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Title: Ethnic peculiarity and universal appeal : the ambivalence of transition in mid-twentieth century Jewish American culture
Author: Homer, Jarrod
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis examines the contribution of Jewish artists to American popular culture in the mid-twentieth century and argues that the Jewish imagination contains a peculiar ability to simultaneous articulate the concerns of a specifically ethnic identity and a more universal American character. The thesis posits that by exploring how the Jewish community negotiated the space between ethnic identity and an American paradigm, Jewish artists were able to explore the middle ground between individuality and conformity, selfhood and consensus, liberalism and conservatism, tradition and change, and heritage and progress that held a wider pertinence for a more general American audience. The thesis argues that the diversity of the Jewish American imagination at this time can be united by a leitmotif that can be best described as the ambivalence of transition. By examining aesthetically dissimilar texts from a variety of artistic fields, in particular comic books, theatre, cinema, television, and literature, the thesis argues that despite the cultural evolutions that occurred throughout the thirties, forties and fifties, the Jewish voice articulated a continuing concern regarding the relationship between ethnic identity, masculine identity, the individual and mass culture. This last point hints at another preoccupation of this thesis; the texts analysed here all share a narrative focus that explores and represents notions of masculine identity and ideality. In this way, the thesis necessarily focuses upon debates about masculinity within the Jewish imagination and American culture, charting the evolution of the Jewish and American male and their relationship towards notions of performed, consensus, individual and paradigm masculinity. Although there has not necessarily been a desire to fully deny the notion of a continuing thematic preoccupation within the Jewish imaginary, previous scholarship has shown a tendency towards accentuating the eclectic nature of Jewish American culture. Whilst scholars like Paul Buhle and Stephen J. Whitfield recognise the importance of popular culture as an arena in which Jewish artists sought to articulate issues at the heart of Jewish identity and community in the US, their studies focus upon the kaleidoscopic eclecticism of Jewish American culture. The intention of this thesis is to harness the diversity inherent in Jewish cultural expression via the prevailing leitmotif of the ambivalence of transition. In this way the thesis will use the multifarious and textured fabric of mid-century Jewish culture, as well as the simultaneous articulation of both ethnic and more general concerns, to illuminate the understanding of both Jewish identity and American culture throughout the mid-century. Thus, the thesis builds upon work by the likes of Julian Levinson and Hana Wirth-Nesher that revisits ideas of assimilation and attempts to complicate the inexorable movement away from Jewish distinctiveness and identity. Similarly, the thesis builds upon studies by the likes of Pamela Robertson Wojcik and Will Brooker that attempt to accentuate the reductive understanding of the mid-century based upon boundless suburbia and unthinking conformity.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Jewish American culture ; Mid-twentieth Century ; American culture ; Comic books ; American cinema ; American literature ; America theatre