Immigration and American Popular Culture: An Introduction

Immigration and American Popular Culture: An Introduction

Immigration and American Popular Culture: An Introduction

Immigration and American Popular Culture: An Introduction


How does a 'national' popular culture form and grow over time in a nation comprised of immigrants? How have immigrants used popular culture in America, and how has it used them?

Immigration and American Popular Culture looks at the relationship between American immigrants and the popular culture industry in the twentieth century. Through a series of case studies, Rachel Rubin and Jeffrey Melnick uncover how specific trends in popular culture- such as portrayals of European immigrants as gangsters in 1930s cinema, the zoot suits of the 1940s, the influence of Jamaican Americans on rap in the 1970s, and cyberpunk and Asian American zines in the1990s- have their roots in the complex socio-political nature of immigration in America.

Supplemented by a timeline of key events and extensive suggestions for further reading, Immigration and American Popular Culture offers at once a unique history of twentieth century U. S. immigration and an essential introduction to the major approaches to the study of popular culture. Melnick and Rubin go further to demonstrate how completely and complexly the processes of immigration and cultural production have been intertwined, and how we cannot understand one without the other.


The popular movie Men in Black II (2002), which, along with its 1997 predecessor Men in Black, is one of the turn-of-the-century's most widely circulated reflections on immigration, finds its protagonists in a jam even after they have won the movie's climactic battle against the bad guys. The heroes, known as Agent J and Agent K, work for a secret government agency that both regulates and hides the presence on earth of “aliens”—in short, for an intergalactic immigration bureau. In a fight that raged all around and over the Statue of Liberty (Agent L?), they have just saved at least two worlds from destruction and bundled off Agent J's love interest in a spacecraft so she can become a leader of her people. But it has been a conspicuous business. Thousands of people have seen at least some part of the flashy battle—and J and K's job is cover-up as much as it is public safety. Normally, they use an essential tool/weapon called the “neuralyzer” to erase the short-term memory of eyewitnesses with the mere flash of a green light. But this time, so many people have been exposed that the tiny green light could never reach them all.

We have chosen to start our book with this movie scene because of its impressive success at setting up a number of important fields of inquiry crucial to the study of immigration and popular culture. Popular culture in general, and science fiction in particular, has long been an important collective processing site for questions concerning the politics and ethics of immigration: it's very easy to see how “aliens”

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