There are primarily two ways in which the relationship between the various movements that since the late 1960s were caught under the umbrella term ‘New Left’ and the different strands of a new kind of conservative politics that triumphed with the election of Ronald Reagan and were labeled the ‘New Right’ has been cast. It was prominently interpreted as a ‘backlash’ of the latter against the former, a violent reaction against the excesses of a ‘permissive’ culture and the political gains of minorities by radicalized ‘culture warriors’ and advocates of free-market capitalism. This ‘backlash’ was at play in various forms, in denunciations of feminism, in protests against policies to support African-Americans like court-ordered busing or affirmative action, or in calls for a more aggressive foreign policy. More recent interpretations, however, have pointed to the ambivalent cultural politics and eclectic strategies on the part of new conservative movements, mobilizing metaphors of adaptation and appropriation instead of backlash and reaction for interpreting the connection between ‘New Left’ and ‘New Right’––exploring, for instance, how countercultural codes like the “romance of the outsider”, radical activist strategies like Sit-ins, or a rhetoric of oppression and self-liberation deeply influenced various elements of New Right politics.
This project relies on these insights while problematizing the idea of a one-directional passage that is implicated in the notion of appropriation. Rather, it seeks to explore the common cultural ground the diverse movements of the 1960s and 1970s shared, focusing on an investigation of emotional subjectivity and the performance of emotional expressivity in the cinema of the 1970s that were influenced by the aesthetics of the New Hollywood movement. It centers on conversion narratives that are organized around a ‘breaking point’, a moment of radicalization in which a character will or cannot ‘take it anymore’. The dissertation understands these moments as a specific subject practice that has a multifarious genealogy and seeks to trace the different elements that make up the practice of emotional expressivity in the cultural history of the United States since the 1960s and the cinema of and after the ‘New Hollywood mo(ve)ment’. It asks how these cultural codes and cinematic techniques worked in a cultural environment permeated by various discourses of crisis and how they were linked to specific regimes of power, arguing that the cinema of the New Hollywood era cannot be neatly organized into left- and right-wing-cycles, progressive and conservative narratives. Rather, it understands cinema as offering a privileged perspective on the cultural terrain these movements shared and, more specifically, on the affective dimension of the political since the 1970s. This dimension is itself not outside of history or culture––as either the eternal realm of feelings that populists and demagogues hope to trigger or the liberating world of pre-conscious affect beyond signification––but is related to transformations within modes of subjectivity, the social meaning of emotions and the formation of new aesthetic regimes.