Melissa Dinsman is Assistant Professor of English at York-CUNY and author of Modernism at the Microphone: Radio, Propaganda, and Literary Aesthetics During World War II (Bloomsbury 2015). Her most recent work can be found in Contemporary Women’s Writing, The Space Between and the L.A. Review of Books, and n+1 online.
In an evocative statement on his 1942 film Mrs. Miniver, William Wyler, famed Hollywood director and vocal advocate for wartime intervention, argues that his film “about a family” is, for all intents and purposes, propaganda. Watching Mrs. Miniver today, the film’s interventionist position is impossible to miss. That art can also be propaganda is, of course, an argument frequently made by cultural critics such as Walter Benjamin (in the final pages of “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”) or George Orwell, who famously claimed that “all art is propaganda” but “not all propaganda is art." But Wyler’s reflection holds special significance for its focus on the politics of the family drama and his suggestion that the domestic is political. As I will argue, Mrs. Miniver and similar family-centered films are propaganda not only because of their wartime content and release dates, but because they are shaped by an underlying structure of melodrama, which, by the 1940s, already had a theatrical and cinematic reputation for making social and economic appeals.
In his insightful contribution to “In These Times,” James Gifford takes inspiration from Woolf to state that on or about November 2016 something fundamentally changed (or rather should fundamentally change) in our teaching of modernist studies. That the election marks a shifting moment in the ways in which we, as pedagogues, approach modern literature is a thought-provoking claim