New Imperial Rhetoric in Contemporary Policy and Popular Media


The late-19th century was a particularly impactful period in Anglo-American popular culture. First, it popularized character-driven adventure stories and exotic lost worlds, made fashionable the media franchise or shared universe, and spawned (at first in paperbacks, then with the new technology of cinema) a transatlantic exchange that dominates the global media landscape to this day. Simultaneously, the United States and Britain, pulling ahead of European powers, entrenched their influence in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Economic and military expropriations were justified through discourses of empire: manifest destiny and the “new” imperialism. Our project examines the relationship between 19th-century media and policy discourses and their continued influence in the 21st century. We compare seminal adventure novels like Treasure Island (1881) and King Solomon’s Mines (1885) with action-adventure video games like Tomb Raider (1996-) and Uncharted (2007-). We compare the rhetoric of the 1894 Glen Grey Act, which prefigured South African apartheid, to the rhetoric around the Grand Inga Hydroelectric Project. We consider how Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Starving Child and Vulture (1993) is descended from Alice Seeley Harris’ pivotal photographs of King Leopold’s Congo. Today, century-old discourses of benevolence, heroism, and individualism serve to justify contemporary politics of expropriation. To challenge oppressive neoliberal paradigms, we must address their roots in New Imperialism.


Chris Cartright
Lecturer of English, Writing & Linguistics, Georgia Southern University, Georgia, United States

Jane Rago
Assistant Professor of Literature/Director of Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies/Dept. of Lit, Georgia Southern Univerisity, Georgia, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Vectors of Society and Culture