Confessional Crises and Cultural Politics in Twentieth-Century America

Confessional Crises and Cultural Politics in Twentieth-Century America

DAVE TELL
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v3qg
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  • Book Info
    Confessional Crises and Cultural Politics in Twentieth-Century America
    Book Description:

    Confessional Crises and Cultural Politics in Twentieth-Century America revolutionizes how we think about confession and its ubiquitous place in American culture. It argues that the sheer act of labeling a text a confession has become one of the most powerful, and most overlooked, forms of intervening in American cultural politics. In the twentieth century alone, the genre of confession has profoundly shaped (and been shaped by) six of America’s most intractable cultural issues: sexuality, class, race, violence, religion, and democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05934-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: CONFESSIONAL CRISES AND CULTURAL POLITICS
    (pp. 1-19)

    In contemporary America, the rise of reality TV, the proliferation of daytime talk shows, the endless parade of celebrity confessions, and the insatiable market for fake memoirs such as James Frey’sMillion Little Pieceshave pushed the genre of confession to the forefront of the public mind. Writing in the January 2010 issue of theNew Yorker, the distinguished cultural critic Daniel Mendelsohn suggested that the outrage over the recent “onslaught” of Frey-styled “phony” confessions indicates a “large and genuinely new anxiety” about what sorts of texts should count as confessions.¹ Thus did Mendelsohn add his voice to what has...

  5. 1 CONFESSION AND SEXUALITY: TRUE STORY VERSUS ANTHONY COMSTOCK
    (pp. 20-44)

    In May 1919, the eccentric American health crusader, sexologist, and entrepreneur Bernarr Macfadden published the first issue ofTrue Story Magazine—and thus “the modern confessions industry came into being.”¹ Within yearsTrue Storyhad dozens of imitators; George Gerbner reports that by mid-century the confession magazine industry boasted some forty titles.² The eventual ubiquity of the industry, however, must not occlude the fundamental importance ofTrue Story. As theSaturday Evening Postput it, “The $10,000,000-a-year, I’m-Ruined! I’m Ruined! school of belles-lettres owes everything to Macfadden.”³ ThePostis hardly alone in this estimate:Scribner’schristened Macfadden “Father Confessor,”...

  6. 2 CONFESSION AND CLASS: A NEW TRUE STORY
    (pp. 45-62)

    By 1936, when theNew Massesput an effeminate, busted, brassiered, fingernail-polished, phallus-fondling caricature of Macfadden on its cover, it had become commonplace to decryTrue Storyas pornographic. To be sure, Macfadden’sTrue Storywas the subject of much debate. But, as chapter 1 demonstrated, in the early years ofTrue Storythis debate was restricted to issues of sexuality. By 1936, however, a new set of terms had been introduced into the debate over Macfadden’sTrue Story. Tellingly subtitled “From Pornography to Politics,” theNew Massesarticle was less about sexuality than about class: “Millions of working-class and...

  7. 3 CONFESSION AND RACE: CIVIL RIGHTS, SEGREGATION, AND THE MURDER OF EMMETT TILL
    (pp. 63-90)

    On October 23, 1955, the journalist William Bradford Huie met Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam in the Sumner, Mississippi, law offices of Breland & Whitten. One month earlier, a handpicked, all-white jury deliberated for sixty-seven minutes before declaring Bryant and Milam not guilty of Emmett Till’s murder. Now, less than five weeks after their acquittal and in desperate need of the $3,000 Huie was paying, Bryant and Milam were telling Huie just how and why they killed Emmett Till. Huie could hardly contain his excitement. Following the secret interview, he returned to his room at the Holiday Inn and dashed...

  8. 4 CONFESSION AND VIOLENCE: WILLIAM STYRON’S NAT TURNER
    (pp. 91-118)

    Twelve years after the death of Emmett Till, the question of confession was once again at the center of American racial politics. On October 9, 1967, accompanied by fanfare unprecedented in the world of American literature, William Styron publishedThe Confessions of Nat Turner, a historical novel based on Nat Turner’s 1831 insurrection. As he retold the story, Styron drew liberally from “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” the 1831 pamphlet that made Thomas Gray’s fortune when he sold it to a curious country as a transcription of Turner’s jailhouse confession.¹ More than matters of fact, however, what Styron borrowed from...

  9. 5 CONFESSION AND RELIGION: JIMMY SWAGGART’S SECULAR CONFESSION
    (pp. 119-145)

    On February 21, 1988, Jimmy Swaggart publicly confessed to the more than eight thousand people crowded into his Baton Rouge Family Worship Center. The confession was, by all accounts, quite a spectacle. TheHouston Chroniclereports that Swaggart wept throughout the entirety of his nearly thirty-minute confession, during which he was interrupted ten times for standing ovations.¹ Between ovations, Swaggart’s confession apparently mesmerized the thousands of onlookers. TheWashington Postrecorded that a “hush fell over the sanctuary as stunned onlookers, some speaking in tongues, wept and then shouted support. Men bowed their heads and cried, and women dabbed at...

  10. 6 CONFESSION AND DEMOCRACY: CLINTON, STARR, AND THE WITCH-HUNT TRADITION OF AMERICAN CONFESSION
    (pp. 146-179)

    On April 25, 1998, three months into the Monica Lewinsky scandal, President William Jefferson Clinton finally confessed. Theretofore, despite public calls for public confessions, the Clinton administration had responded to the scandal with a strategy described by the political journalist Howard Kurtz as an “all-out stonewall.”¹ As Walter Shapiro put it, “Clinton has implicitly rejected any possible strategy of throwing himself on the mercy of the American people with a tearful, lip-biting apology.”² In fact, Clinton hadexplicitlyrejected such a strategy. On January 21, the very day on which theWashington Post, theLos Angeles Times, and ABC News...

  11. CONCLUSION: JAMES FREY AND TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY CONFESSIONAL CULTURE
    (pp. 180-191)

    On January 8, 2006, the investigative website theSmoking Gunincited a media firestorm by reporting that James Frey’s memoirA Million Little Pieceswas filled with “fabrications, falsehoods, and other fakery.” Four months earlier, Oprah Winfrey had given Frey undreamt-of fame by selecting his first-person story of recovery from drug addiction for the October 2005 installment of Oprah’s Book Club. Then, after fifteen Oprah-inspired weeks atop theNew York TimesBest Seller list, theSmoking Gunrevealed that Frey was not the malevolent thug that he made himself out to be: he spent a few hours in a local...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 192-212)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 213-226)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 227-238)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-239)