Identity and Contemporary Media: Neomedieval and Neo-Renaissance Conceptions of Morality in Popular Culture

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This dissertation argues that neomedieval and neo-Renaissance texts are capable of infusing adaptations with progressive and accepting views on inclusivity along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, and disability in ways that allow such adaptations to better reflect the moral complexity of contemporary audiences. I explore how such adaptations showcase and respond to a continued interest in the early British and early modern while also expanding the traditional intended audience of such texts to include those who have historically been and currently remain on the margins of society. In doing so, such texts reflect an increasingly diverse world in ways which include the excluded, encourage privileged readers to engage with other perspectives, and impact our ongoing definitions of good and evil and heroism and villainy. Explorations of complex morality and the liminal space between a strict binary of good and evil have grown as the popularity of antiheroes and anti-villains has increased. In response, this study considers the significance of that liminal space for those whose less-than-savory actions are a means of fighting oppression, and it asks what kind of impact characters from marginalized communities have on our moral binaries and their increasing fluidity. Thus, this argument is responding to several ongoing conversations regarding sociocultural identities and their representations in popular culture, morality in popular culture, heroism and villainy in medieval and Renaissance texts, and the impact of medieval and Renaissance texts and culture on modern media. Specifically, this dissertation works to combine those conversations, signifying for scholars, creators, and audiences where popular culture is heading by exploring the ways in which identity and representation are used to modernize older texts, characters, and tropes for an audience that is increasingly interested in the navigation of complex moral problems as opposed to simplistic victories of good versus evil; essentially, including diverse identities as the basis of these narratives asks us to question what good and evil even mean, who has conventionally been assigned those labels, and to what extent such rigid labels are still functional in today’s world. Using comparisons between medieval poetry, Renaissance poetry and drama, manuscript images and contemporary comics and film, this dissertation traces the changes modern media makes to older sources and what they choose to maintain, positing that maintenance connects us with past cultures while change better connects the diverse communities of our current and future cultures. Using race, gender, queer, and disability applications when adapting the medieval and the Renaissance acknowledges the harm that bigotry done to a number of communities while reshaping beloved genres and narratives to form new access points for audience members within those communities.

Embargo status: Restricted until 06/2173. To request the author grant access, click on the PDF link to the left.

Popular Culture, Film and Comics, Gender and Queer Theory, Race Theory, Medieval and Renaissance Literature