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Canadian Review of American Studies Volume 24, Number 1, Winter 1994, pp. 41-62 Myth Building and Cultural Politics in W. P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe Bryan K. Garman 41 The mythic vision of America and its national pastime which W. P. Kinsella constructed in Shoeless Joe ([1982] 1991) has extended into millions of American imaginations, both in the form of the novel and its film adaptation , Field of Dreams (1989). 1 Kinsella built the myth, and people came to live it. Perhaps literary critic Neil Randall best articulates the popular response to Shoeless Joe when he calls it a "moral book" which "makes us come away in the end feeling 'pretty damn good about being alive for the rest of the day"' (1987, 181). But when we read beyond what Randall calls "fantasy and the humor of fellow-feeling," and explore the context of the novel's morality, an unsettling portrait of America emerges (1987, 173). In this essay, I will argue that Kinsella engenders a culturally conseivative world, which reflects the historical circumstances of the 1980s and reproduces the ideology of Ronald Reagan's presidency. By discussing the text within the framework of Reagan's America and the social history of baseball , this paper shows that Kinsella's nostalgic world is characterized by a mythic history of consensus, a fraternal and patriarchal order, and discrimination based on race and gender. The most insightful and important scholarly articles written about Kinsella 's vision of America have addressed the film, Field of Dreams, rather than the novel. Like Shoeless Joe, the film absolves the legendary Chicago White Sox leftfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson of his involvement in the socalled Black Sox scandal of 1919. Reviewer Harlan Jacobson astutely ob- 42 Canadian Revrew of American Studies serves that the film "wishes aloud that America could return to the innocent days of white baseball. When there were no stains on the American honour, no scandals, no dirty tricks, no surprises. When everything was pure and clean and simple, and, well, white. When the Sox stayed white" (1989, 79). The critic is so appalled by this longing for the past that he claims the film "takes on shades of the Weimcr Republic ... Field of Dreams weeps for what is not now and never was. It remembers America before it lost control " (79). As a corollary to Jacobson's argument, Pauline Kael suggests that the film reconciles the counterculture of the 1960s with the conformists of the 1980s, and argues that the movie is "close to saying: Don't challenge your parents' values, because if you do you'll be sorry. It's saying: 'Play Ball' with the American political system (1989,77).2 Finally, Frank Ardolino, who discusses the theme of innocence in Field of Dreams and in two other baseball movies (Bull Durham and Eight Men Out) which were released in the late 1980s,concludes, "The wide-shouldered 1950sfigure of Ronald Reagan dominates these films for better or worse" (1990, 51). Reagan's shoulders carried the complacency and stability of the Eisenhower era to the White House, where conservative pundits used it to shore up the mythic consensus of history which undergirded his presidency. Warren Susman argues that history "comes into existence" when "the social order itself must be rationalized." The act of writing history, he tells us, "brings order out of the disarray" of circumstances and is "often used as the basis for a political philosophy that while explaining the past offers also a way to change the future. History thus operates ideologically" (1984, 8). Perhaps no one understood this concept as well as those who choreographed the Reagan presidency. The master of the image and communication, Reagan narrated a history that projected American tradition and myth into the present and future. His mythic vision sought to redeem a powerful American patriarchy, which had been emasculated by recent events: the embarrassment of Vietnam, the challenge of the counterculture and the civilrights movement, the shame of Watergate, the frustration of the Iranian hostage crisis, and the failed attempt to end it. While Jimmy Carter asked Americans to sacrifice and settle for second best, Reagan vowed to put America first. To overcome what he...


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