Charm City or Bodymore?

In the post-WWII period, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, has been the subject of an impressive array of popular cultural representations, from the transgressive films of John Waters, to the acclaimed television series Homicide and The Wire by David Simon. This project traces these representations, arguing that, since the 1968 riots, images of Baltimore have split into two co-existing visions, which I refer to as Charm City and Bodymore, Murdaland, that differ fundamentally around race. While Charm City is depicted as a quirky, fun, and predominantly white, metropolis that has been at the heart of contemporary efforts to make the city tourism friendly, Bodymore, Murdaland focuses on crime, drugs, and poverty, becoming the dominant narrative of black Baltimore in the last decades of the 20th century.

As this suggests, this book will contend that representations of Baltimore are as segregated as the city itself, a trend that has only increased over time. In looking at a wide range of sources—which include novels, plays, musicals, films, TV series, songs, and zines, many of which have not received scholarly attention, as well as archival documents and interviews—I trace three related themes: the representation of a depoliticized white working-class Baltimore as quirky, the representation of black Baltimore as the locus of the city’s social problems, and the role of nostalgia in gentrification.

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