Pamela Robertson Wojcik


On her book Fantasies of Neglect: Imagining the Urban Child in American Film and Fiction

Cover Interview of October 11, 2016

A close-up

The chapter with the most sidewalk appeal is probably Chapter Two, “Shirley Temple as Streetwalker.”  I argue that film starring Shirley Temple and Jane Withers, the Little Orphan Annie Comic strip and the movie The Wizard of Oz, all in some way parody the figure of the fallen woman. In these texts, the girl is unmoored from home (lost, homeless, orphaned), then wanders the streets where she meets a man who, in effect, picks her up. In these texts, the girl’s worth is often monetized and she is seen as potentially at risk. Rather than show the girls as victims, however, these texts emphasize the girl’s mobility and freedom and ascribe to her significant agency to transform and improve not only her situation, but also that of the men.  Ultimately, these texts navigate uncertainties about child homelessness, marriage and the status of family in the Depression by imagining the creation of contingent, sometimes ethnically mixed, and even queer adoptive families. The Dead End Kids have a streetside tea party in Angels Wash their Faces.

The final chapter takes up two contemporary texts, The Hunger Games and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in both their film and novel versions, as extensions of helicopter parenting and the traumatic imagination. The traumatic imagination – by which I mean a near fetishistic interest in dystopic landscapes, zombie apocalypses, failed government, war, and environmental disasters – seems, on the one hand, an extension of the many everyday anxieties that shape contemporary parenting, and, on the other, a way to work through those anxieties and enable the child to imaginatively achieve mastery.