The ubiquity of the American flag in every aspect of life in politics, in the military, in education, in art, in religion (esp. TV evangelism), in the celebration of public holidays -, make it the central icon of America: the symbol of patriotism, loyalty and American values, the center piece of ritual (e.g. the pledge of allegiance), a medium and expression of national identity. This almost sacred role, at least in conservative circles, make the flag an almost perfect means of criticism of, and protest against, conservative America, which again and again has demanded legislation to protect the sacrosanctity of the "Star-Spangled Banner," the "Stars and Stripes", "Old Glory". This talk attempts to show verbally and visually the wide specter of flag use, from ritual to ridicule, from devotion to desecration, from flag poetry to flag burning.
Making the world a better place! – Henry Ford as an icon representing a shift towards a more egalitarian society
Henry Ford is one of the outstanding examples in the early twentieth century of a deliberately created icon. Representations of him as an individual genius gave the people the impression that it was solely Henry Ford's Yankee ingenuity – similar to that of Benjamin Franklin – that led to the development and subsequent success of the Model T, an automobile that the American people seemed to have been waiting for. Publications such as My Life and Work or Today and Tomorrow helped considerably to create this image of Ford as the benevolent head of the immensely powerful Ford Motor Company. In these texts "Fordism" – a principle conveniently named after its 'creator' – is described as an egalitarian principle that will improve the lives of all workers by giving them more leisure time and more money to spend. Furthermore, Henry Ford is represented as an employer making work in general available to everyone. For not only trained and physically healthy people but also the handicapped are included in the workplace.
This egalitarian principle is also reflected in the actual product of the company: the automobile. The aim of Fordism is to give every American the opportunity to buy one's own car, a kind of 'democratic machine' giving every individual the opportunity to go wherever s/he pleases and thereby 'liberating' the average American.
'[L]ittle more than a round of vaudeville antics'?: Louis Armstrong as
This paper will examine the jazz musician Louis Armstrong as a historical, musical and social icon of the US. It will trace the development of Armstrong from unknown poverty-stricken petty criminal to his appropriation by the media as jazz's answer to Uncle Tom. It will suggest that Armstrong as icon embodies a manifestation of white
American society's attitudes towards African-Americans in the mid-twentieth century. The paper will also evaluate the response of contemporaneous jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington to Armstrong as icon.
An examination of his iconistic image in the media of the time reveals a stereotypical stance: his features frozen into a constant grin and his body adopting a comical, dancing posture. One particularly (in)famous advertising feature shows him squatting, grinning as he advertises toilet paper. However, this paper will go on to suggest that this attempt by the mass media to represent Armstrong as an 'Uncle Tom' figure is ultimately challenged by his own writing. Through examination of Armstrong's three autobiographical texts: Swing That Music, Satchmo, and Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words, this paper will seek to re-evaluate our response to Armstrong, suggesting that the complexities of his personality as revealed through these texts point towards an ultimate dissatisfaction with his status as icon. It can appear at first
glance that Armstrong, writing in a period when the fight for black equality was pressing, ignores prime opportunities to influence his readers politically. However, I will suggest that his writing is deliberately concerned with the presentation of a complex and carefully-developed persona within the autobiographies. This paper will
ultimately suggest that our images of iconistic figures such as Armstrong are existent primarily in order to be challenged.
Fellner, Astrid M.
Presentation of a web project and an international excursion
In his famous social commentary, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck proclaimed U.S. Highway 66 the “Mother Road.” Steinbeck’s classic 1939 novel, combined with the 1940 film recreation of the epic odyssey, served to immortalize Route 66 in the American consciousness. Our multi-media presentation will focus on the various levels of signification of this cultural icon. We will present the results of a web project, which combines teaching and travel experiences. The class “Route 66 and the Desert Southwest: A Journey in Cultural Geography,” which was taught at the University of Vienna, analyzed both methodological aspects of American cultural studies as well as specific representations of Route 66. On the road, students then had to apply their knowledge and analyze concrete cultural manifestations. The aim of the excursion in the summer of 2003 was to capture the symbolic significance of this legendary road and analyze its importance in American culture.
Cherished as well as Suspicious: Femmeses Icons of Female Femininities
Not only within queer communities and cultures has the butch become an icon of an empowering and subversive ‘female’ gender, an icon also of “the lesbian” or female queer. The femme on the other hand receives little or no attention with regards to queer – not to mention: radical – genders. The butch is supposed to be visible as queer and therefore a target of homophobia, the femme is seen as passing for straight. And where the butch represents a transgression of femininity, the femme is suspicious of reproducing a heteronormative femininity. On the other hand the femme is admired, cherished, the center of (not only) butch attraction – though not always trusted. Even within queer cultures the femme often is associated with the image of the femme fatale.
Recent trends within queer-feminist theories which analyze the transgression of (hetero-)normative genders in drag, cross-dressing, transgender, and, most recently, in the various female masculinities – unintentionally – reinforce this devaluation of femme femininities. Necessary and valuable as these analysis are, they all look for the transgression of heteronormative genders at sites of their obvious contradiction, i.e. at sites where sex, gender and the performance of gender contradict each other in terms of a coherent heterosexual gender. The recent focus on female masculinities alone, nourishes the misconception that only those genders that cross heteronormative genders are performative. The paper therefore attempts to problematize this trend and to outline the critical appropriation of femininities in femme genders. It makes an argument for an understanding of femmeninity or femmeness as radical, queer and subversive, as distinct from heteronormative femininities.
The American Revolution Remembered, 1840s to 1860s:
Competing Images / Competing Narratives
The most often employed and most frequently recurring representations of national history in the visual arts reveal much about the perception of particular historical events at a certain time and their impact on American cultural life. In their most persistent configurations these images become sites of national and cultural memory. Those images help to interpret crucial historical moments and figures and their continuing significance in American cultural traditions. This paper discusses collective cultural and historical memories of the American Revolution as they are represented in certain “imagines agentes” (Aleida Assmann) – or ‘enduringly and creatively powerful images’ – between the 1840s and 1860s. It deals with images printed in pictorial histories, illustrated biographies, and pictorial magazines, as well as with lithographs depicting the Revolution, and scrutinizes the cultural narratives these images evoke. Addressing aspects of race, gender, and the (visual) construction of historical ‘truth,’ the reading of these images focuses on the question of whose history is depicted and for what purpose. The creation of a usable past in these ‘texts’ at times vehemently competes with established images and narratives and affects the cultural memory concerning the Revolution in the decades prior to the Civil War: for instance, what if the first American martyr becomes an African American of Indian descent; what if female and black patriots emerge as actual agents of history (instead of passive victims or by-standers); and what if the revolutionaries are no longer represented as David fighting Goliath (the British army), but as equals? These oftentimes competing narratives recontextualize the Revolution in ‘their’ time (the antebellum period), resituate the Revolutionary War as a culturally formative event, and in many respects require a redefinition of established popular cultural concepts as, for instance, that of the American Adam (and masculinity), republicanism, and exceptionalism.