Working Class Self Fashioning in 'Swing Time' (1936)
- Graham Cassano
This article argues that the Depression era musical, Swing Time (1936), provides access to understanding some of the forms of socially constructed desire that shaped working class solidarity in the 1930s. In the first part of this article, I explore the roots of Swing Time’s critique of vested forms of desire in Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class. I argue that Swing Time offers an extension of Veblen’s theory by analyzing the power of mass communication to rewire social circuits of desire. I then explore the meaning of the stylistic realism and the language of protest operating in Swing Time’s narrative. From this I conclude Swing Time offers a critique of capitalism precisely in order to affiliate itself with a new, working class oppositional culture. But in affiliating itself with this oppositional community, Swing Time accepts and reinforces the language of racial privilege circulating within the ‘white’ working class. With a final critical act, however, Swing Time symptomatically reveals the invidious character of white privilege, as well as the fact that the cultural heritage of the (white) working class (swing music itself) comes from the theft and plunder of African American originality.
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