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Andy Kaufman: Wrestling with the American Dream

Florian Keller
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsxdg
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  • Book Info
    Andy Kaufman
    Book Description:

    Taking as his starting point the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon, Florian Keller explores Andy Kaufman's career within a broader discussion of the ideology of the American Dream, grasping Kaufman's radical agenda beyond avant-garde theories of transgression. Presenting readings of Kaufman's most significant performances, Keller shows how he mounted a critique of America's obsession with celebrity and individualism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9742-7
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Funny or Not
    (pp. 1-22)

    In Milos Forman’s underrated biopicMan on the Moon(1999), comedian Andy Kaufman is depicted as an entertainer whose personal identity is endlessly dissimulated behind the multiplicity of his personae. In what is arguably his most impressive performance to date, Jim Carrey plays Andy Kaufman in a way that radically dissipates any notion of positive and coherent subjectivity. This permanent deferral of any consistent identity is the primary theoretical thrust of the film, and every figuration of Kaufman leaves us to conclude that “this is not Andy Kaufman, but neither is this, nor this,” and so on. Kaufman as portrayed...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Limits of Transgression
    (pp. 23-48)

    In 1974 singer Barry Manilow gave a series of concerts in Philadelphia, and Andy Kaufman, as yet hardly known, was booked as his opening act. Manilow curiously recalls that Kaufman’s performances had such an effect on the audience that during the entire week, Manilow’s job as the headliner “was to try to bring them back from the edge of revolution” (Zehme 2001, 154). Of course, a recollection like this shows all the bearings of retroactive mythification, but however romanticized Manilow’s account may be, there is a crucial point here about the politics of Andy Kaufman. As a performer, Kaufman never...

  7. INTERLUDE: The American Dream
    (pp. 49-68)

    The American Dream is that public fantasy which constitutes America’s identity as a nation. But why is it appropriate to refer to this communal daydream as an ideological apparatus? Is it not just a set of social values and ideals that have long been drained of the actual meaning they may have had in the founding years of the United States? After all, one of the clichés about the American Dream today is that it has turned into a myth that is no longer adequate to the socioeconomic reality of present-day America. However, there is another, more ambiguous transformation that...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Postmodern Escape Artist
    (pp. 69-110)

    In their comments on their shooting script for Milos Forman’s biopicMan on the Moon(1999), screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski report two significant crises that occurred during the process of adapting Andy Kaufman’s biography for the screen. Both of these problems concern the precarious seriality of selves that Kaufman enacted in the course of his entertainment career.

    The first crisis surfaced before Alexander and Karaszewski actually started writing, and it has all the bearings of an avantgarde event in Hal Foster’s sense of a “failure to signify.” The trouble was that the writers were unable to discern any...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Celebrity Deathmatch
    (pp. 111-136)

    The Midnight Special(1981) features a brief sequence that shows Andy Kaufman working as a busboy at Jerry’s Famous Deli. “I always like to set aside some time for being a busboy,” Kaufman explains, to keep in touch with the ordinary people and to overcome the separation between performer and the public. If this is Andy’s nonglamorous “other job,” its purpose is to help him compensate for the proverbial loss of “hard” reality that every entertainer is said to suffer in the illusory world of show business.

    No matter how factual or fictional these scenes are, this “biographical” detail from...

  10. Epitaph
    (pp. 137-162)

    Andy Kaufman Plays Carnegie Hall(1979) features what was probably Kaufman’s most insidious presentation on how intricately fame and stardom are linked to death. Following the projection of “Mary-Ann,” an obscure promotional short film from the early 1930s, Kaufman welcomes an old lady whom he introduces as Eleanor Cody Gould, claiming that she is the last survivor from the ensemble of cowgirls that were dancing in the film. After a brief and somewhat whimsical conversation, Kaufman has her (supposedly original) hobbyhorse brought onstage, and he asks the sole “survivor” to perform her cowgirl’s dance once again. Old Mrs. Gould agrees...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 163-178)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-184)
  13. Filmography
    (pp. 185-186)
  14. Index
    (pp. 187-194)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-195)