Conference Agenda

The Online Program of events for the 2023 AMS & SMT Joint Annual Meeting appears below. This program is subject to change. The final program will be published in early November.

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Presentations including 'Schulenburg '

Exotic Novelties and New Women: Orientalism and Appropriation in Tin Pan Alley

Martha Schulenburg


The Orientalist craze in music, fashion, and the figurative arts has been long subject to scrutiny as a byproduct of European colonialism. While French composers were giving evocative titles to their Eastern-inspired pieces and Puccini presented rather questionable and fetishistic Asian women on the operatic stage, women’s fashion was also taking a page from the Orientalist craze. As Einav Rabinovitch-Fox has explored in her work on women’s self-fashioning in the Progressive Era, the more loose and comfortable styles associated with the Middle and Far East were staples of the New Woman’s wardrobe in the 1900s. As such, Orientalism became a means of representing Progressive ideals about women and bodily autonomy in fashion. However, this was far from the only popular display of the Other in popular culture. Popular song, as has been noted by many scholars, utilized countless racist stereotypes in attempt at maximizing commercial potential.

This paper reconsiders the Orientalist popular songs of Tin Pan Alley as not simply racist caricatures but rather tools for white women to perform alterity. The women sung about in exoticist popular songs from the Progressive era use the implied eroticism of the Oriental Other to engage in sexual transgression. Though Victorian morality waned in the first few decades of the 20th century, such sexual exploits as those found in tunes such as “Hindu Rose” and “Cleopatricola” would still have been an affront to the propriety of the day. It is precisely because these figures have an affiliation with Otherness that their flagrant eroticism is permissible. Drawing from my analyses of the music, lyrics, and cover art, as well as select performances of early 20th century popular song, I argue that these songs should be understood within the larger context of white women’s appropriation of Orientalism to perform Progressive ideals on women’s sexuality.

Session Details:

Composing the "Other" in the Early 20th Century
Time: 10/Nov/2023: 4:00pm-5:30pm · Location: Majesty Ballroom

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