1. September 2005
Luisiana State University
Electronic Thesis & Dissertation
Dallas Hulsey
The Iconography of Nationalism: Icons, Popular Culture, and American Nationalism
Type of Document - Dissertation Degree - Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department - English
Advisory Committee

Carle Freedman Committee Chair
Alexandre Leupin Committee Member
Elsie B. Michie Committee Member
Rick Moreland Committee Member
William Gouvier Committee Member
Date of Defense 2005-09-01
The Iconography of Nationalism: Icons, Popular Culture, and American Nationalism develops a model of cultural icons, defining icons as highly visible, culturally variable, and overdetermined auratic images. Situating icons within the context of mass reproduction technologies and American nationalism, this study seeks to demystify the simple images presented by infantile, national, and scapegoat icons in literature, film, and political rhetoric. This dissertation argues that icons participate in the American nationalist project by channeling citizens’ political and patriotic feelings through seemingly simple images. While acknowledging that icons are necessary to construct what Benedict Anderson calls “the imagined community” of the nation, this study complicates a quick and easy reading of an icon’s manifest content and uses narrative to reveal the latent content in images like Marilyn Monroe, Barbie, Mickey Mouse, Elvis Presley, Pocahontas, Uncle Sam, Big Brother, and Adolf Hitler.
D Hulsey - 2005 -
1. My analysis here is similar to the theory Althusser outlines in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1969). Althusser argues that ideology calls out to subjects, “hailing” them (124).
2. In 1900 approximately 6,356 book titles were published in the United States alone (Census Historical 808). By 1950, 11,022 titles were published annually, and the number jumped to 119,357 in 1999 (Census Historical 808; Statistical 708). (These figures are titles published in the year given, not the number of books printed in that year.) These statistics by themselves are enough to document the proliferation of texts and images that have accompanied new modes of mechanical and digital reproduction, and this does not even account for periodical publications or the rise of newer mediums like sound recordings, film, television, and digital sources such as the Internet.
3. See Chapter Two for a more extensive definition of icon.
4. In 1988, Gottfried Helnwein paints the same four popular culture icons into Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942). Both of these paintings draw attention to the rewriting of history, claiming that Bogart, Dean, Monroe and Presley are so deeply ingrained in culture that it becomes difficult to imagine an America without them.
5. Warhol uses the same repetition with images of Elvis Presley.
6. In The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno argue along similar lines: [I]f a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely ‘adapted’ for a film
sound-track in the same way as a Tolstoy novel is garbled in a film script: then the
claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more
than hot air. [. . .] there is the agreement – or at least the determination – of all
executive authorities not to produce or sanction anything that in anyway differs
from their own rules, their own ideas about consumers, or above all themselves.
7. There are many additional theorists that have presented analyses of the increasing number of signifiers. For instance, Fredric Jameson argues that postmodernism “ceaselessly reshuffles the fragments of preexistent texts, the building blocks of older cultural and social production, in some new and heightened bricolage: metabooks which cannibalize other books, metatexts which collate bits of other texts”(Postmodernism 96). Jean Francois Lyotard states, “Eclecticism is the degree zero of contemporary general culture: one listens to reggae, watches a western, eats production, and a study of icons necessarily roots through the pulpy pages of comics and the hallowed leaves of critically celebrated novels.

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