American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Use and Influence of Amateur Musician Narratives In Film, 1981-2001

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Popular Culture

First Advisor

Jeremy Wallach (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Irina Stakhanova (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Vivian Patraka (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Awad Imbrahim (Committee Member)


This dissertation is an analytical survey of four amateur musician narratives created between 1981 and 2001. Unlike purportedly true, marketing-driven uses of amateur narratives, the four narratives chosen for this project are unabashed total fictions. Despite this, the films achieve levels of perceived "authenticity" by way of cultural value and influence. None of the narratives deal with amateur musicianship as a stage or step in an inherent progression towards professionalism, as seems a prerequisite for the recollections of the now professional. But all include narratives of amateur musicians struggling to make it against "insurmountable commercial odds" resulting from an artist's gender, talent, ability, or identity. Despite this, none treat hegemonically dictated concepts of commercial success, wealth, fame, and stardom as the ultimate and/or desired goal of amateurism or semiprofessionalism. The films all present concepts of accomplishment in challenge of hegemonic notions of professional dominance and commercial success as markers of success. The four films, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1981), Ishtar (1987), Half-Cocked (1995), and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), are culturally representative of their respective eras, but have experienced lasting cultural influence in both filmmaking and music making. The films exist as prototypical examples of amateur musicians narratives, performance, and media common to the 20th Century "rise of the amateur" as found on the Internet, in realty programming, and marketing tragedies.