"In Search of a Gay Icon: _Redburn_ and American Criticism"
This paper will propose that Herman Melville's novel _Redburn_ strives to create a figure that can function as an icon for American homosexuality. It will argue that the novel's portrayal and treatment of the character of Harry Bolton, who fails to transplant himself successfully to America, represents a rejection of a European culture of aristocratic homosexuality and the kinds of social and economic relations which support it. The figure of Carlo on the other hand, serves as a celebratory and unconstrained focus for homosexual desire. An image or reference point rather than a character, Carlo is, like an icon, a repository for attachments and sentiments, and
becomes fully iconic in his final exit from the action of the book (standing to play "Hail Columbia" as he is "triumphantly rowed ashore"). My argument will suggest that Carlo's 'replacement' of Harry illuminates his general cultural significance: he signifies the fantasy of a homosexual economy which is purely aesthetic, free from class hierarchy and overtones of exploitation or power. I will consider the way in which this project in the novel has been neglected by recent American criticism, and the implications of this neglect for the relationship between class, aesthetics and power in American queer theory.
In C.S. Peirce's theory of signs, the relation of an icon to its referent is described in terms of similarity. As regards the dollar bill, it is, firstly, a representation of money in the form of paper currency. Yet beyond representing something concrete, the dollar bill also represents something abstract, i.e., the United States of America or, rather, the American nation. The transferral of meaning is of course culture-specific. The phrase "In God We Trust" means "United States" or "America" only to those who know that it is the national motto. What we see on the dollar bill is, therefore, part of the larger semiotic universe that Americans are born into and that will largely determine the way they see the world around them. The cultural formation which fostered these depictions can be tied to the emergence of a central state authority in the nineteenth century. Then various elites in the employ of the central state engaged in designing (or "inventing") a "tradition" for the purpose of buttressing and sustaining an "imagined community," to borrow Benedict Anderson's famous phrase. As a congressman from Michigan remarked in 1863, "As surely our flag represents ... the unity of these States, just so surely, sir, do the United States Treasury Notes represent ... the priceless value of these United States." The Treasury Notes are a good example of the role of money in the production and reproduction on a national scale of the integration of people. Then, as well as before and after, the iconography of the dollar bill drew upon seminal images in the history of the nation - including personalities, events, classical images and allegories, and historical vignettes. Overall, the material symbolicity of the dollar bill is part of a coherent web of stories, events, national symbols and rituals which, taken together, represent the shared experiences in the nation's history.
Quoting the Zapruder
November 22, 2003 marks the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy forty years ago. Among the most famous pieces of documentary films in American history, the super 8 film Abraham Zapruder shot of the assassination remains - in spite of its brevity (it lasts a mere 25 seconds) - a repository of imagery that serves as a source for reinscription in almost every visual narrative of the event that has followed it.
My paper is a presentation of a selection of such reinscriptions into narrative, each narrative contributing to a manifold and complex cultural memory of the event. Among the narratives I will show images from (on transparent paper) are: a reportage in Life published a week after the assassination (Life/Time bought the film before it was developed); a book of charcoal sketches by Josiah Thompson, Six Seconds in Dallas (1967), which made Life ask for an injunction against Thompson on the claim that the sketches were ”appropriated” from the film they owned; The Eternal Frame (1975), a filmed reenactment in Dealey Plaza by the performance collective Ant Farm; Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991); a children’s book, A Picture Book of John F. Kennedy (David Adler/Robert Casilla, 1991); two graphic novels, Badlands (Steven Grant/Vince Giarrano, 1993) and The Red Diaries (Gary Reed/Caliber Comics artists, 1997); a digitally enhanced commercial release of the Zapruder film on DVD, The Image of an Assassination (1999); mixed media images and poetry by Steve McCabe, The Wyatt Earp in Dallas: 1963 Project (2003).
The presentation will focus on how the meanings of the Zapruder film change every time it is reinscribed, and on the consequences of such image-quotation for the ongoing formation of cultural memories of the assassination.
Van Oostrum, Duco
US Sports Icons: Cartoons, Ads, and Resistance
When Michael Jordan shares the basketball court with Bugs Bunny in the 1996 film Space Jam, what happens to MJ’s iconic status? The entire film plays games with the icon Michael Jordan: Michael Jordan plays Michael Jordan; in-jokes about ‘being the face of corporate America’ are being performed in his face (for example: ‘eat your wheaties and your Big Mac, put on your Haines and your Nikes. You’ve got a game to play’). As a cartoon character, Michael Jordan stretches himself like a super duck to score the winning basket against the alien ‘Monstars’. The Nike Ad, “I want to be like Mike,” is translated into serious scholarship by Eric Michael Dyson (see his article, “I want to be like Mike: The Pedagogy of Desire”). Henry Louis Gates is puzzled by MJ’s iconic status to unite an entire Nation and even to go global with the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But rather than ‘anchor the sliding of signification,’ MJ’s iconic status drifts from a safe corporate harbour. Even with the children’s film Space Jam, there is a horrific cartoon of Michael Jordan as slave (the result of his addiction to betting, another cruel in-joke), suddenly not even resembling Michael Jordan but a badly drawn image of a black man.
