Rube Stories and Paradigmatic Crimes as Narrative Modulators at Thresholds of Cultural Change

  • Peter J. Schwartz Boston University
Parole chiave: Media archaeology, Narrative theory, Early cinema, Crime stories, Literary morphology


This essay investigates two species of a larger genus of narrative (“narrative modulators”) characterized by its function as a sort of compromise formation addressing recurrent anxieties and tensions at major thresholds of cultural change. One of these is a story type linked with cinema’s early reception: that of the “credulous spectator,” figured in early film and film lore as the country bumpkin or “rube” who, misperceiving the projected image as real, runs from the oncoming train or from the wet of onscreen waves or tries to enter the story; I extend this type beyond cinema to include precinematic literary examples. I’ve coined the term “paradigmatic crimes” to describe stories of criminal acts used to address pressing cultural concerns at given historical junctures as a second type of “narrative modulator.” As with “rube stories,” what unifies “paradigmatic crimes” as a story type is their specific function as “narrative modulators” in moments of cultural change. My hypothesis is that functionally similar stories appear at structurally comparable thresholds of media change in various cultures at various times, and that the similarities are to be explained mainly morphologically (i.e. mainly at the abstract level of their capacity to modulate cultural change).


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Percorsi | History and Fiction