Black Heroism as Tableaux in the Works of Frederick Douglass and
“I have great admiration for the life of such a man as Toussaint L’Ouverture. It’s the same thing Douglass meant when he said, “Judge me not by the heights to which I have risen but by the depths from which I have come.” There’s so much to do, there’s never any trouble to find subjects (Jacob Lawrence). This paper explores representations of black heroism as allegorical tableaux in late nineteenth century literature and early twentieth century visual arts as writers and artists moved towards producing an iconographic universalism in their politicised depiction of the black heroic figure. Considered alongside the slave narratives and unpublished manuscripts of Frederick Douglass, the serialised paintings of Jacob Lawrence clarify their joint production of a discourse of black heroism across genres and historical contexts. The relationship presented by their parity of subject-matter testifies to a powerful and radical visual and written legacy within which black masculinity has been represented: dating as far back as the 1890s and thriving throughout the post-Harlem Renaissance period of the 1930s, persisting on into the twentieth century. This narrative tradition has been characterised by the manipulation of dramatic set pieces, designed simultaneously to subvert official historical discourse, while also challenging the permissible boundaries within which to articulate black male and female subjectivity. Dedicated to the visual and textual representation of a whole pantheon of heroes, both Douglass and Lawrence sought to create representative “race” men and, to a lesser extent, “race women.” Hence, in their work, Douglass and Lawrence removed references to context, historical specificities and individual complexities in their impetus towards an iconographic universalism. Their written and visual narratives documented the “epic” in form and subject-matter as they destabilised and dismissed as artificial the distortion produced by racist paradigms purporting to neutral status. They created various tableaux of epiphanic moments in order to portray black heroism allegorically, and to produce heroic exemplars suited to the political dictates of the era. These figures were considered capable of translating to diverse audiences the bete noir of turn of the century North American culture, described by Lawrence simply as the “black thing” and by which he meant black culture. Despite their commitment to the recovery and narration of a number of black heroes, my paper analyses Douglass’s and Lawrence’s dramatisations of the eighteenth century heroic slave, Toussaint L’Ouverture. He was otherwise known as the “Black Napoleon” and is famous as the leader of the St. Domingo Revolution of 1791 which took place in the West Indies on the site of present day Haiti and which led to the foundation of the first independent black republic. In the final analysis, the paintings of Jacob Lawrence and the manuscripts of Frederick Douglass dramatising the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture bear witness to the continuing preoccupation within African American culture with producing artefacts commemorating epiphanic moments of black liberation. These include set pieces documenting scenes such as: black resistance to white barbarity; black education; black self-government and engagement with politics; black leniency in the face of white aggression and white betrayal of black magnanimity. The works of both Douglass and Lawrence politicised the recuperation of black history and culture as they employed instances of slave heroism specifically to undermine the racism of their respective eras which sought to deny black humanity and to underplay black achievement.
Conflicting Images of American Nationhood: The Statue of Liberty and the American Eagle
Both the Statue of Liberty and the American Eagle have become well-recognizable icons of American nationhood and above all symbols of liberty. While the Statue of Liberty has greeted every visitors, refugee, and asylum-seeker ever since 1885/86 upon arrival in the New World, the Eagle defines America as a worldly and sacred power above all on its monetary currency. However, both icons also express the often conflicting images of America as a land embracing liberty, freedom of speech, and the pursuit of happiness on the one hand and actually often practicing – in the very name of these values – censorship, severe immigration restrictions, and abuse of natural resources. In my paper, I will look at the inception and history of these icons as well as at their representations in literature, the visual arts, and popular culture. Texts to be discussed will include Margaret Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 (1844), paintings by early 19th-century Romantic painters, Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” (1883), the American one-dollar note, and modern visual representations of a multicultural Statue of Liberty.
Bogle, Lori Lyn
“The President and the Corpse: Theodore Roosevelt, John Paul Jones, and the Creation of a Naval Icon”
Once a third-rate maritime force commanded by a close-knit, and often interrelated elite that often resisted change, the United States Navy by the 1890s was developing into a first class, professional and technically oriented service with an officer corps that was opening to all those of character and ability. Rapid modernization in naval technology, management, and manpower brought great tensions and some officers feared that values that had made naval officers effective in the past would now be lost. By the turn-of-the-century, the Navy found an effective means to preserve its honor, courage, and the willingness to sacrifice by capitalizing on certain tenets of a civil religious revival that celebrated naval heritage while still embracing modern technology. Along with sanctifying Alfred Thayer Mahan as its prophet (circa 1897) and undertaking an ambitious classical building program at Annapolis that conveyed nobility to its midshipmen and the American public (beginning in 1899), the Navy, with personal direction from President Theodore Roosevelt, also interned John Paul Jones’ body on the Academy yard as its icon and patron saint (1905).
