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Africa in the American Imagination

Popular Culture, Radicalized Identities, and African Visual Culture

Carol Magee

Publication Year: 2012

In the American world, the presence of African culture is sometimes fully embodied and sometimes leaves only a trace. Africa in the American Imagination: Popular Culture, Racialized Identities, and African Visual Culture explores this presence, examining Mattel's world of Barbie, the 1996 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and Disney World, each of which repackages African visual culture for consumers. Because these cultural icons permeate American life, they represent the broader U.S. culture and its relationship to African culture. This study integrates approaches from art history and visual culture studies with those from culture, race, and popular culture studies to analyze this interchange. Two major threads weave throughout. One analyzes how the presentation of African visual culture in these popular culture forms conceptualizes Africa for the American public. The other investigates the way the uses of African visual culture focuses America's own self-awareness, particularly around black and white racialized identities.

In exploring the multiple meanings that "Africa" has in American popular culture, Africa in the American Imagination argues that these cultural products embody multiple perspectives and speak to various sociopolitical contexts: the Cold War, Civil Rights, and contemporary eras of the United States; the apartheid and postapartheid eras of South Africa; the colonial and postcolonial eras of Ghana; and the European era of African colonization.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. ix-xi

Writing is, for the most part, a solitary act; in crafting my book I spent days and days in front of a computer alone with my thoughts. And yet I never wrote in isolation. This book exists because I had the cooperation and support of numerous individuals and their institutions, and I would like to...

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1. Introduction: Popular Culture, Racialized Identities, and African Visual Culture

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pp. 3-28

“I am African” declares the full-page, black-and-white advertisements featuring David Bowie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gisele Bündchen, Lucy Liu, Liv Tyler, Alicia Keys, or any one of nine other celebrities from the worlds of film, music, and fashion. Despite this declaration, the majority of viewers...

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2. Race-ing Fantasy: The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in South Africa

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pp. 29-58

Valeria Mazza—a white woman—and Tyra Banks—a black woman— appear back to back in leopard-print bikinis on the cover of the 1996 Sports Illustrated (SI) swimsuit issue (Figure 2.1). They are framed against a blurred background of sand, water, and sky, and the bright yellow letters...

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3. “It’s Sort of Like National Geographic Meets Sports Illustrated” [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 59-94

Every year the editors of Sports Illustrated (SI) load models and photographers onto planes and set off for tropical locales with gorgeous beaches and sparkling waters to produce the much anticipated swimsuit issue. The swimsuit issues are therefore framed by travel: the travel of the models to...

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4. Fashioning Identities: Kente, Nostalgia, and the World of Barbie

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pp. 95-114

Mattel’s Princess of South Africa (2003) is dressed as Martha Nomvula was dressed in the Sports Illustrated (SI) photograph with Kathy Ireland. Meticulously researched, this Barbie’s costuming pays homage to Ndebele culture. In keeping with Ndebele styles and traditions, this Barbie’s hair is...

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5. It’s a Small, White World

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pp. 115-138

In the preceding chapter, I discussed Mattel’s “Dolls of the World” as embodying nostalgic longing for Cold War–era American life, whereby the ability to collect the world in the guise of Barbie allows metaphoric and symbolic control of that world. In this chapter, I engage with the ways...

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6. Africa in Florida: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

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pp. 139-172

The “its a small world” ride presents Africans as just one of many peoples who are juxtaposed with one another. The Walt Disney World Resort’s Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (DAKL), in contrast, focuses solely on Africa and Africans. More specifically, it presents Africa south of the Sahara, a...

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7. Refrain: Africa in the American Imagination

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pp. 173-179

Throughout this book I have explored the ways that Disney, Mattel, and Sports Illustrated (SI) (three major American popular culture icons) incorporate African visual culture into their own culture products (Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge [DAKL] and the “it’s a small world” ride, the “Dolls...


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pp. 181-226


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pp. 227-251


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pp. 253-263

E-ISBN-13: 9781617031533
E-ISBN-10: 1617031534
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617031526
Print-ISBN-10: 1617031526

Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 777938938
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Africa in the American Imagination

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Identity (Philosophical concept).
  • Africa -- In popular culture.
  • United States -- Civilization -- African influences.
  • Popular culture -- United States.
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