Tag Archives: 19th century

High Art = Pop Culture [model abstract]

GreekSlave_NGAHyman, Linda. “The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers: High Art as Popular Culture.” Art Journal 35.3 (Spring 1976): 216-223.

Abstracted by Noah Duell

Hiram Powers’ The Greek Slave is the most preeminent example of antebellum neoclassical sculpture. Whereas other scholars have noted the aesthetic qualities of the statue, Linda Hyman researched many poems and other literary works in order to find out why the work was such a phenomenon in the antebellum United States. Hyman posits that many men of the era were drawn to its beauty, aroused by its state of submission, and subdued by the fantasies elicited by what they saw as an erotic sex symbol. Looking through a 1840s and 50s Victorian Christian lens, the erotic gaze was permitted and defended by much of the male audience. This, permission, Hyman noted, is the difference between covert and overt culture, where the viewers “overtly” look upon it as art, but in reality have ulterior “covert” motives. Women were also attracted to it, yet in an empathetic rather than sexual way. They identified with the statue, most notably in a Freudian narcissistic manner, Hyman notes. Based upon several poems, the chains that subdued the subject were as tight, emotionally, as those that held Victorian women down. In the same way the statue was being commodified as a submissive femininity, so too were the women who looked upon it. In the highly tense political environment, the statue served as a rallying icon and a call to arms for the Abolitionist movement in the northern United States. As Hyman references, the artwork itself brought upon fiery anti-slavery rhetoric, with which came vociferous opposition in the Southern United States. Those who were pro-slavery deemed the Abolitionist’s protests as pure hypocrisy, that they made complaints only in response to the statue’s Caucasian Christianity. The broad appeal of Hiram Power’s The Greek Slave is evident in the numerous ways it was interpreted. Using the literary works and the words of a congressman, a literary critic, and everyone in between, Hyman exhibits several appeals the statue possessed and the connotations of the work as it relates to factions within antebellum American society.

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The Irish Dave Chapelle of the 1910s? (model abstract)

[Note: this is my own model abstract of Soper’s article, for purposes of contrast with the two weaker examples from the databases. All the others tagged “model abstract” were written by students and posted with their permission. – PT]

Soper, Kerry. “From Swarthy Ape to Sympathetic Everyman and Subversive Trickster: The Development of Irish Caricature in American Comic Strips between 1890 and 1920.” Journal of American Studies 39.2 (August 2005): 257‐296.

Abstracted by Phillip Troutman

Soper challenges the popular and scholarly conventional wisdom that early twentieth‐century ethnic caricatures were nothing more than blatantly and demeaningly racist in intent and effect. Instead, drawing on recent studies in caricature, minstrelsy, and African‐American popular culture, Soper argues that stereotypes carried meanings that were multilayered, multivalent, and unstable. He researches Irish stereotypes in newspaper and magazine comic strips between 1890 and 1920, revealing six distinctive but often overlapping categories: the “inferior, animalistic, racial type”; the “cultural scapegoat”; “the laughable ethnic fool”; “the clever or wise fool”; the “’useful other’ in the romantic sense”; and “the heroic, subversive trickster” (258). He closely follows three case studies—Frederick Opper’s Happy Hooligan, Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid, and George McManus’s Jiggs—to chronicle a trend towards greater complexity and subversion. He explains this dramatic change by way of three historical developments. First, the format evolved from single-panel gag comics to long‐running multi‐panel series, where character development—and therefore reader identification—were increasingly important; to sustain interest over time, readers needed to sypathize with the characters, not just laugh at them. Second, the shift from local papers to national syndication created an increasingly diverse readership, including more Irish‐Americas, and comics now had to play to a broader middle-ground audience. Third, Irish-American cartoonists themselves eventually found commercial success, sometimes using Irish stereotypes to critique the dominant white culture. In his conclusion, Soper briefly addressses the larger question of whether racist caricatures can ever be fully redeemed. He critiques the “cultural amnesia or naivety” characterizing the unthinking proliferation of racial stereotypes in popular culture; instead, he calls instead for a self‐conscious “revival of playfully ambivalent genres of ethnic comedy” (296).  [272 words]