Jenkins, Eric Scott
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In the early to middle 20th century, the terms comprising the American dream shifted from the earlier Horatio Alger template frequently represented by Henry Ford. Rather than emphasizing hard work, the Disney version insists that all one needs is a dream. The Disney version is told through a constellation of metaphors including dream, fantasy, art, genius, children, wonder, magic, and illusion, interestingly the same terms through which debates over consumerism were waged. Indeed, this same period witnessed the spread of modern consumerism, featuring a cyclical and insatiable desire to consume. Both the forms and understanding of modern consumerism were translated to fit the conditions of consumer capitalism. This dissertation seeks to explain this shift, asking how the Disney version and modern consumerism were constituted. Developing one interpretation of McLuhan’s axiom “the medium is the message,” I argue that cinema and animation translated the American dream and modern consumerism. Critiquing explanations locating the origin of constitution in speakers, audiences, texts, or exigencies, I contend that the media of cinema and animation create “messages” through which the Disney version makes sense. These “messages” are modes, the historical, contingent ways of communicating that emerge from the new –abilities enabled by animation and cinema. Modes are a perceiving as, ways of perceiving one thing through the frame of another, guiding the construction and reception of mediated texts. Modes are the origin of “messages” translated into cultural practice, shaping the Disney version and modern consumerism. The dissertation details the modes of cinema and Disney animation. The cinematic mode perceives material reality as an imaginary narrative, operating through an economy of projection and recording. Animistic mimesis perceives inanimate drawings as full of life, operating through an economy of semblance and play. These modes articulate to the Disney version and structure the habitus in ways conducive to modern consumerism. The cinematic mode encourages a form of daydreaming by creating camera-subjects seeking to manage their images to fit in or stand out. Furthermore, animistic mimesis provides training in commodity fetishism. By teaching audiences in how to see life in objects, animistic mimesis encourages the spread of modern consumerism.