More than any other one individual, Theodore Roosevelt can be credited with utilizing collective memory and modern publicity to bridge the gap between the old and new Navy. The president set out to change public opposition to an offensive, fleet navy in part by tinkering with the historical record so that Jones, whose body had just been located in Paris, would meet the qualifications of “Father of the Navy” while at the same time representing “modern” ideas regarding naval professionalism despite ample evidence to the contrary. Roosevelt gave full presidential support to recovering the body, personally designated the Naval Academy as its final resting place, helped sanitize the Revolutionary War heroes record, and used the elaborate dedication ceremony at the Naval Academy to promote John Paul Jones as representative of the president’s vision of sea power. Through the years, the Navy has maintained Jones’ icon status for current naval personnel through ritual and commemoration celebrations.
This project is part of a multi-faceted study on public relations and the Navy at the beginning of the twentieth century that will result in my second monograph tentatively titled “Presidential Persuasions: Theodore Roosevelt and Turn-of-the-Century Naval Public Relations.”
Braidt, Andrea B.
On the Generic Translation of Iconicity:
Madonna Meets James Bond
here is little that has not already been said about Madonna’s quality as cultural pop icon and most of it she has said herself. Pop Queen, Mother of MTV, Mistress of Reinvention, Queer Mainstreamer: whatever journalists, cultural theorists, and biographers call her, her status as American icon seems as assured as can be. My attempt is not to add yet another piece of cultural evaluation of Madonna’s oevre from a cultural studies perspective, but to focus on the signification process of iconicity which is, I want to argue, crucial to Madonna: although symbol (crucifix) and index (muscles, henna-tattoos) play an important part in her work, it is the icon with its emphasis on (visual) resemblance that is employed most in her videos.
After a short tour through some of Madonna’s most memorable iconic moments, I will closely examine the iconicity involved in the music video to the Madonna song Die Another Day (US 2002, dir. Traktor), which is the title song of the twentieth James Bond movie of the same title (US 2002, dir. Lee Tamahori). The song features like all “Bond-songs” as the musical number for the title sequence of the film, which appears like a ritual as the second sequence of the movie, straight after the initial “medias-in-res” action-filled opening sequence. To unravel the complex relationship between the music video (starring Madonna) and the title sequence (starring Pierce Brosnan) means to decipher the process of iconicity which works – in this case – as a translation phenomenon which crosses the boarders of media, genres, and genders.
Breen, Margaret Sönser
Spider-man as Cultural Icon:
The Politics of Heroes and Monsters in Spider-man and
“A Long Line of Vendidas”
The particular American cultural icon that I am interested in discussing is the superhero Spider-man, particularly as he is represented in the 2002 hit film of the same name. I am interested in the reemergence and popularity of this superhero in the post-9/11 and pre-Iraq War political climate in the United States.
By considering the representations of the superhero and the monster in the film Spider-man against those in Chicana lesbian writer Cherríe Moraga’s 1983/2000 essay “A Long Line of Vendidas,” this paper indeed begs the question of monster and superhero’s essential opposition.1 I have chosen to read the film against the essay because of the very different configurations of power in each. Spider-man, after all, extols a one-dimensional understanding of personal (as well as cultural) identity. The film’s storyline repeatedly insists that the use of force is always an experience over which one has choice and can exercise control. In effect, the film’s configuration of power, not unlike that expressed by U.S. government leaders today, reflects the immediate interests of the superhero as the arbiter of power—especially on the levels of language and culture. Moraga’s essay, in turn, offers a differing narrative perspective. The essay underscores how the experience of aggression, in whatever form—as gender violence or racism or homophobia, for example—is often not a choice but an intransigent reality, a nonnegotiable context that, in turn engenders a multiplicity of meaning and a complexity of identity. In other words, one does not choose violence; rather, as a grounding element of one’s experience of identity, it is chosen for one. From this perspective, one can only really resist violence by adaptation, by metamorphoses on the levels of langage and culture. To paraphrase African-American lesbian poet Audre Lorde, one alters to survive.2 “A Long Line of Vendidas,” then, illuminates what is readily obscured in Spider-man. “Making monsters—willfully by state policy or media agency, or accidentally by slapdash language—is bound to fail, however sophisticated the rubric…[because] monsters invariably suggest multiplicity of meaning” (Ingebretsen 29). Not only is there no essential opposition between monster and superhero, the illusion of that opposition as inevitable or natural is a function of narrative expectation at work on the levels of text and, more broadly, nation.
Because that expectation is gendered, this paper pays attention to the narrative distribution and regulation of power along gender lines in both Spider-man and “A Long Line of Vendidas.” This paper argues that the oppositional relation between monster and superhero is in fact sustained by the continual insertion of binary gender equations, equations that the monsters in both texts repeatedly destabilize. Ultimately, then, what makes the monster monstrous? It is his/her ability to challenge dominant social norms distributed along various axes of social differentiation, such as gender, race, sexuality, and class. The monster, then, is the inverted image of the superhero’s consolidation of power along these axes.
