The nineteenth-century commitment to thrilling an audience embodied an emerging synergy of public performance, collective experience, and individual agency.
Mae West and Camp
A camp diva, a queer icon, and a model of feminism—the memorable Mae West left behind a complicated legacy, on and off the stage.
Luna Park and the Amusement Park Boom
The fortunes of Coney Island have waxed and waned, but in the early twentieth century, its amusement parks became a major American export.
Mills Panoram and Soundies
In the 1940s, these short films set to music transgressed Hollywood’s racial mythology to create space for Black artists to experiment—and have fun.
Finding Krao Farini
Public discourse on the bearded lady, a staple of circus sideshow, revealed the racial biases underpinning Darwinian theory.
How Muppets Add Meaning to a Mass Media Christmas
The Muppet Christmas Carol works hard to get people to engage with Charles Dickens, but its real success is becoming part of the holiday itself.
Halloween: A Mystic and Eerie Significance
Despite the prevalence of tricks and spooky spirits in earlier years, the American commercial holiday didn’t develop until the middle of the twentieth century.
Temperance Melodrama on the Nineteenth-Century Stage
Produced by the master entertainer P. T. Barnum, a melodrama about the dangers of alcohol was the first show to run for a hundred performances in New York City.
The “Trapeze Disrobing Act”
Strongwoman Charmion used Thomas Edison’s experiments with moving pictures to encourage women to embrace strength and physical activity.
History, Cosplay, and Comic-Con
Donning costumes in imitation and celebration of fictional characters has a long history that crosses genres, genders, and international boundaries.