“Once There Was a Spot”: Camelot and the Crisis of the 1960s

  • Susan Aronstein
Part of the Studies in Arthurian and Courtly Cultures book series (SACC)


The Knights of the Round Table and Prince Valiant hit the theaters at the height of the Fat Fifties, when their pro-American, anticommunist, consensus narratives confirmed what most Americans knew to be true: they were living in the promised land. These films played to “a nation of optimists” indulging in all the comforts that technology and a credit economy could buy—bowling leagues, Sunday drives, and suburban barbeques.1 America’s audiences were convinced that they were better-off than their parents and confident that their children would be better-off than them. However, in the nine years between the anticommunist Arthuriana of the 1950s and Hollywood’s next excursion into the legend, America lost its optimistic domestic and global vision, and, with it, the consensus of the center that had provided a ready-made audience for Hollywood’s tales. Thus, the next wave of Arthurian movies could not merely reaffirm America’s central vision; they had to reinscribe it, returning to the past to remind a skeptical audience about America’s privileged place in history and to convince its viewers to construct themselves in such a way as to make the revival of the nation’s “Camelot” possible. However, in the words of Michael Wood, “the sixties … made life hard for a lot of the old stories” and, as the decade progressed, the post-World War II vision of American identity at the heart of Hollywood Arthuriana came increasingly under both literal and symbolic fire.2


Round Table American Dream Adult World American Character American Authority 
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  1. 56.
    Quotations from the musical are from Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Camelot: A New Musical (New York: Random House, 1961), p. 13.Google Scholar

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© Susan Aronstein 2005

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  • Susan Aronstein

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