By placing the Tarzan novels and films in the historical context of the development of aviation and aerial bombardment, Bady traces how changing fantasies of flight mediate the Tarzan franchise's changing relationship to white supremacist violence. Edgar Rice Burroughs's original novels were published contemporaneously with the popular “airmindedness” that accompanied the invention of the airplane, and Tarzan's ability to “fly” expresses the types of fantasy by which this advance was popularly understood. For Burroughs, Tarzan's flight signified the white race's “natural” superiority over nature. By the time the novels were adapted into films, however, aerial bombardment had come to seem monstrously unnatural, a technology serving racialized colonial governance. The Tarzan films made in the 1930s, this essay argues, use flight to describe a very different fantasy, the desire to forget and transcend the very histories of racial violence that the Tarzan character was once unthinkable without.
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Aaron Bady; Tarzan's White Flights: Terrorism and Fantasy before and after the Airplane. American Literature 1 June 2011; 83 (2): 305–329. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1266072
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