Etiquette (Un)Seen: Post-WWII American Cinema and the Aesthetics of Politeness
Etiquette surrounds us every day, infiltrating our social behaviour and shaping the aesthetic self-image we share with the world. Etiquette determines how we dress, how we eat, and how we speak—it is, as Raoul Vaneigem has put it, “what is most familiar.” Despite etiquette’s pervasiveness, little work in the humanities has taken the concept seriously; importantly, no work has considered etiquette’s profound impact on our popular aesthetic codes. Etiquette has been derisively termed a “little ethics,” tossed aside for its perceived femininity, its shallowness. This hasty dismissal has obscured etiquette’s importance in constructing popular aesthetics. Etiquette’s aesthetic form, and its creation of aesthetic forms, should no longer be ignored.
This talk will excavate etiquette from its theoretical obscurity. Etiquette, I argue, exists in and as cinematic form—an aesthetics of politeness. Post-WWII cinema is heavily informed by the era’s rampant conservatism and emphasis on images of a white suburban leisure class, binding etiquette and cinema most intimately. More specifically, etiquette in postwar cinema mobilizes an aesthetic of idealized, impossible white femininity to construct oppressive, racialized structures of politeness. By taking up the etiquette-adept figure of the social climber and her relationship to cinematic forms of looking, this talk offers a close reading of etiquette’s politicized aesthetics. Etiquette is not simply a frivolous, apolitical code; etiquette, embedded in popular cinematic form, determines the boundaries of social exclusivity through its aesthetic demands—its demands for an exclusionary mode of white femininity.
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This is an online event. It will be live streamed on the Centre for Ethics YouTube Channel on Wednesday, December 2. Channel subscribers will receive a notification at the start of the live stream. (For other events in the series, and to subscribe, visit YouTube.com/c/CentreforEthics.)
University of Toronto
Wed, Dec 2, 2020
12:30 PM - 01:45 PM
Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto