More new HL90s this semester! Angela Allan told us about her new class on noir.
What inspired you to teach this class?
I spent a lot of time in March and April watching movies as an alternative to doomscrolling (although I’ve done plenty of that too), and realized that a lot of the films I turned to were also not particularly uplifting. While there’s a lot to love about noir—snappy dialogue, great clothes, amazing cinematography—it’s also incredibly unsettling stuff. But audiences in the 1940s and 50s loved it! Life called it “Hollywood’s profound postwar affection for morbid drama.” In the haze of popular narratives about the postwar period, we so often think about the end of World War II as this quick pivot to the nuclear family in the suburbs, but the end of the war also marked a kind of social and psychological reckoning with what the national identity would be. So we’ll be talking about noir as the cultural counterpart to these conversations.
What’s something you’re excited to share with students?
I’m so excited to talk about all of the films and novels, but one of the things we’ll be doing as an activity on the first day of class is looking at some true crime magazines from the 1940s and 1950s. I’m not a podcast person, but I find it super interesting that things like Serial have been so popular in the last couple of years. The magazines we’re looking at show that this public appetite for true crime is nothing new. It’s amazing how many different magazines existed: True Detective, Front Page Detective, Uncensored Detective, Inside Detective, and so on. They also have these totally salacious headlines, photos, and illustrations, so I’m looking forward to our discussion about who the audience for them was and what purpose they served.
What do you want students to take away from the class?
One of my informal policies for the classroom is banning the word “problematic” from discussion. The texts in this class have many, many, many flaws but I think that’s why they’re also so interesting and important to study. What’s more, so many of the novels and films are about the problematic. Noir is all about individuals who break norms or rebel. These characters don’t “fit” into an idealized model of society that is largely built by and for heterosexual white men. Some of our texts are invested in the restoration or affirmation of this society by purging the “bad” individual, while others are invested in critiquing the harm that society inflicts upon individuals who don’t conform. I’m hoping we’ll have a lot of great conversations about how popular culture participates in navigating these ideas.
Would you be the detective or the criminal mastermind in a noir?
I’d just want to make it to the end in one piece! There are some pretty tough characters out there in the world of noir.
How can students learn more?
You can check out the syllabus on Canvas and if you’d like to talk more, shoot me an email (email@example.com) to ask questions or to set up an appointment!