Elaine Showalter

Elaine Showalter is the Avalon Foundation Professor of the Humanities, Emeritus. Professor of English, Emeritus at Princeton University.

Recent Articles

Up from Weequahic

New Jersey Dreaming: Capital, Culture and the Class of '58 By Sherry B. Ortner, Duke University Press, 334 PAGES, $29.95 Sometimes the announcement of a book just leaps out of a publisher's catalog and grabs you by the throat, and such was the case with this study by Sherry Ortner, a MacArthur Prize- winning anthropologist who has made her career as an authority on the Sherpas and on gender. Ortner and I were at Bryn Mawr together, and a decade ago she mentioned that she was beginning a study of her own class at Weequahic High School in Newark, N.J., as an ethnographic experiment in American class mobility. Although I grew up in suburban Boston, I graduated from high school in 1958 as well, and this book is very much the story of my generation of American Jews, who came out of the sedate '50s and encountered the next decade's social turbulence and excitement. To understand their experience of social mobility, Ortner decided to track down her 304 classmates at Weequahic, conduct...

Window on Reality

"Reality" television is generally scorned as mindless, vulgar, exploitative and contrived. So is it ever sociology, is it ever real? Yes, if it's American Idol , the FOX show that recently wrapped up its blockbuster second season. The program, for the uninitiated, pitted 12 young performers against one another for a chance at a $1 million recording contract. True, American Idol was adapted from a British series, Pop Idol , which had attracted a record 14 million voters and made an instant celebrity of a colorless boy singer. True, the program's producers were motivated by only the slickest of intentions: to manufacture a lucrative audience for a recording star before even one CD had been released. True, the twice-weekly programs, with their drawn-out commercial breaks and clumsily staged group numbers, were not the material of art. And yet, in its shape and timing, American Idol has provided a fascinating snapshot of American youth culture in the 21st century. At once a competition, a...

Food: My Dinner with Derrida

I n the 1960s, when my husband and I first traveled in England as students, we would have starved without the Chinese. From Brighton to Durham, from Bath to Norwich, the only inexpensive restaurants open at night were serving sweet-and-sour pork. Even Indian food was exotic and scarce--and pub food was inedible. A decade later, living in London on our first sabbatical from academe, we were alarmed to hear of a bread strike. But when we rushed to the local bakery with our hungry tots, it turned out that the stricken bread was only the sliced white loaf, for which desperate customers were queuing. Everything else--croissants, baguettes, rye, pita--was in plentiful but undesirable supply. Similarly, our greengrocer had never eaten a courgette or an artichoke, although he was starting to sell them. As cheap package tours to Spain and France became available, British food habits were revolutionized. London has changed a lot. Paul Levy dates the moment of transformation to 1972, when "...

Sex Goddess

S ince the beginning of the women's liberation movement in the 1960s, theorists have recognized two kinds of contemporary feminist culture: Feminism Heavy and Feminism Lite. Heavy, or high, feminism includes art exhibits, academic books, PBS, foreign films by Dutch or Belgian women directors (such as Jeanne Dielmann, Chantal Akerman's interminable saga of a housewife's interminable day), the novels of Susan Sontag and Toni Morrison, and learned journals such as Signs, Genders, or Legacy. Lite, or low, feminism includes advertising, the fiction of Anita Shreve and Terry McMillan, the plays of Wendy Wasserstein, commercial television, women's magazines, and most Hollywood movies. Indeed, the central axiom of high-feminist film theory is that the on-screen woman, however liberated or radical in her actions, is nonetheless the object of the camera's gaze--a gaze that is predatory, controlling, and metaphorically male. But this theory depends on the formal and structural analysis of film,...

Mob Scene

Living in New Jersey is always strange, but it's been getting stranger since HBO's hit series The Sopranos debuted last year. Suddenly the whole state is rediscovering its Mafia roots. At my local mall, the hairdresser can't even wait until the conditioner to tell me that he is related to one of the original five Mafia families in Little Italy; he moonlights as a lounge singer doing Frank Sinatra imitations at a casino in Atlantic City. "Everyone tells me I look just like that guy on The Sopranos ," he boasts, and croons "My Way" into the blow-dryer. Now that The Sopranos has begun its second television season, will Tony and Carmela replace Jake and Tiffany as the most popular names for New Jersey babies? Will some North Jersey entrepreneur open a Mafia theme park with a pork store, a strip club, and a whorehouse? Of course, Sopranomania has spread far beyond the borders of the Garden State. The show was nominated for 16 Emmys (but received only four)...