It's Fun...But It Takes Courage: Remembering Frank Capra's America
Issue #11, January/February 1994
On the cover of a recent Atlantic Monthly (February 1994) is a large block of text hovering over a photograph of a burning plastic globe map. The text reads:
The coming anarchy: nations break up under the tidal flow of refugees from environmental and social disaster. As borders crumble, another type of boundary is erected — a wall of disease. Wars are fought over scarce resources, especially water, and war itself becomes continuous with crime, as armed bands of stateless marauders clash with the private security forces of the elites. A preview of the first decades of the Twenty-First Century.
Such alarming predictions about the future in American periodicals are by now commonplace. We find them in American fictional media as well as the news. In particular, as the Atlantic Monthly cover blurb seems to indicate, these graphically violent prophecies are heavily associated with the breakdown of nationalism and national collectives in the global political arena. 'Marauders' are frightening because they are 'stateless,' that is, without any kind of collective loyalty or discernible purpose behind their actions. While the idea of nationalism is hardly popular these days due to its historical affiliation with fascism and dictatorial regimes, it also appears to be the missing term in many apocalyptic visions of the immediate future on Earth.
What I'd like to suggest here is a way of reconsidering nationalism in America as a possible way out of the 'coming anarchy' predicted in one of America's oldest and most respected publications. Nationalism has been notoriously xenophobic in practice, and yet it has also been undeniably useful for the purposes of consolidating group identities in areas populated by people from a variety of backgrounds. In today's multicultural, economically unstable America, a new kind of nationalist practice — one which is inclusive and pacifistic — might help Americans work together as a united community to reduce the kinds of gross social injustices which will lead to 'wars fought over scarce resources.' What I'm pointing out is the need for a new form of American nationalist ideology which might lead to constructive community action and volunteerism rather than riots and poverty. Moreover, this new nationalism would be associated with 'localism' rather than xenophobia; the American identity would be conceived of as one identity among many other local national identities in a kind of global multiculturalism. This may sound flagrantly Utopian, and I guarantee you that it certainly is. In a time characterized by its intensely dystopian prophecies, it seems to me that some Utopianism is in order.
Every new national ideology must grow out of a national tradition, a story which informs the national collective about its history and moral orientation. The American nation is famous throughout the world for its mass media culture, which originated with 'the flickers' (later: the movies) in Hollywood at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. It is with this culture — so often sneered at by Americans themselves — that I believe one could begin to find a nationalist tradition which is simultaneously diverse and accessible to American citizens from all walks of life. National culture is particularly important when it is historical, that is, when it offers contemporary nationals stories about past national events for pedagogical purposes: in other words, when it allows people to learn from historical mistakes and successes. Contemporary America presently faces an economic crisis characterized by factionalism between social classes. In the following, I offer an example of how studying movies made mostly by Frank Capra during the Depression might address this problem. By aiding in the formation of a new kind of nationalist ideology, these films and others could be used to reconceive American identity as an inclusive category everyone in the United States can share equally.
In Frank Capra's famous 1938 movie You Can't Take it With You, Tony Kirby (James Stewart), the son of a wealthy banker, falls in love with Alice (Jean Arthur), the granddaughter of a free-thinking man who heads a commune of artists and craftspeople. Alice's Grandfather Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) says early on that he believes in no 'isms' but 'Americanism.' He acts on his beliefs by inviting dissatisfied working people to come live in his communal house where they may pursue their hobbies and 'do what they want.' Kirby, whose father has pushed him into pursuing a career as a capitalist in the family business, is seduced and eventually transformed by his relationship with Alice's family — he learns that 'doing what he wants' is far more important than money. Kirby's conversion into a different kind of American begins when he tells Alice that everything he has really wanted to do in his life is 'fun,' but that doing it 'takes courage.' After his confession, he and Alice learn a silly new dance step from a group of children they meet in Central Park.
