introduction. melodrama and the politics of freedom
1. Linda Williams argues, “Melodrama is still the best, and most accurate, description
of the serious narrative and iconic work performed by American mass culture,
broadly conceived. . . . [Melodrama is] what most oft en typifi es pop u lar American
narrative in literature, stage, fi lm and tele vi sion when it seeks to engage with moral
questions.” Jameson writes that the melodramatic plot is “the staple of mass culture”
and that the end of melodrama would be “the end of mass culture itself.” Linda Wil-
liams, Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O. J.
Simpson (Prince ton, NJ: Prince ton University Press, 2001), 12, 17; and Fredric Jame-
son, “Realism and Utopia in Th e Wire,” Criticism 52, nos. 3– 4 (Summer / Fall 2010),
367– 68. See also Christine Gledhill, “Th e Melodramatic Field: An Investigation,” in
Home Is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (London:
British Film Institute, 1987); David Grimsted, Melodrama Unveiled: American Th e-
ater and Culture, 1800– 1850 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988); and Jef-
frey Mason, Melodrama and the Myth of America (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1993).
2. Lauren Berlant examines melodrama in order to analyze what she calls “national
sentimentality”— a form of national belonging or ga nized around shared experiences
of empathic suff ering with other injured Americans. In Berlant’s pathbreaking analy-
sis, melodramatic cultural products such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Th e King and I, and
Now, Voyager cultivate national sentimentality through fantasies of inclusive citizen-
ship in which citizens’ empathy with the suff ering of the less fortunate indicates their
own virtue and seems to correspond to the amelioration of injustice. Th e suff ering that
underpins national sentiment is produced by structural inequalities within the na-
tion, and melodrama suggests that this suff ering can mainly be redressed outside the
po liti cal sphere, oft en in consumer products that locate remediation through the
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