UTRECHT UNIVERSITY MOVING BEYOND DYSTOPIA SOCIAL CRITICISM AND THE USE

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UTRECHT UNIVERSITY MOVING BEYOND DYSTOPIA SOCIAL CRITICISM AND THE USE OF STEREOTYPES AND ANTI-STEREOTYPES IN ANGELS IN AMERICA Karen J. Niekerk 0045616 Doctoraal Scriptie Engelse Taal & Cultuur Specialisatie Amerikanistiek 1 st Reader: Derek Rubin 2 nd Reader: Paul Franssen August 2005
TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 3 ROY COHN 12 LOUIS IRONSON 24 PRIOR WALTER 38 JOE PITT 49 CONCLUSION 59 BIBLIOGRAPHY 63 2
INTRODUCTION In the 1980s, the United States could be characterised as a polarised society due to changing job markets, increased inequality, drugs and violence, and an AIDS epidemic that caused 32,000 reported victims (Norton 939). Although Ronald Reagan, president from 1980 until 1988, succeeded in restoring the country’s self-esteem, the United States faced economic, social and political issues that remained unresolved under the Reagan administration. It was during this era that Tony Kushner, the openly gay Jewish American playwright, started working on Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes , the play that would make him famous. The seven-hour play consists of two parts: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika , which are set in New York during the Reagan Era. It raises social issues such as homosexuality, AIDS, ethnicity, identity, religion, politics, and American social values. The many themes in the play are frequently linked to America’s history and Kushner implicitly refers to Walter Benjamin’s view on history 1 : the “ruins of history” are important in order to be able to focus on “progress” (Fisher 54). Inspired also by Bertold Brecht, the central theme of change is at the heart of Angels ’ plot; it portrays Kushner’s main message that people have choices and that therefore “society is capable of improvement” (McTeague 18). In 1992, Millennium Approaches opened in Los Angeles and after a year, the play’s second part, Perestroika , was also released. 2 Critics’ response towards the play was positive 1 Walter Benjamin, inspired by Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus , wrote: [A]n angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His faced turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” (Illuminations 257-58) 2 After the successful theatre productions in the early 1990’s, HBO films together with Tony Kushner made Angels in America adaptable for television. In 2004, the DVD was released.

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