The scene is a typical one for a Frank Capra film: people learn about fun, happiness, and even zaniness after finding the courage to act seriously on their convictions. In You Can't Take it With You, Kirby ultimately decides to quit banking and pursue his boyhood ambition to unlock the secrets of solar energy by studying what he calls the 'engine' in plants. In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) musters up the strength to defend himself in court so that he will be declared sane enough to distribute millions of dollars to impoverished, homeless farmers; Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) conducts a lengthy filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) to save a piece of land for a boys' camp; and, in It Happened One Night (1934) and The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933), men and women overcome their prejudices and fall in love despite class and racial differences. The characters in these often heavily didactic films are taught over and over that individual acts of courage restore faith and happiness to American — and international — communities. Moreover, Capra's heroes and heroines generally work within already-existing American institutions to attain their humanitarian goals and reform the institutions themselves.
The kind of 'socially conscious' movie we associate with Frank Capra's name does not tend to get made in or outside Hollywood at this point in history. Movies that critics and audiences of the 1990s dub 'socially conscious' do not offer portraits of American communities in the process of coming together; more often than not, American communities in contemporary popular movies are falling apart or are bound together by morally repugnant ideals and practices. For example, the critically-acclaimed A Perfect World (Clint Eastwood, 1993), with its ironically Utopian title, is a kind of morality tale about the shameful results of American social values. Set in the early-60s South, this movie offers us heroes who try to act on their convictions only to find themselves betrayed by their communities and families. Butch (Kevin Costner), the anti-hero, has been emotionally destroyed by the American justice system and his own not-so-ideal father. The one act Butch is capable of performing to help other Americans is allowing himself to be shot and killed. A Perfect World ends on this note, with a long, loving shot of Butch's dead body in red, white and blue (he wears a white t-shirt, blue jeans and his own bloody wound). Joel Shumacher's anti-hero D-Fens in Falling Down (1993) is represented — less sentimentally — in much the same manner: as an American acting upon his convictions, he is dangerously violent and must be shot for the good of his family and community. Even popular 'alternative' movies such as Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992) suggest that American communities are forged in violence and are successful only at extinguishing themselves.
Certainly the kinds of convictions Butch and D-Fens choose to act on in these movies are not congruent with Longfellow Deeds' generosity or Grandfather Vanderhof's romanticism. However, the general structure of Capra's movies matches those of A Perfect World and Falling Down in one important respect. Both Capra's movies and these contemporary counterparts are stories about the efficacy and strength of American national identities. Socially conscious films of both eras celebrate people who act, who 'do what they want,' but the divergence in what these movies believe Americans really want to do marks them out as products of dramatically different American cultures. Capra's Americans are associated with largely functional institutions and communities that require only love, faith, honor and a little bit of humor to remain productive. Many of Capra's movies suggest that to be an American means wanting to act on the democratic principles of egalitarianism and fellowship. Contemporary movies about American identity stipulate that a truly American act is desperate, homicidally violent, and probably caused by the cruel or rude behavior of other Americans who might even deserve to be victimized by their fellow citizens. What was once taken seriously as the 'American Dream' of equality and prosperity for the common people is now a kind of national joke.
Capra's movies may originate in an historical period far from that of contemporary America, but his work is nevertheless still an active part of American culture. Nearly every American citizen will recognize the name 'Frank Capra' and one or more of his movies — especially those he made before World War II during the Depression, a national (and international) economic crisis often said to span the years between 1929 and 1941. Therefore, it is not entirely accurate to claim that Capra movies no longer get made. They are made, if we consider the fact that each new generation of Americans watches or learns about them. Capra movies are not produced by contemporary American culture, but they are still avidly consumed by it; in other words, they are still being made to appear important in American national tradition. Enhanced videocassette versions of It's a Wonderful Life (1946) were produced this past year and treated as 'new' items, although if a filmmaker were to release a movie like it today I am not sure it would sell unless it were marketed as 'cheese.' Additionally, a 'restored' version of Lost Horizon (1937) was released in 1971 and treated as a kind of 'new' Capra film. My point is simply that people are still eager to consume Capra's tales of American identity, but only as traditional culture. It would appear that Americans in the market for contemporary movies about American identity mostly pay money to see their nation self-consciously ridiculed or annihilated for its social conventions and its people.
