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Bastard Theatres and Human Dregs: Cultures of Illegitimacy on 42nd Street.

Fisher, A., 2023. Bastard Theatres and Human Dregs: Cultures of Illegitimacy on 42nd Street. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. (In Press)

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The phrase ‘legitimate theatre’ repeatedly adapted to the shifting cultural terrain of the 20th century in a journey of consistent dissociation: firstly from vaudeville and burlesque, then from moving pictures, and then from a particular type of moving picture. These meanings accumulated to entrench the word as a dependable marker of culturally acceptable output, venue and audience, which constantly morphed to exclude the latest form of disreputable entertainment. This article uses newspaper and trade press archives to chart s the evolution of the phrase ‘legitimate theatre’ in relation to theatres on New York’s 42nd Street that were built by 1920 and converted to moving pictures by the early 1940s. Various surrounding industrial and social tensions – the transition from live performance to movies, the derided status of exploitation and adult films, the perceived degradation of the area in the post-war era, and the drive for its wholesale redevelopment that gathered pace in the 1970s – are examined and interrogated. The shifting implications of the term ‘legitimate theatre’ in this context, from an established industry descriptor to a means of moral judgement on these venues’ output and audiences, are thereby shown to illuminate the broader cultural and economic histories of the 42nd Street area, revealing a process of differentiation and exclusion from perceptions of mainstream popular culture that would eventually become weaponised to justify the demolition of the area for the purposes of corporate capital. word’s usage in local newspapers and the trade press, with particular reference to the eleven theatres on New York’s 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues that had been built by 1920, and had converted to moving pictures by the early 1940s. The findings reveal that, in this context, discourses of ‘legitimacy’ evolved from well-established industry meanings to frame classist, homophobic or racist slurs against these theatres’ audiences and the denizens of 42nd Street more broadly, frequently accompanying a lexicon of pollution, disease and impurity.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:Legitimate theatre, grind houses, New York, cinematic spaces, urban redevelopment
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:36905
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:03 May 2022 13:55
Last Modified:10 May 2022 07:57


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