The House We Want to Live In: Imagining Democracy through Early 20th Century Pop Culture

By Kenneth DiMaggio and Carl Antonucci.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online September 15, 2015 $US5.00

Before popular culture became a term, the invention of the motion picture and ability to record music established how entertainment could become a popular medium. Along with this widening popularity, newly arrived immigrants and their offspring sought personal expression along with fortune through early forms of mass media. In addition, these artists also used their art to express a distinct place for them as citizens of a democratic American republic. By looking at two specific songs in two films, this paper will examine the "imagining" of America from an ethnic perspective, and in a medium that comprises two forms of media: music and film. In examining Al Jolson's song "My Mammy" (from the film The Jazz Singer) and Frank Sinatra's song "The House I Live In" (from the film short of the same name) we can see how still marginalized ethnic groups were trying to establish themselves in America, along with trying to imagine a place for themselves as Americans. Such establishment and imagining will also take place through what were then fresh mediums: film and recorded music. The popular aspirations of Jolson trying to assert his Jewishness through "blackface" and Sinatra trying to broker a peace between tribal ethnic rivalry will take place through the popular culture that their communities would listen to on the phonograph or see each week at the movies.

Keywords: Frank Sinatra, Al Jolson, The Jazz Singer, The House I Live In, Early Mass Media, Ethnic Representation, Film, Music

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 6, Issue 3, September, 2015, pp.39-49. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online September 15, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 464.271KB)).

Kenneth DiMaggio

Professor of Humanities, Humanities, Capital Community College, Hartford, Connecticut, USA

Dr. Carl Antonucci

Director of Library Services, Elihu Burritt Library, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut, USA