What Would Robert Mitchum Do? Pulp Culture and Postwar American Virilities


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The manuscript is under contract to Palgrave Macmillan.

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My title is inspired by Somebody Owes Me Money (1969), a comic thriller by prolific crime writer, Donald E. Westlake. Hunted down and captured by gangsters, the protagonist asks himself, “what would Robert Mitchum do now, what would he do in a situation like this?” (38). The plots of such formula fictions unfold around the predicament of an “everyman” who, in a moment of crisis, is challenged to test his mettle; in so doing, he measures himself against an array of culturally available models of heroic or romantic masculine competence. Such books repeatedly ask their readers to imagine what it is to be a man. The answers provided, however, are more varied and unsettling than we might expect. At the same, time, such popular works provide in compelling if highly sensationalized form rich cultural genealogies for the workaday misogyny and institutionalized forms of racism entrenched within American culture. Advancing the need for a replete critical history of portrayals of masculinity in all spaces of the American imagination, What Would Robert Mitchum Do? interrogates the vast, remarkably varied repertoire of masculine performance in postwar cultural production.

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Funded

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