(Straight) White men can't dance: The dancing body as racial and gendered ideology in American popular culture from 1980 to 2018
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This dissertation aims to chart an evolution of the (straight) White man dance trope, in which White men are presented in television, film, and video as either non-dancers or bad dancers in American popular culture from 1980 to 2018. In particular, this dissertation analyzes movement from White men in order to discern how dance in American popular culture reflects gender and race ideologies. I locate the inception of this trope in comedian Eddie Murphy’s sketch in Eddie Murphy Raw (1987), commonly referred to as “The White Man Dance” sketch, in which Murphy argues White people “can’t dance.” I contextualize how this sketch emerges in part from the homophobic paranoia produced by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. In order to thoroughly discern the ways in which these movement texts further gender and race ideologies in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, this dissertation considers how the joint theater histories of minstrelsy and vaudeville are instrumental in providing a model for ethnic mimicry in dancing, i.e. what it means to dance “White” or to dance “Black.” Vaudeville and minstrelsy provide not only an historical framework for how these comic traditions could inform these choreographies, but also a cultural foundation for how these current images of the White dancing male construct Whiteness much in the same way vaudeville and minstrelsy images constructed ethnic stereotypes. Further, the intersecting theoretic disciplines of masculinities studies and gender studies provide a philosophical grounding for the ways in which White men are represented in these audiovisual texts. Masculinities studies offers a deeper understanding of values placed upon masculinity in American mainstream culture, while gender studies offers an interrogation into how one performs reiterative gender norms. This dissertation questions how these choreographies reinforce or subvert traditional norms of gender and race, placing the White male in a liminal space between Whiteness and Blackness, masculinity and femininity. It offers an intersection of these ideas and attempts to illustrate how dance can be seen as the moving image reinforcing outdated or complicated modes of gender and racial identity within American popular culture.
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