One reason for the survival of Capra's work in the American marketplace is the existence of a body of American films deemed by academics and critics to be worthy of preservation and study. This body of films is the American film 'canon.' That Capra's movies are considered 'canonical' significantly changes the way people watch and study them. American historian Lawrence Levine writes about the way canonical culture has been treated in America in his Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Harvard, 1988). He writes that at the turn of the century 'cultural leaders' (such as the academics and critics I mentioned above) felt American audiences should consume canonical drama in specific ways if they were to be culturally enlightened. One important effect of 'establishing appropriate means of receiving culture,' Levine notes, was the manner in which Americans were discouraged from taking too much flagrant — meaning vocal — pleasure or displeasure in their public entertainment at music halls or theaters.
In other words, after 'cultural leaders' intervened, texts which had been received one way in the 19th Century were received in quite another — more sedate — way during the early 20th Century. This kind of historical shift in audience response at the behest of cultural authorities is a good example of what occurs when any given text is elevated to the level of a 'canon.' Audiences are taught to respond to canonical texts differently — canonical texts are 'serious,' 'enriching,' and somehow 'removed' from their ordinary, everyday contexts. One does not shout and stamp one's feet at the end of It's a Wonderful Life — one might, however, do a good deal of shouting at the end of Die Hard or Rambo. The canonical movie is set apart from other movies both by cultural authorities and by the audiences who then respond to it as canonical. To consume a Capra movie as canonical culture is to treat it unlike a 'regular' American movie.
What we know of today as the American film canon got its start in academic film studies departments founded during the 1960s and 70s. While select theorists and critics have discussed the meaning of film since the medium's inception, film studies became widely acknowledged as a legitimate academic pursuit only in the last 30 years. In the main, movies have been converted into canonical texts by academics and critics who study them from what might be called a literary perspective. The first major form of film theory was known as 'auteurism,' which simply means the study of film as an expression of what its author (in this case, the director) intends to convey in his or her work. This theory understands films somewhat like novels, about which we are accustomed to asking, 'But what did the author mean here?' Graeme Turner writes in Film as Social Practice (Routledge, 1988) that the 'typical film department to emerge out of the expansion of the 1960s and 1970s is easily characterized: it is American, an offshoot of an English literature department, dominated by a young staff with an auteurist outlook who prefer European films to Hollywood films. On its courses would be a few Hollywood directors: John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock might share the semester with Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, and the European modernists.' In other words, the American film canon was conceived in an atmosphere where American film culture (i.e. Hollywood) was itself scorned.
Like Ford and Hitchcock, Frank Capra is frequently studied as an American film auteur, his works read together as a kind of progressing, maturing series of meditations on social responsibility and American values. What tends to bemuse and even infuriate critics looking to elevate Capra to canonical status is Capra's seeming indifference to his own 'artistic vision' as an auteur. For example, he allowed his highly acclaimed movie Lost Horizon (1937) to be significantly edited for wartime propaganda use. In fact, the original print was lost or destroyed, and only the 'censored' version was available until the early 70s when funding for film studies projects enabled the reconstruction of a director's cut. This kind of project — putting back together the original 'author's vision' — is indicative of the auteurist bent of film studies in America. Capra further distanced himself from an 'auteur' position when he went to work for the War Department during World War II as head of wartime film propaganda. The idea that an artist would allow his personal vision to be sacrificed in order to service the state goes against what film studies might conceive of as 'authorship.' If Capra was producing propaganda for United States soldiers, the logic goes, how could he also be making 'Capra movies'? Implicit in this kind of reasoning is the notion that somehow an individual artist could only be true to himself by making work that would be useless for the purposes of inspiring national pride and collective, patriotic efforts in a time of crisis. Propaganda, in other words, is difficult for film studies experts to fit into the American film canon. Capra's wartime propaganda films, while written about in film history books, are largely forgotten and unknown to the general public.
Another American film auteur, Charlie Chaplin, is an interesting counter-example of how the process of canonization works in film studies. Chaplin was born in England, but his entire film career was conducted in and through United States companies. His early silent films made him an international star, however, which allows his work to be understood in a more European context. During World War II and the Cold War, Chaplin was blacklisted for his purported Communist sympathies and Jewish heritage. In part, this was a result of his refusal to do what Capra had done when he allied himself with the War Department. Instead, Chaplin made The Great Dictator (1940), an idiosyncratic, 'personal' film about the mad dictator of a fictitious country who resembles Adolf Hitler in nearly every way. The film is heavily ironic, although its ending does contain an uncharacteristically sober speech about democracy and freedom for all nations. However, The Great Dictator could hardly be confused with propaganda; the film does not take war or nationalism seriously, and converts both American and other national identities into caricatures or jokes. This is a film which would probably confuse and alienate troops preparing to do battle — it would hardly be useful as a tool to inspire life-risking heroics in the name of America. For all of these reasons, it qualifies as a film studies classic which gets taught in any number of film history classes and even in classes outside film studies as an example of anti-war 'art.'