Bugaeva, Lyubov and Ryder, John
It has long been commonplace to acknowledge the special place that the sport of baseball holds in American culture. For many millions of Americans the game’s history is closely tied with their own sense of identity. Baseball’s iconography, as well as and perhaps more deeply than its history, indicates its cultural significance. One of the more powerful illustrations of baseball’s place in the culture is the fact that it carries with it the trappings of a religion: in the early 20th century a commission was established to create a creation myth for the game, a myth which, despite its implausibility, is passionately adhered to even today by millions; baseball’s stadiums, and local fields, serve as cathedrals and shrines in which quasi ritual events are played out from generation to generation; and most obviously the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, famously includes a hall where there hang plaques commemorating the heroes of baseball’s history, a hall which is constructed on the model of a church, to which hundreds of thousands of visitors (pilgrims?) travel annually. Iconographic examples of this kind can be multiplied at length.
In this essay we will focus on two aspects of baseball’s relation to American culture: 1) the ways in which the game reflects and embodies aspects of the broader culture, and 2) how baseball imagery during one of its strongest periods, the 1930s, intersected with events in the culture as a whole. It was in the 1930s, in the Great Depression, when with the reduction of their income, people became interested in inexpensive leisure pursuits. The interest in spectator sports such as baseball grew and the formation of the baseball myth had started. We will describe and pursue the strategies used in the myth formation and development in the 1930s — power discourses of the game, visual support of the myth up to the conceptualization of the figure of a baseball player, the mortar, as an integral part of the myth.
Butkus, Michael F.
Born from a combination of legend and the necessity to symbolize the importance of forest fire prevention during World War II, Smokey Bear is among the most recognizable icons in US culture. Every school child has been exposed to his basic message of more than 50 years: “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires”. He appears in public service announcements on television, marches in local and national parades, and his face greets visitors to almost every area of public land in the United States.
This paper will tell the story of Smokey Bear, his rise to icon status in the United States, and how and why he is able to remain the beloved and respected symbol of a federal agency, the USDA Forest Service, that is so often lately besieged by controversy and turmoil over such policies as road closures, timber harvest reductions, and livestock grazing restrictions on public land it manages.
Campbell, Brooke M.
If "War is Not the Answer!" What's the Question?
Early in this year’s wave of anti-war demonstrations, one of the movement’s prominent organizations (FCNL) began circulating what soon became its most recognizable slogan: “War is Not the Answer!” These days, few would argue that either the movement or its slogan even came close to accomplishing their purported objective. I would like to propose that, although they may not have prevented war in Iraq, this slogan did, in fact, do something. Furthermore, I would like to suggest that this something the slogan did--albeit well intended- may, lamentably, have worked at cross-purposes
with its objective. Although an explication of these cross-purposes cannot, of course, bring the thousands dead back to life, it stands to offer some insight into ways in which those of us vested in “preventing war” - which investment, I will argue, requires a radical re-conceptualization of this objective- might manage to avoid undercutting ourselves from now on.
The Many Lives of the Franklin Icon
In a letter to his sister, Jane Mecom, of 25 October 1779, Benjamin Franklin reports that he is in “Vogue” in France. His successful management of his position as ambassador from the New World had made him an admired and fashionable figure; and, he writes that “[t]his Popularity has occasioned so many Paintings, Busto’s, Medals & Prints to be made of me, and distributed throughout the Kingdom, that my Face is now almost as well known as that of the Moon” (The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 30:583). Early on, Franklin began to function as an icon; and iconic uses of Franklin continue in America to this day. In this paper, I will be examining a series of these uses.
Franklin’s role as the ‘official’ icon of thrift and hard-work has long been a part of the American psyche; and, as a glance at any American phone book will testify, he remains so today. Some examples of his role as patron saint of banks, investment firms, insurance companies and printing firms – each with their own symbolic representation of Franklin – will be considered. There are numerous other examples of the Franklin icon that deal with his work in electricity and for the post office. Perhaps more interesting are cartoon uses of the Franklin character, and Franklin’s appearance in various advertisements. Together, these images offer some insight into how Americans have attempted to rework the meaning of Franklin despite their increasing distance from their colonial/revolutionary past.
The aim of this presentation will be, on one level, to suggest Franklin’s current status as an American icon, and, on another, to inquire into how America re-appropriates its icons. From others at the conference, I hope to get a sense of the current meaning of Franklin in Austria and in Europe.
(In the interest of simplicity, I will distribute copies of the various uses of the Franklin icon that I will be discussing rather than try to project them).