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Skidmore College
American Studies Department

Topic Proposals 2018

Liv Fidler: Her Body, a Spectacle: Female Comedians and Body Politics

Through detailed case studies of two contemporary, “transgressive” yet mainstream comedians–Margaret Cho and Amy Schumer–I discuss the notion of spectacle and self-deprecatory humor around the concept of the “undesirable” female body. I ask fundamental questions about body politics, including: Are these comedians performing comedy that is empowering or detrimental to their audiences and if it is empowering, how are they tangibly inspiring change? How do these comediennes’ intentions for their humor line up with what fans glean from the same material? Are they forced to submit to self-deprecation about their bodies due to our critical, conforming eyes as American audience members? I attempt to show how these comics’ words about the body affect their audiences and to demonstrate how humor can be used to alter social dynamics.  

Grace Florsheim: “Somebody Brought You”: The Need for Immigration Reform in the United States

During President Trump’s administration, United States immigration policy and the border with Mexico have become highly relevant topics, especially after this past summer’s public separation of migrant families. While these public separations have drawn necessary attention to immediate challenges faced by the nation, it is important to recognize that these issues are long-standing. In my paper, I analyze the history of immigration policy in the United States with specific reference to the Mexican border and demonstrate how policy decisions in the southwestern United States affect distant places such as upstate New York and the undocumented Mexican immigrants who work at places like the track in Saratoga. I bring attention to the human rights violations associated with U.S. immigration policies, and I argue that the term “illegal” immigrant is a misnomer, and needs to be latered before meaningful change can occur.

Grace Heath: Identity Erasure: Native American Boarding School Practices and Their Long-Term Effects

My thesis focuses on the lasting impact of the trauma Native American children experienced at boarding schools in the late 18th and early 19th century. I look specifically at how restrictions that these children faced with regard to speaking their own native languages impacted their identity development as well as the development of subsequent generations. I address questions such as: "How does the loss of language impact one's identity" and how does this struggle with identity impact one's mental health? I examine multiple documentaries, oral narratives, and written testimonials in an effort to bring multi-perspectival approaches to bear on these questions.

Gill Hurtig: "Makes You Kind of Proud to be an American, Doesn't it?": Investigating New Yorker Cartoons Then... and Especially Now

In my paper I look at the history of The New Yorker’s cartoon. While the physical format has changed some, the tone of the content has not changed very much. This tone was described by Rebecca Mead, New Yorker contributor, as, “commenting on the small-scale comedy of manners of everyday life.” My paper is largely about the political implications of these cartoons throughout time, and Mead’s comment infers that large, political movements were often ignored by New Yorker cartoonists whose work was geared more toward everyday human experience independent of the political realm. However, through the nineties and moving into the present, this has changed. I argue that New Yorker cartoons over the past twenty have become more politicized. The choice to move more openly toward the political has altered the format and the visual messages of such cartoons. I study the “political preposterousness” associated with recent cartoons, including those depicting the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal, President Bush’s “war on terror” rhetoric, and most recently Donald Trump.

Zoe Islar: “Ain't Nuthin' But a She Thing”: An Analysis of Black Feminism within Rap Music

My senior paper studies the relationship between the most recent three waves of Black feminism and Hip-Hop music. Over the course of the last five decades, the definitions of Black feminism have been modified with each female empowerment movement. The impact of these movements can be seen through the Hip-Hop industry, where woman have struggled to advance their music despite numerous gender obstacles. Using Black feminist theory, I analyze the extent to which female rappers align with the waves of Black feminism, and I ask if female rap artists are inspired by previous waves or whether they are on the leading edge of new waves. With each rapper, I contextualize their lyrics, lyrical intention, and I analyze their critical and public reception. At the end of my paper I propose a fourth wave of Black feminism that directly correlates to several social and political movements that have occurred during the last five years.

Christopher Isaacson: Pranking the Pranksters: The Ethics of Practical Joking

Almost every major television network currently has or has hosted a prank show. While most major prime time shows are scripted, prank shows rely mostly on improvisation as they actively disrupt their participants. For many of these participants there is no casting call or audition, there is just a consent form that one is asked to sign after the fact sometimes with a check attached. This raises the following questions: Can pranking as a practice be pursued ethically? Where is the line and is it okay to cross it? What are the political and cultural consequences of pranking as a practice? This paper presents three different case studies of television prank shows—Impractical Jokers, Nathan Like You and Who is America--to analyze their ethical stances and transgressions. In the conclusion to my paper I present a set of ethical guidelines for future prank shows to follow.