I have been juggling several related issues here in order to underscore the complicated, ambiguous relationship between American national identity and what American cultural experts have sanctioned as 'canonical' in American film traditions. The canonical film is supposed to be American without being nationalistic. This distinction rests largely on how the film is received by audiences, rather than on the actual content of the film. Like Capra's social consciousness films, John Ford's westerns are notoriously invested in the goodness of traditional American values but have also made it into the American film canon. In fact, other famous American auteurs such as Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Orson Wells, Stanley Kubrik, and contemporary auteurs Oliver Stone and Spike Lee have also dealt extensively with the traditional idea of 'being American.'
How might these films constitute a uniquely American canon without also being labeled nationalist propaganda? What we find in answering this question leads us to a fundamental contradiction in the way film studies experts evaluate canonical American films. To be included in the canon, an American film must be recognizably American, and yet it must also 'transcend' its national context. This schizophrenic position grows in part out of the European influence on American film studies; for if canonical film is evaluated in terms of its 'European-ness,' it becomes difficult to decide which Hollywood films might be canonized. As a result, films included in the American canon are understood as simultaneously 'American' and 'not American.' A propaganda film would not ostensibly exhibit any ambivalence about its national origin, and thus a canonical American film is often identified by an uneasiness about its own 'American-ness.'
I would argue that the idea of auteurism is one way of attempting to resolve this contradiction — as long as an American film is produced by an identifiable person (perhaps a European person) whose body of work generates its own context, the film can be both American and not American at once. It may be produced in America, about America, starring American actors, and shot in Los Angeles, but as long as a single individual's name is attached to it, the movie becomes 'Frank Capra's film,' not 'a Hollywood adventure flick' or 'an American propaganda movie.' At stake in this distinction is also a larger issue involving the way contemporary Americans are trained by cultural experts to understand their own national history and traditions.
Since the popularization of motion pictures as a form of public entertainment, social critics have noted that Americans are increasingly dependent upon the mass media for a sense of self and a sense of community with their fellow citizens. Indeed, it is a common complaint these days that American children learn their history from television and the movies. However, what we learn from critically examining the film canon is that in spite of this complaint, experts have assembled a body of mass media texts intended to represent American culture at its 'best.' Americans, confusingly enough, are told to gain a sense of national identity by simultaneously appreciating but not taking seriously their own national film culture.
Capra's recently reconstructed Lost Horizon is a good example of how canonical films are supposed to 'transcend' their American origins. The movie features Ronald Coleman as Robert Conway, a liberal philosopher who is essentially kidnapped — along with a small plane full of people — by members of a Utopian community called Shangri-La hidden in Tibet. Shangri-La is a small, fertile valley which remains sunny and warm despite its location in the midst of high, snow storm-racked mountains. It is communally run and its inhabitants — most of them native Tibetans — appear happy with their work. Lost Horizon is frequently deemed a bit too philosophical and 'talky,' as film historian Robert Sklar puts it in Movie-Made America (Vintage, 1975), particularly because the almost 200-year-old European founder of Shangri-La gives several speeches about the way he built his Utopian community. His comments are mystical and oftentimes sound quite socialistic — among other aspects of 'the world' which he condemns are private property and wars among nations. A key turning point in the narrative involves the gradual conversion of the group who were kidnapped into members of the community — in this way, the movie resembles You Can't Take It With You. At first, they all wish to return to 'the world,' but ultimately it is only Coleman's character who journeys back. He spends the rest of the movie trying to convince people he has seen a truly Utopian state, and failing, he tries to find Shangri-La again. The movie ends with him disappearing into the Tibetan snow storms; his colleagues hope aloud that he finds 'his Shangri-La.'
