Narratives of rebellion, alienation, and loss affixed to James Dean have long been axiomatic in mainstream US culture, bound up with an abiding iconic visage of cool melancholic youth frozen in time. His ubiquity has led numerous scholars to investigate the actor’s symbolic intersections with social justice movements, commodification and postcolonialism, audience desire and contested sexuality. His sudden death has given rise to notable overlaps in his perceived cultural meaning, linking him to antiestablishment rebellion and locating within his aloofness a decidedly progressive political identity alienated by the contradictions of postwar containment culture. This essay counters such enduring associations, arguing that these interpretations of Dean overlook the pitched battles and mobilizations occurring over his meaning within the interstitial spaces of “distribution” between the Hollywood film industry and its audiences. A key figure within these overlooked areas of cultural production, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper exercised power by constructing and defending preferred interpretations of Dean and others within (and potentially without) her own epistolary community of readers, listeners, and viewers. Moreover, she assumed an archival role in her sustained efforts to manage the young actor’s meaning, thereby expanding the possibilities of what (or who) an archive may be and lending greater dimensionality to the variety of practices—and the exercises of power—that exist between producers and consumers.


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pp. 27-41
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