The President Electric
Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Performance
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance
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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...
INTRODUCTION: THE BODY ELECTRIC
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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...
CHAPTER ONE: THE CULTURE OF PERFORMANCE
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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...
CHAPTER TWO: THE VOICE OF THE ELECTRONIC AGE
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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...
CHAPTER THREE: SOUNDING THE NATION
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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...
CHAPTER FOUR: MOVING PICTURES
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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...
CHAPTER FIVE: THE REAGAN BRAND
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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...
CHAPTER SIX: THE RIGHTS OF MEMORY
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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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Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 10 B&W photographs
Publication Year: 2009
Series Title: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance