The American Fetus

During the 1980s a desperate search to protect the United States from what seemed to be an imminently powerful alliance of parties on the bottom of so many traditional hierarchies — the poor, people of color, women, gays and lesbians — provoked a counterinsurgent fantasy on behalf of “traditional American values.” The nation imagined in this reactive rhetoric is dedicated not to the survival or emancipation of traumatized marginal subjects but, rather, to freedom for the American innocent: the adult without sin, the abducted and neglected child, and, above all, and most effectively, the fetus. Although it had first appeared as a technological miracle of photographic bio-power in the mid-1960s, in the post-Roe era the fetus became consolidated as a political commodity, a supernatural sign of national iconicity. What constituted this national iconicity was an image of an American, perhaps the last living American, not yet bruised by history: not yet caught up in the excitement of mass consumption or ethnic, racial, or sexual mixing, not yet tainted by knowledge, by money, or by war. This fetus was an American to identify with, to aspire to make a world for: it organized a kind of beautiful citizenship politics of good intention and virtuous fantasy that could not be said to be dirty, or whose dirt was attributed to the sexually or politically immoral. (55)

Lauren Berlant | “The Subject of True Feeling: Pain, Privacy, and Politics” in Cultural Pluralism, Identity Politics, and the Law

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