Pamela Robertson Wojcik

 

On her book The Apartment Plot: Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945 to 1975

Cover Interview of November 08, 2010

In a nutshell

The Apartment Plot argues for the dominance and centrality of the apartment plot from 1945 to 1975.

What I am calling “the apartment plot” are narratives in which the apartment figures as a central device.  This means that the apartment is not only setting, but motivates or shapes the narrative in some key way.

The apartment plot dominates romantic comedy of the period, but also appears in film noir, musicals, and melodrama.  The apartment is present in plays, novels, self-help books and comic strips.  Most, but not all, examples of the apartment plot are set in New York.

Rather than an incidental setting, this book argues that the apartment functions as a particularly privileged site for representing an important alternative to dominant discourses of and about the fifties in America.  The apartment plot offers a vision of home, centered on values of visibility, contact, density, mobility, impermanence, permeability, spontaneity, and porousness that contrasts sharply with more traditional views of home as private, stable, and family-based.

I argue that the apartment plot emerges so strongly in the postwar period because the meaning and status of urban living is undergoing a sea change related to urban sprawl, blight, white flight and urban renewal.  The apartment plot provides a counterpoint to the suburban ideal, for good or bad, but also mobilizes a host of themes that articulate, in their own right, ideas that are at the heart of contemporary debates about the status of the city.

This book is neither a history of apartments, nor about architecture.  Instead, it is about urban fantasy, or what I call a philosophy of urbanism.  It is about the apartment as an imagined space, and a genre.  It is about the way in which representing the apartment, in film, novels, comic strips and more, functions as a way of imagining the urban, and of imagining identities as produced and shaped by the urban.

At the same time, however, the apartment is always described in relation to historical discourses—discourses on family, gender, sex, race, class, space, urbanism—that shape the philosophy of urbanism and the apartment as urban habitat.