Deadpan: The Aesthetics of Black Inexpression
Explores expressionlessness, inscrutability, and emotional withholding in Black cultural production
Arguing that inexpression is a gesture that acquires distinctive meanings in concert with blackness, Deadpan tracks instances and meanings of deadpan—a vaudeville term meaning “dead face”—across literature, theater, visual and performance art, and the performance of self in everyday life.
Tina Post reveals that the performance of purposeful withholding is a critical tool in the work of black culture makers, intervening in the persistent framing of African American aesthetics as colorful, loud, humorous, and excessive. Beginning with the expressionless faces of mid-twentieth-century documentary photography and proceeding to early twenty-first-century drama, this project examines performances of blackness’s deadpan aesthetic within and beyond black embodiments, including Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Neighbors, as well as Buster Keaton’s signature character and Steve McQueen’s restitution of the former’s legacy within the continuum of Black cultural production.
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