Instructor: Angela Allan
Meeting time: Thursday, 9:45-11:45 am
Midcentury America saw the explosion of a genre on the page and screen—the hardboiled crime novel and the film noir. Noir represented a foil to postwar optimism: its protagonists were cynics and loners. Filled with lurid crimes and deeds, noir suggested a dark underbelly to American society and its promises of domestic fulfillment, economic stability, and institutional support. Husbands and wives plotted each other’s murders; the city streets beckoned with sin; and the police were no match for the private detective. Yet even while these stories foregrounded alienation, they had a mass cultural appeal to American audiences. This class will examine noir not only as an aesthetic—brutality disguised in beauty—but also as a social commentary on American life in the 1940s and 50s. How did cultural conceptions of the tough guy and femme fatale reflect or shape the gender and sexual politics of the era? How did noir speak to anxieties surrounding race, ethnicity, and social class? And how did America’s anti-heroes reflect a changing conception of nationhood and citizenship in the atomic age? By looking at cultural works like films, novels, and true crime pieces in the context of postwar psychology and sociology, we will consider what audiences’ fascination with violence, murder, and deceit revealed about the American identity.