Instructor: Angela Allan
Meeting time: Tuesday, 9:45-11:45 am
With the popularity of shows like Inventing Anna and The Dropout, 2022 might be called the year of the scammer. Yet contemporary con artists come from a long lineage of carnival barkers, snake oil salesmen, and self-proclaimed miracle workers. This class examines the conditions of American capitalism and political populism that gave way to a society of schemers and dupes. We will consider how exploitation and self-invention were ultimately bound up in issues of class, race, gender, and religion. How did swindlers create or subvert stereotypes in search of profits? Who were imagined as the most gullible targets for grifters? These narratives of deceit did not simply function as cautionary tales, but also as popular entertainments; scam stories played an important role in defining an authentic national character. Looking at autobiographies, fiction, films, and historical accounts from the eighteenth century to the present, we will explore how these cheats and tricksters captured the American cultural imagination as reviled fraudsters and revered folk heroes.