Beyond Mad Men: Personal and Collective Nostalgia in British and American Period Dramas; SAMLA, Nov 8-10

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Anthony Dotterman/Adelphi University
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In his article "The Forty Year Itch," Adam Gopnik argues that the past "is not simply a good setting for a good story, but a good setting for you." While Gopnik's article focuses on nostalgia as a cyclical product that imagines "whatever happened or [we] thought to have happened" in American culture in the context of the popularity of AMC's Mad Men, the popularity of the BBC's period drama Downton Abbey complicates Gopnik's hypothesis. Particularly, Downton Abbey's WWI era time period directly contradicts Gopnik's argument that nostalgia only focuses on a "decade roughly forty or fifty years past;" in addition, the show's popularity among an American audience call into question the sense that nostalgia is a product of society's real or imagined sense of a shared cultural history. In short, contemporary period dramas on television transcend the notion that audience are nostalgic for a familiar, national past.

Keeping Gopnik's argument, and Rita Felski's extended discussion of nostalgia in mind, the following panel looks to solicit original essays that examine British and American period dramas from the perspective of transatlantic and/or "trans-generational" nostalgia. What can these works, and their popularity in Britain and/or America, tell us about our collective interest in an "idealized pre-modern" yet anachronistic past? How can we reconcile the treatment of the past, in these dramas, as a source of pre-modern authenticity with the paradoxical tendency to introduce contemporary notions of class, gender, nationalism, etc. in their narratives?

Essay topics are welcome on, but not limited to, the following shows: Copper, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Midwife, etc.

Please email paper abstracts of 500 words or less to by June 10, 2010.