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The small -town myth in American presidential politics and film: Synthesizing political culture and popular visual culture

Kurt C Billmeyer, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The small town of America's past has a powerful hold upon America's psyche. In fact, the small town is at the heart of a defining political struggle over whether a local community as defined by “rural/small town” or a national community as defined by urban/city best defines America's values and beliefs. I contend this defining struggle is a meaningful way by which to analyze and understand American presidential politics. In recent times, numerous presidents, most notably, Carter, Reagan and Clinton have all told substantial small-town stories that were central to their elections, their presidencies, and their legacies. Each president's small-town story is deeply rooted in the small-town myth which draws much of its symbolic potency from history and popular culture. Thus, in this study I describe what both history and popular culture (film), have to say about the American small town. An inquiry of both small-town history and films is essential for my study because the boundaries between politics and popular culture have become blurred. Each president draws symbols from both small-town history and film in constructing their small-town stories. Once each president's small-town story is delineated they are intertextually read against small-town history and films to reveal both the essence of each story but more importantly the tensions that such an intertextual reading reveals. By uncovering the essences and tensions of these stories I can describe the place of the small-town myth in American presidential politics and its future as a defining political construct. ^

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Political Science, General|Cinema

Recommended Citation

Billmeyer, Kurt C, "The small -town myth in American presidential politics and film: Synthesizing political culture and popular visual culture" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3117796.