Televising the South: Race, Gender, and Region in Primetime, 1955-1980
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This dissertation traces the emergence of the U.S. South and the region's role in primetime television, from the post-World War II era through Reagan's election in 1980. These early years defined, as Herman Gray suggests in Watching Race, all subsequent representations of blackness on television. This defining moment, I argue, is one inextricably tethered to the South and the region's anxiety ridden and complicated relationship with television. This anxiety was rooted in the progress and increasing visibility of the Civil Rights Movement, concern over growing white southern audiences in the wake of the FCC freeze (ended in 1952), and the fear and threat of a southern backlash against racially progressive programming. From the short-lived drama Bourbon Street Beat to the success of Andy Griffith, these concerns structured and policed the content of television, producing puzzling and often contradictory visions of the South. The representational maneuvers enacted by these shows attempted to render that threatening South safe for national consumption, while simultaneously invoking southern manners and downhome southern living as emblematic of all that is good about America. That is, the South was both the threat to the democratic nation and the cure for all that ailed a nation in crisis. In returning to the South during the formative years of primetime and at a moment where the region visibly and visually contested narratives of a democratic nation, my dissertation provides a foundation for thinking through a contemporary landscape saturated in problematically post-racial southern imagery.