New Technologies of Entertainment

zoetrope31As promised, I am posting some examples of new technologies of entertainment from the Victorian period. As we discussed briefly, sensation fiction was not the only way mid-Victorian consumers experienced sensations. Zoetropes, panoramas, cycloramas, and dioramas offered mid-Victorian viewers new visual sensations. In the twentieth century, director William Castle introduced a new technology of entertainment to the cinema: “Percepto!” In some theaters where his film The Tingler (1959) was screened, melcycloramaundatedlatrobeelectrical buzzers were attached to the underside of selected seats. At the film’s climax, the film’s star, Vincent Price exclaims, “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic. But scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!” This was the cue for the projectionist to set off the buzzers, giving some audience members a surprising jolt. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve included a trailer for The Tingler below.

What do you think about these new technologies of entertainment? Do they help contextualize sensation fiction for you? If so, how? Can you think of any twenty-first century examples of new technologies of entertainment?

Comments section closes on Sunday, January 29.


The Benevolent Planters

As I mentioned in cbenevolent-planterslass, Thomas Bellamy’s play The Benevolent Planters (1789) is an example of anti-abolition discourse, and we might consider it a form of propaganda. Indeed, the play was written in response to William Cowper’s anti-slavery poem, The Negro’s Complaint (1788), and was used by the West India Lobby to forward their agenda.

The play tells the story of lovers, Oran and Selima, who are separated in their homeland, Africa, and end up living on neighboring plantations in Jamaica. It is the play’s planters, Goodwin and Heartfree, that reunite the lovers. The play suggests that the planters are kind and paternal masters, and that the god-fearing, productive lives the slaves lead in the colonies are superior to the idle lives they lived in Africa.

In the final scene of the play, Oran, having been reunited with his beloved Selima by his generous owner, Goodwin, fervently concludes: “Lost in admiration, gratitude, and love, Oran has no words, but can only in silence own the hand of Heaven; while to his beating heart he clasps his restored treasure. And O my masters! […] let my restored partner and myself bend to such exalted worth; while for ourselves, and for our surrounding brethren, we declare, that you have proved yourselves The Benevolent Planters, and that under subjection like yours, SLAVERY IS BUT A NAME.”

Knowing what you know about anti-slavery and pro-slavery discourse, including Bellamy’s play, do you consider Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon (1859) an anti-slavery or a pro-slavery play? Why? Please be sure to cite specific details from Boucicault’s play in your response.

Comments section closes on Sunday, January 29.


Caricatures at Work

As promised, I am posting the clip from Marlon Riggs’s Emmy-winning documentary, Ethnic Notions (1987), that we didn’t have time to watch in class. Please watch the clip before reading Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon (1859). Remember that The Octoroon is participating in not only the discourses of melodrama and abolition but also that of caricature. In addition to thinking about how the play uses the stock characters of melodrama, think about how the play uses the caricatures discussed in this clip. Please be prepared to share your ideas in class next Monday.

If you’d like to watch the documentary in its entirety, you may do so in the A/V Room in the Kolligian Library, where I’ve placed a copy of the DVD on reserve. The A/V Room can accommodate up to fifteen students, so you can even arrange a viewing party if you’d like. For more information on reserving the room, follow this link. If you watch the entire documentary, you have the option of turning in a short response paper for extra credit towards your participation grade.

EXTRA CREDIT OPPORTUNITY: Watch Ethnic Notions actively and take notes. After viewing the documentary, write a 1-1.5 page double-spaced response, which is due in class on Monday, February 6. Don’t attempt to summarize the documentary in your response. Instead, consider what you learned from watching it. Discuss the ways in which the documentary illuminated Boucicault’s play for you.

CONTENT WARNING: Ethnic Notions and The Octoroon contain racist language. While we will use the euphemism “the N-word” during class discussions, we will not ignore its use in these texts. We will discuss the word’s use in these contexts, its function as a tool of oppression, and its roles in contemporary American culture.