Electronic Thesis/Dissertation


Medicalizing Edutainment: Enforcing Disability in the Teen Body, 1970-2000 Open Access

This study investigates shifting cultural meanings of teenagers in the postwar period by examining linkages among cultural representations, citizenship, nation, youth and the body. This dissertation argues that cultural representations of teenagers mapped narratives of overcoming disability metaphorically onto coming-of-age stories, constructing adolescence as a temporary disability. Bringing disability and queer studies perspectives to a discursive history of the teen, this study traces how national health and the individual health of teen citizen-subjects fused biopolitically through the co-dependent tropes of rebelliousness and overcoming. Throughout, this dissertation highlights broader notions of American democratic citizenship and questions of compulsory able-bodiedness, heteronormativity, technology, the body, and affect in cultural analysis. Integrating analyses of films, television, novels, government policy, and medical technology, this study historicizes "medicalized edutainment," my term for a range of teen-focused narratives which emerged in the late twentieth century alongside governmental initiatives to encourage teen health through popular culture. This edutainment not only medicalized teen development but also figured teen rebellion as internal and embodied rather than externally- or environmentally-incited. Addressing teen citizen-subjects proactively rather than protectively, medicalized edutainment promoted "rehabilitative citizenship," that is, edutainment promised to rehabilitate developing teen citizens into stable adults while concomitantly rehabilitating the image of popular culture as productive rather than damaging. Beginning in the 1970s and continuing through the 2000s, this study examines representations of disease and disability in emergent televisual and literary forms for teens. This includes "disease-of-the-week" made-for-TV movies, such as ABC's After School Specials (1972-1996) and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), and "teen sick-lit" novels by Lurlene McDaniel, which narrated and disciplined teens through the affective labor of sadness. It also examines popular neuroscience publishing, parenting books, and news coverage of school-shooting and superpredator epidemics from 1990 to 2000 to chart the emergence of "neuroparenting"--a parenting model that constructed teen brains as disabled by blaming neurology for "symptoms" of adolescence. Overall, this study historicizes how the joint tactics of policing sexuality and fostering bodily normativity operated through the affective labor of sadness and fear to construct teens as always-already emotionally-excessive, disabled, and under-construction.

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