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Video: Pamela Robertson Wojcik on how film engages cultural moments

Author: Todd Boruff


“I think that film is at the center of our culture and has really changed the way we see the world.” 

— Pamela Robertson Wojcik

Pamela Robertson Wojcik is a professor of film, television, and theatre and concurrent faculty in American studies and gender studies. Her research focuses on American film, with particular emphasis on issues of gender, performance, genre, and space. More information can be found at her faculty page.

Video Transcript

I work on primarily Hollywood film. I tend to approach film in terms of how it works on us ideologically. I like to put film in cultural context and think about the ways in which it engages a cultural moment, so I use film to sort of unpack history.

My most recent book is about the idea of the urban child and that one, I look at representations of kids from the s to the present and particularly I'm thinking about the ways in which kids are represented in terms of neglect, and the idea of the city as sort of inherently a space of neglect for kids. On the one hand, the city is dangerous and bad, right? It doesn't have enough green space; there's bad people; kids are at risk. But on the other, and this is what I find more compelling, is the idea of neglect as freedom, and the idea of kids being mobile in the city and having autonomy, and so trying to think about what the appeal of that idea of mobility is and also how we got away from it.

I kind of track up to the present where I think, culturally, we have this mania for utter and complete supervision of our kids all the time. In films and novels and particularly things aimed at kids, we're putting them in incredible peril, right? But it's always sort of some kind of dystopian future and the only positive instances you get of kids mobility are always set in the past. So trying to think about how those changes and ideas about kids intersect also with changing ideas about the city.

I also look at things to think about gender and to think about class and race, think about changing ideas of masculinity. You know, what is it, what was that Eroll Flynn model, right? A kind of hale and hearty masculinity that's very tied to, in curious ways, kind of a Royalist perception of the world? And then comparing that to, in the same period in the s, Fred Astaire, right? A very different model of masculinity where it's about elegance and it's about discipline and it's about form. These categories are not monolithic but that we're always building them and changing them and that a lot of the way we come to build and change them is through art.

I think that film is at the center of our culture and has really changed the way we see the world. This is magical stuff. It's an incredible privilege to spend my life talking about these things.