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Reviewed by:
  • Islands of Empire: Pop Culture and U.S. Power by Camilla Fojas
  • Crystal Mun-hye Baik
Islands of Empire: Pop Culture and U.S. Power. By Camilla Fojas. Austin: University of Texas, 2014. ix + 238 pp. Illustrated. Notes. Works Cited. Index. $55.00 cloth

In Islands of Empire: Pop Culture and U.S. Power, Camilla Fojas offers a compelling analysis of U.S. imperial desires in the afterlife of the Spanish American War (1898). A historical juncture in which the United States violently pulled former Spanish colonies and other sovereign island kingdoms into its imperial orbit, the post-1898 moment is a pivotal era as it provided a foundation for U.S. imperial encroachment into the Pacific and Caribbean well into the twentieth century. Drawing upon a cultural archive of American films, Fojas is particularly interested in the ways in which popular cinematic texts contribute to the consolidation of an “insular” U.S. empire or an “island frontier” (p. 5), vis-à-vis the literal, imagined, and/or sentimental incorporation of the Philippines, Cuba, Hawai‘i, Puerto Rico, and Guam into the U.S. nation. Careful to emphasize the unique portrayals of each of these islands within contemporary U.S. cinema, Fojas, nevertheless, is concerned with how the moving image sutures each island to the militarized making of the United States. For Fojas, mainstream cinema is an ideological apparatus or a “soft” form of power that (re)produces and normalizes a hegemonic discourse of American liberty, democracy, and free-enterprise capitalism. Subsequently, popular culture becomes a rich site to read and “decode” the American “imperial unconscious” (p. 12).

Conversing with recent scholarship that engages with the intertwining of U.S. militarism and tourism across the Pacific, such as Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez’s Securing Paradise, Islands of Empire is organized in the following manner. Bookended by an introduction and afterword, each chapter (five, total) discusses cinematic representations of current, former, or proto-U.S. colonies, including the Philippines, Cuba, Hawai‘i, Puerto Rico, and Guam. In chapter one, Fojas describes the representations of Filipinos as “foreign domestics,” or quasi-Americanized subjects who remain on the fringe of the U.S. nation-state. Contextualizing the emergence of World War II U.S. cinema in relationship [End Page 197] to Hollywood’s relationship with the U.S. military, Fojas elaborates upon the carefully wrought images of Filipinos, as they oscillate between foreign and familiar in films such as They Were Expendable (1945). In chapter two, Fojas shifts her attention to Cuba, a different kind of U.S. territory. Existing just beyond the explicit status of U.S. colony, Cuba remained a U.S. protectorate and tourist destination until the Cuban Revolution (1953–1959). Grounding her analysis of exilic filmic works such as Cuba (1979) and The Lost City (2005) through the framework of imperial mourning, Fojas explores how Cuba is longingly visualized as a “lost piece of the United States territory” (p. 71). A chapter that would have benefited from a differentiation between imperial mourning and melancholia, this chapter still provides an intriguing glimpse into a corpus of films that, perhaps, will garner more public scrutiny given the current thawing of U.S.-Cuban formal relations. In chapter three, Fojas elaborates upon the ushering of Hawai‘i into the U.S. nation-state. Centering her analysis of films such as Blue Hawaii (1961), Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966), and Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) upon the liberal discourse of multiculturalism, Fojas is interested in how popular depictions of Hawai‘i exemplify a future American melting pot by transforming youthful rebellion, interracial romance, and other “nonmainstream desires” into productive pursuits. Continuing on the discursive un/making of the proper American subject, Chapter Four fleshes out the homogenous projection of Puerto Ricans on the movie screen. As an unincorporated U.S. territory, Puerto Rico remains in political limbo, as Puerto Ricans are given certain U.S. privileges and are encoded as “improper” subjects in need of disciplining (p. 133). Engaging with films such as West Side Story (1961)—a work centering on the racialized conflicts between two rival gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Anglo Jets—Fojas speaks to the perpetual depiction of Puerto...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2169-7639
Print ISSN
0440-5145
Pages
pp. 197-199
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Open Access
No
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