Theses Doctoral

Threatened Innocents and the News: The History of a National Preoccupation

Goldman, Alexandra Meltzer

This dissertation traces the history of media coverage of the "Threatened Innocent" - a young, often female victim - who has been killed, kidnapped or otherwise endangered. Charting the evolution of this narrative through the centuries, it contends that these stories are rooted in the Puritan captivity narratives of the late 1600s, when the kidnapping of Europeans by Indians was not uncommon. From the establishment of child abuse and kidnapping for ransom as social problems in the nineteenth century, to the moral panic over child snatching in the 1980s and so-called Internet predators in more recent years, this dissertation examines the stories that have created the template for the way we understand Threatened Innocents today.
This dissertation further argues that the power of these stories springs as much from the language with which they are told and the rhetoric with which they are surrounded as from the plot points themselves. Since the conservative capture of populism - a decades-long process completed in the 1980s - stories of Threatened Innocents have successfully yoked together this quintessentially American narrative with this quintessentially American rhetoric, resulting in a powerful discourse whose effects are as profound and as they are far-reaching.
Our fixation with stories of Threatened Innocents has, at every turn, wedded narrative tradition to a sense of national identity and civic responsibility. The overarching contention is that the stories we tell shape our lives personally and publicly, establishing a social reality that is often untethered to fact.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Tucher, Andrea Jean
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014