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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Dangerous Men, Dangerous Media: Constructing Ethnicity, Race, and Media's Impact Through the Gangster Image, 1959–2007
by Kenna, Laura Cook, Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2007, 370; 3289118
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation historicizes gangster images and their reception, examining a wide range of media including The Untouchables television series; Frank Sinatra's stage persona; The Godfather and its Blaxploitation cousin, The Black Godfather; gangster rap; and The Sopranos. As well as media content, I examine protests against the gangster (waged by Italian- and African-American groups and by media watchdogs) as well as popular and scholarly efforts to interpret the gangster's meaning. Further, I analyze the popular understanding of the media in which the gangster appeared (e.g., anxieties over television's behavioral effects or estimations of rap's "realness").

My study makes two main arguments about media and identity and medium and meaning. I argue that gangster images operated as site and stake in the cultural construction of the Italian- or African-American identities they represented. Rather than survey gangster images for generic deviation or ideological consistency, I research how they incited struggles over the meaning of ethnic or racial difference in America. My work relies on archival research in fraternal organization records, Italian- and African-American media outlets, popular press, and Congressional hearings to chart how the circulation of gangster images provoked discussions about and (re)articulations of national identity, masculinity, otherness, and the impact of media upon society. Second, I argue that the popular constructions of different mediums deeply affected the interpretation of gangster images even as those constructions were shaped by other meanings attributed to "the gangster." As a perennially popular image of masculinist, violent, capitalist advance that also mapped that ethos onto ethnically or racially distinct men, the gangster image served as fodder and forum for revisiting fears of media's impact ranging from stereotyping to the emulation of criminal behavior. Gangster images, however, also have been widely acclaimed as "authentic" expressions of culturally distinct identities—from 1970s ethnic auteurs to 1990s rappers. These competing constructions of media forms informed the interpretation of gangster images and influenced the outcomes of boycotts, government hearings, and other strategies for (en)countering the gangster. Thus, my two-fold argument suggests that Americans' understandings of media and of ethnic and racial difference have co-informed one another in the post-WWII period.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: McAlister, Melani, Guglielmo, Thomas A.
Commitee: Heap, Chad, Miller, James A.
School: The George Washington University
Department: American Studies
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 68/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Black studies, American history, Ethnic studies, Mass communications, Film studies, Gender studies, Sociology
Keywords: African Americans, Ethnicity, Film and television, Gangster rap, Italian-Americans, Las Vegas, Media, Media protests, Race, Rap music, Blaxploitation, Sinatra, Frank, The Godfather, The Black Godfather, The Sopranos, Gangsters
Publication Number: 3289118
ISBN: 978-0-549-32685-4
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