interpretative models? One answer, perhaps, is that typology would be short-circuited and restricted to what Stevens, in a late poem, calls “The Plain Sense of Things”:
After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.
It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.
The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
The “plain sense,” however, may come only after an apocalyptic event: the “end of the imagination.” And to imagine the “absence of the imagination” is to think a world without gods. In a lecture delivered at Mount Holyoke College on April 28, 1951 (that is, about the time he wrote “The Plane Sense of Things”), Stevens states:
To see the gods dispelled in mid-air and dissolve like clouds is one of the great human experiences. It is not as if they had gone over the horizon to disappear for a time; nor as if they had been overcome by other gods of greater power and profounder knowledge. It is simply that they came to nothing. Since we have always shared all things with them and have always had a part of their strength and, certainly, all of their knowledge, we shared likewise this experience of annihilation. It was their annihilation, nor ours, and yet it left us feeling that in a measure we, too, had been annihilated. It left us feeling dispossessed and alone in a solitude, like children without parents, in a home that seemed deserted, in which the amical rooms and halls had taken on a look of hardness and emptiness. What was most extraordinary is that they left no mementoes behind, no thrones, no mystic rings, no texts either of the soil or of the soul. It was as if they had never inhabited the earth. 11
To think “the end of the gods” is to undo typology. Evaporated, the spiritual realm is no longer the “antitype”12 of the shadowy “material world.”
In this paper I would investigate the logic of typology in the poetry and prose of Wallace Stevens. My discussion will draw upon Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Adams, Walter Benjamin, and Paul de Man.