Sofia Jofre, “The Influence of Conspiracy Theories & the Dangers of the Conspiratorial Mind”

In this paper, I explore the impact of conspiracy theories on popular culture with special attention to how conspiratorial thinking influences attitudes toward government. I primarily focus on conspiracy theories related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as popularized in the Oliver Stone movie JFK. This relationship deserves examination because popular culture strongly influences Americans—in their consumption habits, their political opinions, and their national views. I discuss the history of conspiracy theories in American society, the normalization of conspiracy culture, and “the conspiracy-effect” popular culture depicting conspiracy theories, asking why the Kennedy assassination remains such an important part of the collective American imagination.

Yelli Lewin, “Dorothea Lange’s ‘Impounded’ Photographic Documentation of Japanese Internment Camps”

For my seminar paper, I examine how photographs have shaped and affected our perception of American memory. Specifically, I focus on Dorothea Lange’s photographs of Japanese Internment Camps. I consider why these photographs were censored throughout the duration of the war and who authorized their being deposited in the national archives, only to be seen by the public sixty-four years later. Questions I ask of this series include: What can one learn through Lange’s photography about Japanese-Americans who were forced into internment camps? What was Lange’s vision when documenting the evacuation and removal of Japanese-Americans to internment camps? How did Lange’s past help inform the images she took of the Japanese-American internment camps? Although the photographs are seemingly non-controversial, they revealed a power to challenge the notions of what was occurring during this time, which ultimately made the government nervous enough to censor the photographs and physically write “impounded” on many of the prints. These images portray the dignity of people through an oppressive situation, document the institutionalized imprisonment of a targeted race, and showcase an American-ness that challenged the notion of ‘othering’ the Japanese.

Sydney Nathan: Is it Really “Stupid Watergate”? : A Case Study Analysis of Richard Nixon’s Attempted Use and Donald Trump’s Potential Use of Executive Privilege

My seminar paper is a case study analysis of Richard Nixon’s use, and Donald Trump’s potential use, of executive privilege. I focus on Nixon’s use of executive privilege during the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, and Trump’s potential use of executive privilege associated with questions regarding whether he will testify before Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as well as potentially blocking Mueller’s report from being released to the public about his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 election. I conclude my paper by proposing my own model of executive privilege for future Presidents to follow. I argue that the differences in the cases outweigh the similarities. While both events are incidents that are the first of their kind in American history, they are different in significant ways. The Watergate scandal concerned only citizens of the United States, whereas the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia is a much larger international political scandal. Also, the rhetoric Nixon and Trump have used when dealing with the situations is extremely different, as is the role of the media in each. Furthermore, the media initially did not follow the Watergate investigation closely, whereas the Russia investigation has been reported in-depth since it was first disclosed.

Aliza Sabin, Kim Kardashian, Superstar: Race, Sex, and Power in the Kardashian Era

In this paper, I explore the captivating complexities behind Kim Kardashian’s seemingly superficial life. What makes Kim so simultaneously scary and alluring? I claim that her influence and domination over our culture has much to do with the intersections between weightier topics of race, sex, power and money–all bolstered by her so-called singular talent of “self promotion.” She has disrupted and redefined the ways in which celebrities interact with their audiences and has singlehandedly reshaped popular culture over the last decade. And, although she is constantly dubbed as shallow, Kim has broken barriers across high fashion, business, television and even politics. I ask: How has Kim redefined fame over the past decade? How has she maintained her power over the past decade? And how has she influenced our culture over the past decade? My intention is not to paint a portrait of Kim but to focus on the exact ways in which she maintains her fame through self-promotion and self-capitalization, and what we can learn about ourselves and culture through our fixations and reactions to her.

Charlotte Simon: The Real “Amazon Effect”

Behind its free, two-day shipping and smiling arrow logo, Amazon has discreetly positioned itself at the center of Americans’ daily lives; it has a stake in multiple American industries—from retail, grocery, and Internet of Things to publishing, cloud computing, film, and, most recently, pharmacy—and captures almost half of every U.S. dollar spent online. At the same time, its concentrated market power endangers competition, democracy, and society, fueling needless consumerism, exploiting workers, and evading antitrust regulation. My paper assesses Amazon and its effects on America’s economy, business landscape, politics, and society at large. Specifically, it examines the newfound phenomenon called the Amazon Effect, scrutinizes how the company gained its overwhelming market share, evaluates the influence the company has had on the American retail industry, describes the controversies that have come to define the company, and analyzes the opposing opinions of the behemoth—from its advocates and critics to consumers and employees. By incorporating comparative and ethnographic methodologies, as well as historical and popular scholarship, my paper presents Amazon as an indisputable disruptor and seeks to answer if it is ether a disruptive monopoly or a disruptive modernizer. While Amazon has both monopolized and modernized American commerce, consumption, and culture, I argue that the company’s bark is ultimately worse than its bite.