Surveilling America on Screen: Discourses on the Nostalgic Lens

Call for Papers

Building on the work of our previous three collections, this call for papers seeks to investigate
the role of nostalgia on screen from within the context of contemporary American culture and

In the current global era, media technologies present and represent the climactic catastrophes,
social and cultural happenings, policies and politics of the US, consciously or subconsciously
buttressing notions of what and how the US is seen. From the vantage point of Europe, the US
appears a homogenous monolith. In the glare of worldwide information, the dominant global
discourse of the US remains one of ‘exceptionalism’- a self-indulgent espousal of the freedom of
its citizens above all else, a view which overlooks the social crises and moral affray inherent in
the soul of the nation. Our previous collection Surveillance, Race, Culture (2018) attempted to
interrogate some of the notions of the US in light of the lived realities of its citizens, in
particular, the troubled concept of race.

Looking carefully toward, or ‘surveilling’ the US, American Studies, as a field of enquiry, has long
been informed by an ‘Old World’ view of the US. The US has been inseparable from its
beginnings and continues to be assessed in terms of its lofty constitutional goals. But closer
examination yields some delicate and disparate threads of reality. Many of the ideas of what it
means to be American are entwined with old and defunct notions of what the average American
life is like. Many of the ideals of American life, though celebrated and venerated by current
political leaders, are unrealistic or impossible for the vast majority. Yet national discourse seems
incapable of abandoning such goals, caught in what Frederic Jameson termed the “irrepressible
historical impulse”.

As our previous collection has evidenced, the dichotomy of ‘them’ and ‘us’ is at once inherent
and elusive in contemporary culture and society. Such fears of change and of outsiders can be
seen or felt, either overtly or subliminally in popular screen culture, from Invasion of the Body
Snatchers (1956) and It Came from Outer Space (1953) to Get Out (2017) and A Quiet Place (2018). In
television, shows such as Stranger Things, Dark and The OA remind us of the persistent nature,
not only of postwar rhetoric, but also of the contemporary interest in nostalgia evidence in visual
American culture.

Stemming from the Cold War, notions of American nostalgia (often envisioned via white picket
fences and familial togetherness) have continued to shape core values related to power and
order, and at present, are frequently shored up in contemporary visual culture. Like US history
itself, the constant reconstruction and reference to origins, frontiers and ‘greatness’ appear both
harnessed and critiqued from within contemporary film and television narratives under the guise
of the nostalgic lens.

This collection seeks to excavate multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary iterations of nostalgia
which are either explicit or implicit within contemporary visual culture. By examining the hyperpresence
of nostalgia alongside the ideation of US value systems, practices and policies, this
collection aims to explore and interrogate contemporary American ideology as it is created and
sustained by the lens and screen. This collection aims, via the nostalgic lens to critique past,
current and contemporary American culture and politics, and the im/possibility of making
“America great again”.

Topics might include, but are not restricted to, the following:
• How does nostalgia inform global readings of the US?
• In what ways does the contemporary screen iterations of nostalgia ally with
contemporary political phenomena?
• Representations of American political influence on screen culture
• US screen fictions and the postmodern
• The implications of portraying the (idyllic) past onscreen today
• The role of the community through the lens (and the inherent complications of such
viewing and screening)
• The portrayal of the nostalgic family as ‘American’ via visual culture and its relationship
to contemporary American culture
• Narratives of displacement and marginality from within nostalgia inflected visual culture
• Gendered nostalgia and its complication from within a contemporary setting (with
reference to current gendered movements such as #MeToo)
• Queered nostalgia and the rewriting of sexuality on screen from within a nostalgic lens
• The broader use of the ‘lens’ by which to view historical and current US politics policy

Abstracts of 300-500 words, along with a brief bio of no more than 150 words should be sent to
Dr Susan Flynn, University of the Arts London, and Dr Antonia Mackay
Oxford Brookes University, by 31st January 2019.