Ruth Mayer holds the chair of American Studies at Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany. She is the director of the research project "Multiplication: Modernity, Mass Culture, Gender in the United States, 1910-1933," and the co-editor of Modernity and the Periodical Press: Trans-Atlantic Mass Culture and the Avantgardes, 1880-1920 (Brill, forthcoming 2022).
Lower-middle-class and working-class girls coming to the big city in the early twentieth century made all sorts of life choices, but in the popular fiction of the period a disproportionate number of them end up as chorus girls. Chorines turned into icons of American urban modernity—versatile, daring, sexy, and young.
When Fantômas, the futuristic master criminal and terrorist, first enters the stage of modern mass culture in 1911, he complies with the associations raised by his name and does not really take shape. Phantomlike, he gives evidence of his existence through his actions rather than personal appearances. Like other famous creatures appearing on the mass cultural scene of the day—Dracula comes to mind—Fantômas proceeds through dispersal, diffusion, and distraction, figuring forth a flickering presence, not yet here and already gone.