Project MUSE – Popular Culture Icons In Contemporary American Drama (review)

In this intelligent and well-written book, Konstantinos Blatanis interrogates the area of what he calls “popular culture icons” in several modern American dramatic fiction. The term icon within the title is somewhat misleading, because the phenomena that Blatanis investigates range between cartoon characters, to musical styles, even to geographical referents (“the west”). Even for Blatanis himself, the investigation seems a little hard to define. 10). Yet in the long run, that is clearly a positive thing: the book’s strengths are based on the eclecticism of its breadth and scope of inquiry. The entire set of playwrights addressed in the analysis is too much time to create here, however, many of these who have the most prominent treatment include Arthur Kopit, Sam Shepard, Jean Claude Van Itallie, Lanford Wilson, Terrence McNally, David Rabe, Thomas Babe, Michael McClure, Adrienne Kennedy, Marsha Norman, and Len Jenkin. Familiar texts from these writers form the core of a lot of Blatanis’ argument (The Tooth of Crime, True West, A CELEB MUST Star in Monochrome, TV, to mention several), however, many other, less commonly cited (or produced) works also figure prominently, including Normans’ The Holdup, McNally’s Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone?

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Guare’s Kissing Sweet. Within these along with other texts, the complications of this parodic and persistently ironic nature of popular cultural reference are relentlessly hunted down. The book proceeds primarily by way of a group of close readings of several different plays. The chapters are organized by kind of influence, instead of by any systematic grouping of playwrights, thus the subjects become “Hollywood and Rock Mythologies,” “Television,” “Pulp Fiction Iconography,” and “Images in the West.” Each one of these general areas is introduced with a couple of theoretical frames drawn primarily in the post-Frankfurt school postmodern lexicon that will critique popular culture as simultaneously pernicious and playful. Blatanis effectively calls focus on the constant play of any “insider/outsider” dichotomy regarding popular culture generally, and interrogates the amount to that your playwrights involved work as external critics or hip accomplices within their usage of popular iconography. He convincingly concludes that both things are true, not for the reason that such perspectives are used serially as time passes, but rather for the reason that contemporary playwrights essentially “own it both ways” from the force of these artistic deployment of iconographic figures, landscapes, tropes, and language itself.

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This book insists during that a high-low split is inappropriate towards the discussion, and specifically how the playwrights he investigates usually do not conceive of the favorite imagery and milieu as below the amount of their “art.” Rather, he shows that these artists move beyond such binary conceptions and right into a group of idiosyncratic and important personal explorations of the area of play our cultural self-understanding by way of a delicate, “dialectical rapport” (172). As suggested above, Blatanis carefully demonstrates the way the playwrights are “in a position to speak to their very own culture from ‘within,’ but without having to be consumed because of it” (22). Yet he does allow that, for most of the playwrights, “the theatre images they write in-may work as openings and fractures within the contemporary cultural horizon” (22). This isn’t a new trope inside the postmodern vocabulary of resistance, and the theory that “fractures” move us toward a larger knowledge of cultural phenomena certainly comes with an established critical-theory pedigree.

But exactly which forms of fractures or openings occur here’s not necessarily clear. Sam Shepard is the most commonly cited playwright within the analysis. That this is indeed attests to the theory that Shepard’s dramas may present us with this most challenging test cases of “the area of the favorite” in theatrical art. Blatanis reads Shepard as he reads several playwrights, that’s, being an artist immersed in popular culture however, not specifically above it, who nonetheless somehow uses the favorite to create a thing that is inevitably apart from, and probably a lot more than, popular. In Shepard’s case, the question of how popular images are wielded is definitely a contentious site, not insignificantly inside the realm of feminist criticism that way back when called the writing to task for (perhaps) merely “playing the myths” of macho American identity, instead of somehow participating in critical analysis of these myths. Blatanis for his part will not directly engage such questions (that are not confined to feminist inquiry, but additionally relate with questions of material culture generally, along with other “political” arenas).