Manifest Mercenaries: Mercenary Narratives in American Popular Culture, 1850-1990 Open Access
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This dissertation examines American mercenary narratives in television series, novels, memoirs, and other mass-media cultural products to compose a literary and cultural history of American mercenaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Using literary, visual, and cultural analysis, I examine the cultural work performed in William Walker's memoir The War in Nicaragua (1860); Richard Harding Davis' mercenary romance novels Soldiers of Fortune (1897) and Captain Macklin (1902); early Cold War television series Soldiers of Fortune (1955-1957) and Have Gun, Will Travel (1957-1963), as well as Ernest K. Gann's novel Soldier of Fortune (1954) and film adaptation (1955); and late Cold War television series The A-Team (1983-1987) and Airwolf (1983-1986; 1987). Mercenary narratives appear in popular discourse during times of contested social changes and international interaction, roughly parallel to times of war, crises in white patriarchal masculinity, redefinitions of American Exceptionalism, and revisions of Manifest Destiny. Within the fun, action, and romance that attract consumers, mass-media mercenary narratives communicate narratives of social control, order, and hierarchy. They offer a glimpse into historicized structures of feelings and understandings of the possible, thinkable, idealized, and heroic as presented from the assumed dominant point(s) of view, and provide a way to examine contemporary understandings of race, gender, and class relations constructed through a lens of benevolent dominance and control. Ritualistically consuming mass-media mercenary narratives creates collective prosthetic memories and heuristics for understanding (fictional and factional) American mercenaries and private military contractors.As paramilitary patriots, these mercenaries believe in the American project - life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc. - and project a benevolent, ambitious American spirit, but they enforce these beliefs through violent means or threats of violence made from outside the authority of the state apparatus. As a popular culture form, mercenary narratives provide a hegemonic and ritualistic guide for contemporary popular culture consumers traversing liminal periods. The American mercenary is always simultaneously a domestic and a transnational figure, one that enforces conservative understandings of acceptable race, gender, and class hierarchies in "other" and "foreign" spaces, such as other nations, borderlands, and liminal spaces within the United States where identities are flexible.