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Andy Kaufman

Wrestling with the American Dream

2005
Author:

Florian Keller

Andy Kaufman

An original reading of the controversial and combative performer as exploding the myth of the American dream

Taking as his starting point the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon, Florian Keller explores Andy Kaufman's career within a broader discussion of the ideology of the American Dream, grasping Kaufman's radical agenda beyond avant-garde theories of transgression. Presenting readings of Kaufman's most significant performances, Keller shows how he mounted a critique of America's obsession with celebrity and individualism.

A shrewd analysis of Andy Kaufman's performances as brilliant responses to the mythos of ‘The American Dream.’

Peggy Phelan, author of Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories

When Andy Kaufman succumbed suddenly to lung cancer in 1984, some of his fans believed that his death was yet another elaborate prank. Over the previous decade, Kaufman had achieved improbable fame for his bizarre antiperformances—lip-synching the Mighty Mouse theme song, reading The Great Gatsby aloud in its entirety when people expected comedy, asking audience members to touch a boil on his neck—that perplexed, annoyed, or offended his viewers.

In Andy Kaufman, Florian Keller explores Kaufman’s career within a broader discussion of the ideology of the American Dream. Taking as his starting point the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon, Keller brilliantly decodes Kaufman in a way that makes it possible to grasp his radical agenda beyond avant-garde theories of transgression. As an entertainer, Kaufman submerged his identity beneath a multiplicity of personas, enacting the American belief that the self can and should be endlessly remade for the sake of happiness and success. He did this so rigorously and consistently, Keller argues, that he exposed the internal contradictions of America’s ideology of self-invention.

Keller posits that Kaufman offered a radically different—and perhaps more potent—logic of cultural criticism than did more overtly political comedians such as Lenny Bruce. Presenting close readings of Kaufman’s most significant performances, Keller shows how Kaufman mounted—for the benefit of an often uncomprehending public—a sustained and remarkable critique of America’s obsession with celebrity and individualism.

Andy Kaufman

Florian Keller is a fellow at the Institute of Cultural Studies, School of Art and Design, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Zurich.

Andy Kaufman

A shrewd analysis of Andy Kaufman's performances as brilliant responses to the mythos of ‘The American Dream.’

Peggy Phelan, author of Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories

A fascinating examination of one of the twentieth century’s most enigmatic performers. This book is an insightful and provocative examination of Kaufman that makes a compelling case for the American dream as key to his art.

Studies in Popular Culture

Andy Kaufman

Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments

1. Funny or Not
2. The Limits of Transgression

Interlude: The American Dream

3. The Postmodern Escape Artist
4. Celebrity Deathmatch

Epitaph
Notes
Bibliography
Filmography

Index