Lauren Berlant, "The Face of America and the State of Emergency"


Selections from: Lauren Berlant, "The Face of America and the State of Emergency"
To guide your reading, it is important to understand that Berlant is charting the the increasing tendency to conceive of citizenship in terms of private acts of consumption, reproduction of the hetero-nuclear family, and personal morality (as opposed to "public" forms of citizenship like political dissent, and public demonstrations, which are increasingly represented in terms of a disorganized "mob"). She argues that this constructs citizenship in particular ways, but at the same time, constructs the "ideal nation" of America in ways that reproduce particular cultural and economic arrangements. As you read, think about what kind of citizenship is being constructed and what the characteristics of the "idealized" nation are. Why is this a problem, for Berlant? Why do you think this matters (i.e., what desires, identities, subjectivities are valued/devalued or visible/invisible)? Use the following questions to guide your reading and note taking.

1) Lauren Berlant points to the "privatization of citizenship" as a worrying trend visible across a range of media. What does she mean by the "privatization of citizenship" and why is it a concern? How do media participate in this tendency, for Berlant?
2) According to Lauren Berlant, what arguments is the movie Forest Gump making about public and private life and about "good citizenship"?
3) How does Forest Gump imagine "America" as a constructed national entity?
4) How does TIME's special issue on immigration construct America? How does it construct the immigrant figure in relation to this imagined "America"?
5) How does Michael Jackson's music video Black or White both participate in and complicate the "privatization of citizenship" and the related tendencies that Berlant observes?
6) In your experience, what kinds of arguments have you noticed media making about what counts as "good citizenship" and the kinds of "national life" good citizens ought to engage in? Do you agree with Berlant that this production of norms participates in the "privatization" of citizenship? If not, why not? If so, what do you think are the consequences?


Time's special issue on immigration constructs an America that is homogeneous in its demographic, and ignores the history that the nation was built by immigrant populations. The statement, "They are altering the nation's racial makeup, its cities, its tastes, its entire perception of itself and its way of life," implies that the American identity has always been white, and thus immigration is changing that whiteness.

The first part of this article gave a very in-depth description of "Forrest Gump", but I may be missing the relevancy of the article. Are they commenting on average Americans being like Forrest and being normal, politically unaware citizens? Or are they calling to action something different?

The discussion about Forrest's Mother and "girl" Jenny were very stereotypical of the images depicted by other media texts we have viewed in class. They are seen as homemakers or sex images, and not as active members in higher business of America. Do you think these images are portrayed in the movie since it was looking back into history and different time periods in America, or because these are still the stereotypical images about women seen in media today?

I too am a little confused about the relevancy of the first part of the article. Is what Berlant's trying to get across that Forrest Gump shares a lot of the same ideals as neo-liberalism?

I think when Berlant discusses the "privitization of citizenship" she is referring to a change in the population's behavior during the late 1960's? Correct me if I'm wrong. She uses one of my favorite movies, Forest Gump, as an example to show us how privitization of citizenship developed into a less conservative culture in the US. This was when more Americans began to live promiscuously experimenting with sex, drugs and rock & roll. I'm trying to connect the definition of this term with Forest Gump's love interest, Jenny. Jenny is portrayed throughout this movie as a sexualized female character, who encounters dangerous situations and unhealthy relationships with men, which stem from her childhood. Am I understanding this correctly? I kind of combined two of the DQ's above...

I am never one to ask the same question but I couldn't help but realize after reading this why the Forrest gump piece was relevant as well. Could you please explain this? This idea do privatization of citizenship is a little confusing to me.

I apologize for the ununiqueness and simplicity I am also just confused.

What is "idealized" according to Berlants argument she makes with TIME magazine and to the movie Forrest Gump? What makes an "ideal American"?

How does the "Face of America" reflect upon the features stereotypical American society deems to be normal or beautiful?

The author talks about immigration and how it is central to patriotic nationalism. She also states that the immigrant is "defined as someone who desires America." I agree with this statement, but am finding trouble linking this idea to modern media. How can I better understand this to apply it to media today?

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This page contains a single entry by zimme313 published on April 8, 2013 9:54 AM.

Riley, "Heroes of Assimilation: How the Media Transform Disability" was the previous entry in this blog.

Riley, Berlant Week 11 is the next entry in this blog.

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