While a great deal of stereotypical representations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was focused on African Americans, Asian immigrants, and indigenous peoples, “whiteness” as a racial concept was also in flux. Newly-arrived European immigrants sought to integrate themselves into the expanding concept of American identity, while native-born white Americans continued to enjoy a high level of privilege tied to their race. As increasingly diverse notions of personhood flooded the social sphere, popular culture texts agressively defined, and therefore defended, white American identity. Consequently, white identity was conflated with American identity. Whiteness in this sense was not only political; it was politicized. Popular culture texts stigmatized “Others” while idealizing white American identity. These idealized portrayals relied upon strict binaries based on age and gender: youth/adulthood, masculinity/femininity. The result was a unified power structure that continues to inform contemporary images of the ideal American citizen.
The following pages examine this white American ideal through popular entertainment. The concept of youth is examined through magazines, nickel weeklies, family correspondence, and advertisements of the era, while white masculinity and femininity are examined through their portrayals in the theatrical productions of John Himmelein’s touring theatre company, The Ideals.