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The President Electric

Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Performance

Timothy Raphael

Publication Year: 2009

In this illuminating, multi-pronged cultural and performance history of such phenomena as Chautauqua and radio, movies, and electrical technology, Timothy Raphael puts together a compelling and sometimes revelatory narrative of how commandingly Reagan mastered the matrix of performance, technology, media, celebrity, and the 'republic of consumption' he came of age in. ---Dana Nelson, Vanderbilt University "Garry Wills and others have written well on the phenomenon of Ronald Reagan, the actor-president, but this is the first book by a real authority---trained in performance and fully reflective about it from the inside . . . unquestionably an important contribution to the disciplinary fields of American studies and performance studies, and an important contribution to public affairs." ---Joseph Roach, Yale University When Ronald Reagan first entered politics in 1965, his public profile as a performer in radio, film, television, and advertising and his experience in public relations proved invaluable political assets. By the time he left office in 1989, the media in which he trained had become the primary source for generating and wielding political power. The President Electric: Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Performance reveals how the systematic employment of the techniques and technologies of mass-media performance contributed to Reagan’s rise to power and defined his style of governance. The President Electric stands out among books on Reagan as the first to bring the rich insights of the field of performance studies to an understanding of the Reagan phenomenon, connecting Reagan's training in electronic media to the nineteenth-century notion of the "fiat of electricity"---the emerging sociopolitical power of three entities (mechanical science, corporate capitalism, and mass culture) that electric technology made possible. The book describes how this new regime of cultural and political representation shaped the development of the electronic mass media that transformed American culture and politics and educated Ronald Reagan for his future role as president. Timothy Raphael is Assistant Professor of Visual and Performing Arts and Director of the Center for Immigration at Rutgers University, Newark. Photo: © David H. Wells/Corbis

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance

Title Page

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pp. vii-ix

This book has been a long time in the making, and the village that has raised this child is vast. I began writing about Ronald Reagan in Chicago at Northwestern University in a class with Margaret Drewal. It began to take shape through subsequent conversations and classes with Dwight Conquergood, Paul Edwards, and Orville Lee. The conversations continued in...

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pp. 1-18

Ronald Reagan first appeared at the 1984 Republican National Convention on a screen above a stage. From that stage, astride a podium flanked by two American flags, Nancy Reagan raised her eyes to greet the image that dwarfed her. As she turned her notorious gaze on his celebrated image, she extended both her arms upward toward the screen. Rising to their feet...

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pp. 19-57

The image of Ronald Reagan at the 1984 Republican National Convention has been characterized by Michael Rogin as symbolic of Reagan's "claim to embody the nation" by "exploiting the boundary confusion between the president's body and the body politic."1 As such, Rogin contends, it is a virtual restoration of the sixteenth-century French and English...

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pp. 58-84

The opening sentences of Ronald Reagan's first autobiography merge the languages of legend ("The story begins") and film ("the close-up of a bottom") to evoke his mythic origins "in a small town called Tampico." The theatrical description of his noisy debut—the infant's blue face and red bottom and the father's claim to whiteness—inscribe the image of Reagan's...

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pp. 85-119

In the mid-1930s, while Walter Benjamin pondered the effect of mechanical reproduction on the work of art, "Dutch" Reagan was acquiring regional celebrity on the radio and dreaming of Hollywood. Among the myriad consequences of the new techne of mechanical reproduction identified by Benjamin and mastered by Reagan were the new possibilities they...

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pp. 120-152

On 30 March 1981, John Hinckley Jr. fired six "Devastator" bullets from a .22 caliber pistol at the president of the United States. Unlike John Wilkes Booth, who after shooting Abraham Lincoln, leaped to the stage of Ford's Theater crying "Sic semper tyrannis" (Thus always to tyrants), no dramatic political declaration accompanied Hinckley's act. According...

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pp. 153-194

The theatrical line of business from which Reagan's image at the 1984 Republican National Convention derives its lineage is that of the somnipractor, Garry Wills's term for all the product salesmen who serve as "the arrangers of other's dreams."1 Reagan's renomination was a foregone conclusion. His image on the giant video screen was a preview of the...

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pp. 195-224

When Polonius is slain, Claudius sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to interrogate Hamlet. "My lord, you must tell us," entreats Rosencrantz, "where the body is, and go with us to the king." Hamlet replies, "The King is with the body / But the body is not with the king / The king is a thing."1 Hamlet's formulation of the thingness of kingness derives its ontic calculus...


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pp. 225-248


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pp. 249-260


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pp. 261-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026630
E-ISBN-10: 0472026631
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472050734
Print-ISBN-10: 0472050737

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 10 B&W photographs
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance