The Surface of Things: Reading a Cinema of Decline
Leininger, Derek Michael
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A declensionist imagination dominated intellectual and cultural discourse in American society through the late twentieth century. The 1970s and 1980s were punctuated by real declines of multiple sorts, but the alarmed debates about juvenile delinquency, rural blight, urban decay, and violent crime often obscured coterminous trends and the more meaningful critiques of the historical forces prompting the changes felt as decline. By looking at American films from the 1970s and 1980s focused on thematic decline of varied sorts, this project explores the postmodern social experience of the late-twentieth century and the cultural roots of overcriminalization in the United States. Reading between the filmic lines (or what film theorist Siegfried Kracauer called the surface expressions of cinema) provides clues into unpacking the often contradictory political, social, and cultural configurations taking shape at the end of the twentieth century.