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Appealing to Better Natures: Genre and the Politics of Performance in the Modern American Environmental Movement Open Access

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Appealing to Better Natures is an analysis of the narrative strategies developed and deployed by different factions of the environmental movement — from consumer activists to eco-terrorists — as a tactic to combat political fatigue in the 21st century, wherein individuals are constantly bombarded by mediated dire warnings of various types. Environmentalists can and do use genre as part of a contest about the correct politics of relating to the environment in order to generate narrative fealty and police boundaries related to proper political practice, including performances of gender, politics, and economic identities. In this conflict, genre also functions as a tool to overcome apathy in and generate narrative fealty in an environmental marketplace of ideas, since generic conventions quickly convey what the viewer should perceive as right and wrong and also provide a blueprint for ethical citizenship. This research brings together important aspects of film and media studies in new ways. By noting genres’ effects on micropolitical action, this dissertation pushes past “viewing positions” to examine “performance positions,” which take into account how generic structuring influences subsequent actions, discourse, and affects of those audience members that feel themselves “hailed” by certain types of genre appeals. This dissertation argues that that these discursive deployments of genres seek to sculpt specific kinds of environmental citizens by organizing types of performances and sets of affects into mythic constellations that can be emulated by receptive audiences, and indicates that for activists, being conscious of the structuring forms of the narratives they are deploying is as important as crafting the content of those narratives.

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