showman and the slave paper

showman and the slave paper - Florin Hoxha American Studies...

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Florin Hoxha American Studies 201 June 2010 Barnum’s America In The Showman and the Slave”, Benjamin Reiss illuminates the attitudes of race and slavery through the rise of mass media and the newly developing show industry. P.T. Barnum uses the power of the press and society’s fascination with freaks to create the first media celebrity that lived in memory and even increased in popularity after death. At the center of it all is Joice Heth, an African- American slave portrayed to be 161 years old and the nurse of George Washington. But Heth was more than a puppet; she became the first mass media spectacle that should be recognized as a complex historical figure. Although Barnum and the press held considerable power in the creating her image, it was ultimately her iconoclastic image that deepens the inquiry of the 1830s cultural beliefs of race, slavery, class and gender, as well as of individual quest for identity from a social context. Through humanity’s fascination with freaks, Reiss explores the social attitudes of the era. The emergence of the show industry tapped into popular assumptions on the issues of race and slavery in the antebellum north. On a deeper layer, Barnum’s exhibit of Joice Heth is culturally significant in investigating “a society’s unspoken assumptions, [the] underlying and competing fictions of national, racial, regional, class- and gender-
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showman and the slave paper - Florin Hoxha American Studies...

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