Following WWII, the American educational film industry skyrocketed, producing hundreds of what are now remembered as campy ("Gee whiz!"), melodramatic social guidance films; these 16mm films were created with the goal of disciplining the behaviour of America's increasingly independent teenaged population. The postwar social guidance film dictated everything from the rules of dating to proper nail polish colours for "stubby" fingers—in short, the social guidance film sought to impose codes of etiquette and propriety on its adolescent viewers. In this presentation, I will demonstrate how the social guidance film does not only address etiquette in its narrative content, but also at the level of its form; the social guidance film produces an aesthetic structure of etiquette that orbits around the goal of polite visibility. This theory of polite visibility will emerge out of a collision of several materials and approaches: Michel Foucault's work on discipline; a discussion of postwar teen culture (exploitation films! weenie roasts!); feminist film theory's approaches to forms of looking; archival materials; and Stanley Cavell's philosophy of cinematic worlding. Together, we will watch (and perhaps laugh at) some quintessential social guidance films, examining how their structures of visibility and networks of looking construct an aesthetics of polite visibility—an aesthetics of propriety.
Amanda Greer is a fourth-year PhD Candidate at the Cinema Studies Institute. Her research examines the aesthetics of etiquette, politeness, and civility in post-WWII American cinema, particularly the social guidance film and its figuration of adolescence as a primary site of propriety's aesthetic and sociocultural techniques. Her work has been published in Film Criticism, The New Review of Film and Television, and Sound Studies. She is currently a 2020-2021 Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Ethics, where is organizing and moderating a speaker series titled, "Ethics, Aesthetics, Feminisms." Amanda is also the Assistant Production Editor for the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies (JCMS, formerly Cinema Journal), which can be found at jcmsjournal.org.