Location

Panel 25: Kearney 312

Start Date

27-10-2012 3:00 PM

End Date

27-10-2012 4:30 PM

Description

Cape Fear, the movie, and Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, both debuted in 1962. The film, adapted by James Webb from John D. MacDonald’s 1957 crime fiction, The Executioners, was grounded in the cold war mentality of the 1950s. Kesey’s novel heralded social change and became emblematic of 1960s counter-culture by the time it achieved film fame in 1975. While seemingly unrelated texts, their intersection in 1962 and the timeline of their novel-to-film trajectories can be approached as a revealing cultural discourse regarding masculinity, the cold war, and social change. Analysis of this discourse also invites consideration of genre differences associated with mass market and literary fictions.

The significance of this intersection in time is magnified by similarities in the authors’ respective representations of provocative, dangerous men: Max Cady in Cape Fear and R. P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Both are physically imposing, sociopathic, psychologically manipulative, convicted rapists. Both are ex-servicemen and ex-cons who, when released from prison, disrupt stable social orders. Both use sexual threats to defy law and authority. And, both are killed in climactic scenes. But, Cady is a villain and McMurphy is a hero. Cady is a libidinous monster whose amoral desire for women and girls signifies the antithesis of civilization, while McMurphy’s overflowing libido is a life force that rescues fellow psychiatric patients from a desiccated wasteland. Cady must be destroyed to preserve law, society and family. McMurphy must be sacrificed to inspire male liberation from an authoritarian matriarchy and false democracy.

Cape Fear is pulp fiction melodrama and Cuckoo’s Nest is a dense and literary American romance. It is tempting to conclude that this textual discourse simply pits the conventions of crime melodrama against the convention-breaking esthetics of high art, and conservative against destabilizing politics. This polarity has validity, but juxtaposing these two representations of dangerous men and their fates indicates late 50s/early 60s cultural ambivalence toward overt male sexuality and negotiation of perceived threats to “healthy” sexuality from below and above, from id and superego. The narrative designs of both texts require that dangerous men (villain and hero) must die, but their respective characterizations constitute a cultural discourse on changing social and sexual mores. Synthesis of these opposing representations is found in MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, launched with The Deep Blue Goodbye in 1964 in which detective McGee embodies an idealized autonomous man, a version of K.A. Courdileone’s “liberal superman,” characterized by vigor, confidence and the freedom to live and love simultaneously in and outside of society.

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Oct 27th, 3:00 PM Oct 27th, 4:30 PM

Cape Fear and Cuckoo’s Nest: Cultural Discourse on Dangerous Men

Panel 25: Kearney 312

Cape Fear, the movie, and Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, both debuted in 1962. The film, adapted by James Webb from John D. MacDonald’s 1957 crime fiction, The Executioners, was grounded in the cold war mentality of the 1950s. Kesey’s novel heralded social change and became emblematic of 1960s counter-culture by the time it achieved film fame in 1975. While seemingly unrelated texts, their intersection in 1962 and the timeline of their novel-to-film trajectories can be approached as a revealing cultural discourse regarding masculinity, the cold war, and social change. Analysis of this discourse also invites consideration of genre differences associated with mass market and literary fictions.

The significance of this intersection in time is magnified by similarities in the authors’ respective representations of provocative, dangerous men: Max Cady in Cape Fear and R. P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Both are physically imposing, sociopathic, psychologically manipulative, convicted rapists. Both are ex-servicemen and ex-cons who, when released from prison, disrupt stable social orders. Both use sexual threats to defy law and authority. And, both are killed in climactic scenes. But, Cady is a villain and McMurphy is a hero. Cady is a libidinous monster whose amoral desire for women and girls signifies the antithesis of civilization, while McMurphy’s overflowing libido is a life force that rescues fellow psychiatric patients from a desiccated wasteland. Cady must be destroyed to preserve law, society and family. McMurphy must be sacrificed to inspire male liberation from an authoritarian matriarchy and false democracy.

Cape Fear is pulp fiction melodrama and Cuckoo’s Nest is a dense and literary American romance. It is tempting to conclude that this textual discourse simply pits the conventions of crime melodrama against the convention-breaking esthetics of high art, and conservative against destabilizing politics. This polarity has validity, but juxtaposing these two representations of dangerous men and their fates indicates late 50s/early 60s cultural ambivalence toward overt male sexuality and negotiation of perceived threats to “healthy” sexuality from below and above, from id and superego. The narrative designs of both texts require that dangerous men (villain and hero) must die, but their respective characterizations constitute a cultural discourse on changing social and sexual mores. Synthesis of these opposing representations is found in MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, launched with The Deep Blue Goodbye in 1964 in which detective McGee embodies an idealized autonomous man, a version of K.A. Courdileone’s “liberal superman,” characterized by vigor, confidence and the freedom to live and love simultaneously in and outside of society.