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“Uniquely American Symptoms”: Cold War American Horror Films as Repositories of White Nationalist Affect

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My dissertation, titled “‘Uniquely American Symptoms’: Cold War American Horror Films as Repositories of White Nationalist Affect,” turns to the Cold War period to consider the violent contours of American imperialist policy and how, in its aim to reframe and re-center the project of whiteness, formulated ostensibly anti-racist modes of governance that have obscured its imperialist, white supremacist, and settler colonialist motives. In other words, whiteness, one of the destructive forces propelling the exploitation and eradication of racialized and gendered subjects, cemented its power during this period through the structural concealment of its violences. I trace a genealogy of Cold War whiteness through the American horror cinematic tradition and identify the covert rhetorical, representational, and affective strategies that upheld whiteness in the postwar era. Through the study of five films from each decade of the Cold War (1950s - 1980s/early 90s) -- A Bucket of Blood (1959), Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Last House on the Left (1972), Flowers in the Attic (1987), and The People Under the Stairs (1991) -- I argue that Cold War American horror films act as repositories of white nationalist affect and contain these historicized and cinematic formations of whiteness. As films that explore the anxieties tied to newly emergent geographies of postwar whiteness, the haunted guilt of white plantation womanhood, tortured domestic white bodies in face of the Vietnam War, and the terror in investing in white carceral suburban space, they each identify distinct modalities of white nationalist affect during the Cold War. In other words, American Cold War horror films are a site that have captured the fleeting and obscured moments of white fear, horror, and terror that continue to live on in our cultural imaginary and impact how we understand structures of power in their current form.

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This item is under embargo until December 12, 2024.