American sports is too easily regarded as the great ‘Americanizer,’ able to dissolve any differences on and off the playing field, race probably the most visible one. Many clichés on the locker room walls read: ‘there is no I in team.’ Yet the sports stars themselves reflect multiple images from their playing ability, from their representative value, to those of the fans. Is it possible for an American sports star—the ultimate US icon—to have agency, to resist commodification and become three-dimensional? Are the stories of dreams, success, failure, super human ability always read in the hegemonic myth of US culture?
In this paper, I will examine the cartoon dimensionality of African-American US sports icons by reading three texts from 1996: film (Space Jam mainly), literature (Paul Beatty, White Boy Shuffle)) and autobiography (Dennis Rodman, Bas As I Wanna Be).
The Girl in the Picture: image icons and American cultural memory of the Vietnam War
This paper describes how the reporting of the Vietnam War in newspapers and on television results in the production of a number of vivid and powerful ‘image icons’. Analysis will focus on one image icon in particular – an ‘accidental’ napalm strike on Trang Bang village in 1972 which resulted in news photographs, film footage and television reports showing a young girl – Kim Phuc – burnt by napalm. This image-icon has had a significant impact in the shaping of the American cultural memory of the war in Vietnam.
The paper will begin by identifying how image icons such as these are always already positioned, or ‘interpretatively coded’, by the technological, institutional, and ideological preferences and practices of the American news media. Then the paper will offer a description of how the central position of image icons such as these within popular cultural experience of the war triggers a secondary process of representation in which the initial meanings are re-scripted in response to the changing needs of the present. In conclusion it will be claimed that through the use of this particular image icon and the telling of ‘Kim’s story’ we are beginning to see a merging of competing representations of the war into a single icon which is able to reconcile some of the conflict so central to the Vietnam experience.
The Black Boxer as American Icon: From Jack Johnson to Mike Tyson
The symbolic role of African American boxers is often acknowledged in literary and other writings. Individuals like Jack Johnson and Joe Louis for example stood as representatives of their race against the white majority and challenged notions of racial superiority in the ring. Both Johnson and Louis were not only heavyweight champions of the world, but significantly black champions. Johnson’s success, applauded by African Americans, was hated by whites. While Louis too began as a ‘black’ hero his ‘iconic status’ shifted as he assumed, and was located in, the role of representative ‘all-American’ firstly by conforming to a public style acceptable to white audiences, and secondly through his public relations role during World War II. Muhammad Ali on the other hand, moved from the position of black hero to American and even international hero as a consequence of shifting racial and political positions and a retrospective iconisation. More recently, different responses to Mike Tyson demonstrate that the contested reading of the black sporting icon still reveals much of the racial divisions in American society. This paper locates these issues in a broad historical/cultural interpretation of the different ways the black boxer has been ‘read’ by diverse audiences at various times, offering a barometer of the state of American race relations.
1 Initially published in 1983, the essay was reissued in 2000 in an expanded version of the original collection, Loving in the War Years, which includes new essays that sustain the themes at work in “A Long Line of Vendidas.”
2 See Lorde’s poem “The Brown Menace or Poem to the Survival of Roaches.”
3 Jonathan Edwards, Images of Divine Things, in Works, ed. Harry S. Stout (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), volume 11 (“Typological Writings”), p. 53.
4 Ibid., p. 61.
5 Ibid., p. 80.
6 Ibid., p. 101.
7 Ibid., p. 53.
8 States Benjamin: “Any person, any object, any relationship can mean absolutely anything else. With this possibility a destructive, but just verdict is passed on the profane world: it is characterized as a world in which the detail is of no great importance. But it will be unmistakably apparent, especially to anyone who is familiar with allegorical textual exegesis, that all of the things which are used to signify derive, from the very fact of their pointing to something else, a power which makes them appear no longer commensurable with profane things, which raises them onto a higher plane, and which can, indeed, sanctify them. Considered in allegorical terms, then, the profane world is both elevated and devalued,” The Origin of German Tragic Drama, tr. John Osborne (London: NLB [Verso], 1977), p. 175.
9 Wallace Stevens, “Two or Three Ideas,” in Collected Poetry and Prose, ed. Frank Kermode & Joan Richardson (New York: The Library of America, 1997), p. 841.
10 Ibid., p. 428.
11 Ibid., p. 842.
12 Jonathan Edwards, Images of Divine Things, p. 62.