CALL FOR PROPOSALS
Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS)
19-23 March 2014
Seattle, Washington, USA
Panel: "Film Stardom and Political Leadership: Interwar Convergences"
Between the two world wars, Hollywood and Washington partnered with each another to regulate and institutionalize forms of public coexistence and mutual benefit. Before and beyond the polarizations of “Hollywood Left” vs. “Hollywood Right” and the emergence of “mogul politics” (i.e., L.B. Mayer), these partnerships included the film industry’s contribution to President Wilson’s Committee for Public Information (CPI), the agreements leading up to the formation of the Production Code Administration, and the production of pro-Government newsreels and documentaries (i.e., the Why We Fight series) in support of the U.S. effort during WWII.
The established narrative that opposes Hollywood scandals vs. the Hays’ office tells an important, but partial history made of personal confrontations, institutional regulations, and, sometimes, collaborations. What are left out are other, significant convergences emerged after WWI on the basis of a shared pressing need: the management of ever-increasing “crowds” capable of accessing film theaters, consumer goods, and voting booths. The “selling of the Great War” and of Hollywood films at home and abroad educated Government officials, film studios, and public relations specialists on both coasts about the remarkable political import of charismatic male personalities and film stars. What ensued was a striking convergence of ideals about men’s self-determining personalities and authoritative leadership prevailing over mass conformism, traditional preoccupation with questions of moral character, and the challenges of modern life—including women’s rights and labor strife.
These highly gendered ideals became key fixtures of political campaigns and film publicity, with the result that political figures were made to exude celebrity-like charisma while film stars were asked to be king masters of public opinion and even social change. In these cultural convergences the role of studio publicity (not yet of agents), emerging new tenets in political and economic theory about leadership and sovereignty, and such foreign examples as Fascism were critical to the development of an apparently unAmerican realization—the perception of the inadequacy of liberal democracy against the challenges of modern social, political and commercial life.
At a time when ideas about dictatorship were preferable to the chaos of “mobocracy,” Hollywood and Washington converged toward the manufacturing of public characters capable of effectively managing public opinion. Film celebrities emerged, on and off-screen, as imaginative authorities and, for the most part, leading men (i.e., sheiks, barons, Zorros, industry captains) capable of turning threatening crowds into well-managed consuming patrons. Similarly, politicians emerged as iconic leaders capable of turning new and old enfranchised citizens into identifiable targets of political campaigns.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
- press coverage of film stars as “leading men,” on- and off-screen
- male stardom and the 19th Amendment
- relationships between film studios and the popular and political press
- relationships between film stars and US politicians and businessmen
- press coverage of politicians and businessmen as “personalities”
- Hollywood and the Committee for Public Information (CPI)
- the relationship of banking and financial institutions (i.e., Bank of America and Security First National Bank) with Hollywood’s production and management system
- the role of the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry in the development of public relations strategies
- Hollywood and political campaigns in the 1920s/1930s
- FBI surveillance of film stars (1918-1939)
- W. R. Hearst, publicity, and celebrity culture
Please send a 300-word abstract, a bibliography and a short bio by August 12th to Giorgio Bertellini ([log in to unmask]). Notifications about acceptance or rejection of proposal will be sent by August 15th (the deadline for conference proposals is August 30th).
Giorgio Bertellini, Associate Professor
Screen Arts and Cultures
Romance Languages and Literatures
University of Michigan
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