Made during some of the worst years of the Depression, Lost Horizon is a fable about America which does not mention the nation itself. Most of its main characters are British, and of course the movie ostensibly deals with a Tibetan community run by a 200-year-old European. But Shangri-La is unmistakably a fantasy version of America, and its ancient patriarch a figure for 'the founding fathers' who explains the philosophies which influenced early United States politics. Shangri-La, its patriarch explains, was created when he came to the valley and 'trained' the natives to work together within his system. This echoes many aspects of American history, among them the idealized — and largely fictional — relationship between European-Americans and Native American or African-American workers. Shangri-La is also isolated and isolationist in orientation, another key element of American national ideology until World War I. Because Lost Horizon is a Depression Era movie, it is clear why Shangri-La is 'lost' and exists for most of the movie only as a story Coleman's character tells his disbelieving peers. Like many of Capra's more 'realistic' movies of the 1930s, Lost Horizon suggests that the American ideals of freedom, opportunity and equal justice for all people have been only temporarily misplaced. To be regained, they require only a strong, active leader and a close-knit, pacifist community. This kind of narrative is in many ways a suggestion about how United States citizens ought to respond to the Depression itself with collective action rather than individualistic self-indulgence or bitterness and escapism.
In spite of its 'non American' story, Capra had no problem converting Lost Horizon into a wartime propaganda film. It is precisely this kind of easy conversion from canonical text to propaganda that an auteurist perspective tries to cover over. Propaganda narratives are not generally associated with any particular individual's artistic efforts; they are often anonymous products of state agencies. Unlike canonical culture, propaganda culture performs a necessary function in a specific historical situation such as a war or an election. In some ways, propaganda is political and cultural advertising — during the Depression, for example, the government used posters and billboards to encourage people to 'buy American' and help their country get itself out of economic crisis. Arguably, however, Capra's Depression movies were also propagandistic: they offered Americans an advertisement — a myth — about the way their country might fix itself if they worked together and held onto their traditions. The auteurist perspective attempts to deny the way movies are historical and collective productions. Hollywood movies are made possible by vast, populous bureaucracies much in the way propaganda is. Capra did not make 'his films' all by himself; he had perhaps hundreds of technicians, office workers, producers, and actors helping him. Moreover, he did not make his movies for himself. He made them for a nation which desperately needed a hopeful sense of their collective future.
But somehow remembering the collective aspect of filmmaking, and its historical utility as propaganda, 'degrades' it and disqualifies it as canonical culture. Therefore the American film canon might teach future generations that 'great' American movies were made by single individuals who rose above the category of 'American.' These films would not then be products and examples of American collective work and fantasy, but 'one man's dream.' Finally, the usefulness of these film narratives, once 'washed clean' of their historical context, is lost. Certainly Capra's style and tone are important, but if viewers are taught to ignore that many of his films are also intended to address a particular nation experiencing a dire economic crisis, they are not valuable as American culture or as traditional culture. Indeed, it is not the mass media which causes contemporary Americans to know little of their history or national identities — it is rather the way cultural authorities have preserved and reproduced mass media culture for contemporary consumption as 'canonical.'
One of the possibly Utopian functions of the American film canon — or any kind of canon for that matter — is the way it serves to unite, through narrative, a particular collective of people during a long stretch of history. The canon is nationalistic, and it is propaganda, particularly because American movies represented and continue to represent a fictionalized version of America to American citizens. They are not always a record of historical facts, but rather historical ideologies, stories Americans share with each other about their own collective national identity. As the patriarch of Shangri-La tells us, a united state begins with a philosophy — an ideology — upon which to base its structure and community actions. Later, it is held together by recounting the history of its philosophy as well as the history of its deeds. I would argue that it is for these reasons the American film canon is worth studying — as an historical document and as propaganda.
In their own time, Capra's films were not just great art and entertainment, they were useful ideology for America. They demonstrated that although Utopia and healthy community appeared to be lost, they might be found again among 'common people' who were 'decent.' While such a story might not help to feed anyone, it offers constructive solutions to large-scale problems and serves, like advertising or propaganda, to influence peoples' decision-making processes. To offer another historical example: one might argue that Hitchcock's canonical films, so famous for their 'mood' and ahistorical 'symbolism,' performed a specific function during the 1950s and 60s: they encouraged audiences to question prevailing definitions of 'normalcy' and authority during a time when doing so was as difficult as having hope during the Depression. I would suggest that the interests of America and its film canon would be better served if Americans learned about both from the perspective of historical conditions rather than unique individuals.
