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"Canned History": American Newsreels and the Commodification of Reality, 1927-1945


By examining the history of the sound newsreel in the 1930s and 1940s, this dissertation illustrates how moving picture news changed the way Americans experienced current events and understood reality itself, as well as some of the consequences of those changes. The introduction of sound in 1927 marked an important shift for the newsreel industry and a natural point at which to begin a study of the newsreel at the height of its influence. In the years that followed, newsreels were a crucial means by which audiences connected to the world and to one another. This study brings together an historical examination of the newsreel's methods of production, distribution, exhibition, and reception with a discursive analysis of the form's representational strategies. The newsreel was more than a genre or an industry; it was a total system. Looking at this interconnected system reveals the ways in which the newsreel's specialized modes of production, distribution and address shaped and reflected its content. The serialized and segmented format of these films, combined with the power of the medium to make the news visible to its audience, meant that the newsreel's publics viewed the world in a new way. By emphasizing the mediated watching of reality -- and by framing that reality as a kind of parade -- the newsreel privileged spectatorship over other forms of knowledge. For the first time, the commodified experience of watching the news became as important as the news itself.
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2011)

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Clark, Joseph E.J., "'Canned History': American Newsreels and the Commodification of Reality, 1927-1945" (2011). American Studies Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.