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The Dream Life of the New Woman:
As Mirrored in Current “Historical” Heroines

- Abstract

The avowed purpose of our popular culture—the Hollywood film, the current best-selling “historical novels,” the radio soap operas—is to afford its avid consumers a quick momentary satisfaction of their fantasies; and the box-office returns sufficiently attest to their sensational success in their chosen role. By that same token, such “escapist” culture, being wish-fulfilment, should tell us a good deal about the unfulfilled wishes—the dreams, the desires, the aspirations—that currently stir the hearts of the millions, as well as throw light on the hidden ideals and thwarted ambitions in our modern society. For wishes change with the changing conditions of life; our “wish-fulfilments” are not the same as our fathers’ or grandfathers’, except in the most generalized sense: the wishes expressed on the screen, over the radio, in our novels, are the wishes generated by the problems of present-day life, as lived by real people.

The fact that people might wish for other things if they had the power to construct their own wish-fantasies, or if other kinds were presented to them, is beside the point; these are the wishes they accept and act on. And even when it is granted that the consumer of popular culture may to some extent be two people—the one who goes to the movies or listens to the soap operas and the one who leads the rest of his life—still no one can really escape from himself altogether; and indeed the value of escape through fantasy—of “escape” as we know it—would be negligible if the total “loss of oneself” were possible. Fantasies are in essence passive, quick, and easy fulfilments of one’s present self.

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