American cultural critics from widely divergent political backgrounds agree that, in the words of Arthur Schlessinger, America is 'disunited.' There is no sense of national identity, and especially no sense that every American citizen might share something with his or her fellow nationals. The United States confronts an economic situation in many ways as dire as the Depression. Violent confrontations between various social classes are a constant threat, and national social programs require extensive restructuring. It is no wonder that several recent films about American identity involve suicide and murder. Times such as this one, I would argue, require a canonical tradition to help people collectively remember that Americans have faced such conditions before and survived.
In 1939, the Partisan Review asked several writers a famous question about America: 'Are you conscious, in your own writing, of the existence of a 'usable past'? Is this mostly American?' One writer in particular, James Agee, responded passionately that 'both present and past are essentially irrelevant to the whole manner of 'use'.' Agee includes the question and his response in his celebrated chronicle of Depression life, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (with photographs by Walker Evans, Houghton-Mifflin, 1941). His book is poetic and literary; it converts the suffering of two impoverished farming families into an aesthetic meditation. But Agee includes social commentary and non-fictional information on the harsh, unjust conditions faced by 'common people' as a result of their position as tenant farmers. His work is considered both 'literary' and 'sociological' — most often, I have seen it for sale as a history or sociology textbook. While Agee does not believe the past is relevant to 'use,' his own work is used to represent and remember the American past. It is for this kind of use that I would recommend the 'great works' of American film auteurs. Like Agee's work, their work may be fantastical and aesthetic, but included in it is also an historical lesson about the consequences of collective national actions over time.
The film canon itself is a collective national fantasy, invented during the past few decades, intended to tell a story about recent American history. But the story it tells, about individual auteurs and 'non-American' American narratives, is not useful. It will hardly bring Americans together to face national crisis. Nor will it educate Americans about how previous national crises were solved satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily. Indeed, it is possible that without the kind of historical sensibility a truly useful American film canon would provide, Americans will make the same mistakes they made in the past by going to war, or excluding particular groups from receiving government relief, or continuing to believe in the efficacy of capitalism as a stable economic system. Moreover, as long as canonical culture remains removed from its own everyday context as historical product it will continue to be the purview of elite consumers rather than the general American public. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town's Longfellow Deeds, an author of poetry for greeting cards, exemplifies the sensibility I am recommending toward canonical culture. Punching a snooty poet in the face after he makes condescending remarks about Deeds' popular work, Deeds exclaims angrily, 'The people like my poetry!' His poetry is the stuff of propaganda and nationalism: it is enjoyed by everyone, not just a few cultural experts on the 'literary' canon.
If we wish to find it, we can find seeds of a new Utopian nationalism in certain contemporary American movies which suggest that the American future must be built on a sense of shared commitment and community. Making material resources available to everyone in a world united by pacifistic international policy-making is one goal recommended to audiences of the recent Fried Green Tomatoes (Jon Avnet, 1991) and Terminator 2 (James Cameron, 1991). Fried Green Tomatoes tells the story of a woman living in the 1980s who learns to help herself and others after hearing the story of a small town which survived the Depression through community work and shared resources. Here we find a story of how recalling national history might rekindle hope in contemporary Americans. Moreover, the movie celebrates multicultural community and aid to the poor in its depiction of two Depression Era women who run a cafe which serves community citizens of all races and class backgrounds equally. Terminator 2, an arguably more violent film, nevertheless recommends reconceiving of the American future by destroying dangerous elements of its military-industrial complex. In this movie, a machine from America's future returns to the present day in order to avert the kind of dystopian disaster scenario predicted in the quote from Atlantic Monthly with which I began this article. Both films offer audiences a way of understanding the past as useful to the future, and both films offer Americans a constructive, hopeful way of imagining their future as a national collective. And, of course, both movies are fun.
Annalee Newitz is a graduate student in English at UC-Berkeley currently writing her dissertation on monsters and psychopaths in contemporary American popular culture. She is also Senior Editor of Bad Subjects.