Panel 11: Mediating the Nation

Abstract Title

The Trialectics of Empire: Space, Race, and the Landscapes of National Identity in British Popular Culture of the Postwar Period.

Start Date

15-2-2015 2:00 PM

End Date

15-2-2015 3:20 PM

Abstract

In the years immediately following the Second World War, visual culture played a critically important role as a site for the articulation of spatial anxieties as ‘empire’ became ‘commonwealth’. Drawing on the work of Henri Lefebvre, Edward Soja, and Benedict Anderson, this paper examines the presence and function of empire in British popular culture of the late 1950s. More specifically, it reveals ways in which social and spatial relations are parsed through the discursive vectors of the city, the suburb, and the seaside. The paper examines three key texts each of which offers a particular reading of space as a site of both the production and consumption of empire. The city, as cosmopolitan space, possesses an unruliness in its position as a point of conjuncture between empire and home. Basil Dearden’s Sapphire (1960) spatializes this tense relationship as the colonial body and the domestic body literally and metaphorically collide. “The Christmas Club,” an episode of the radio sitcom Hancock’s Half Hour from 1959, invokes an imperial vision that both asserts and undermines the stability of national identity. Comedic inversion disrupts the carefully ordered boundaries of whiteness and Britishness embodied in the imagined space of suburbia. Moving outward further, the liminal space of “the seaside” offers the possibility – perhaps even the promise – of transgression and a jumping off point to the foreign. Collapsing the boundaries of high and low, John Osborne’s The Entertainer demonstrate visions of a Britishness struggling with the implications of post-imperial reconfigurations of race, class, and gender. These sites, in their spatial articulation of visions of empire that simultaneously articulate visions of national identity, serve equally to allow for the expression of the deep anxieties and ambivalences that attend the shifting relationship between the colony and the metropole.

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Feb 15th, 2:00 PM Feb 15th, 3:20 PM

The Trialectics of Empire: Space, Race, and the Landscapes of National Identity in British Popular Culture of the Postwar Period.

In the years immediately following the Second World War, visual culture played a critically important role as a site for the articulation of spatial anxieties as ‘empire’ became ‘commonwealth’. Drawing on the work of Henri Lefebvre, Edward Soja, and Benedict Anderson, this paper examines the presence and function of empire in British popular culture of the late 1950s. More specifically, it reveals ways in which social and spatial relations are parsed through the discursive vectors of the city, the suburb, and the seaside. The paper examines three key texts each of which offers a particular reading of space as a site of both the production and consumption of empire. The city, as cosmopolitan space, possesses an unruliness in its position as a point of conjuncture between empire and home. Basil Dearden’s Sapphire (1960) spatializes this tense relationship as the colonial body and the domestic body literally and metaphorically collide. “The Christmas Club,” an episode of the radio sitcom Hancock’s Half Hour from 1959, invokes an imperial vision that both asserts and undermines the stability of national identity. Comedic inversion disrupts the carefully ordered boundaries of whiteness and Britishness embodied in the imagined space of suburbia. Moving outward further, the liminal space of “the seaside” offers the possibility – perhaps even the promise – of transgression and a jumping off point to the foreign. Collapsing the boundaries of high and low, John Osborne’s The Entertainer demonstrate visions of a Britishness struggling with the implications of post-imperial reconfigurations of race, class, and gender. These sites, in their spatial articulation of visions of empire that simultaneously articulate visions of national identity, serve equally to allow for the expression of the deep anxieties and ambivalences that attend the shifting relationship between the colony and the metropole.