Susan Savage Lee Jefferson Community and Technical College
Susan Savage Lee, Assistant Professor, Modern Languages, Jefferson Community and Technical College, Louisville, KY, does research in twentieth-century American literature, Comparative literature, and Native American Studies. Her articles appeared in Confluencia (2020.35) and (2014.30), and the Journal of American Studies of Turkey (2018.48). She has an article forthcoming in the Polish Journal for American Studies (2020). Since 2017, she has been Department Chair of Modern Languages and co-chair of the African-American Studies program. She is currently working on a novel, Loren, that highlights class-based differences in American society.
Tamas Z. Csabafi, Research Associate, Department of Economics, University of Missouri, Saint Louis, does research in macroeconomics, international and monetary theory and policy, as well as US economic history. His article, “International Business Cycle and Financial Intermediation” appeared in the Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking (2019.51). Since 2014, he has helped build the Macro Dynamics Club for undergraduate and graduate students at UMSL.
At the turn of the twentieth century, social theories developed in both the U.S. and Europe suggested that those at the top, or those most well endowed with good genetics, would stay that way, while those with poor genetics had little hope of changing their circumstances. Degeneration theory, as this concept was called when it took root in the United States from the late 1890s, before it had evolved to formally become eugenics in the 1910s, and beyond. While eugenics offices opened in Berlin in 1905, in England in 1907-08, and in the United States in 1910, there were many forms of it, including degeneration theory. What bound all the theories together was the notion of biology and heredity.
Westerns like Martyrs of the Alamo became a vehicle to explore these concerns because they inundated everyday Americans with illustrations of national identity. Films like these often mixed fantasy with ideology. This is clearly evident in W. Christy Cabanne’s anti-Mexican sentiment in Martyrs of the Alamo. Examining Cabanne’s film through the lens of degeneracy theory provides a greater understanding of American social concerns in the 1910s. These concerns, characterized by xenophobic depictions of immigrants, particularly Mexicans, culminated in the linking of immigrant bodies and disease with heredity and genetics, namely through theories of degeneration . Cabanne’s Martyrs of the Alamo suggests, through the reproduction of the conflict surrounding the Alamo Mission, that the alternative to “race suicide” is a fantasy of American heroism, collectivism, and cultural exclusion. (SS and TZCS)