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Hoover 300 

J. Edgar Hoover was the first and longest-serving director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

J. Edgar Hoover is a complex phenomenon, U of M expert says

November 4, 2011

"J. Edgar" opens next week, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, the first and longest-serving director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). What makes Hoover such a fascinating character? A University of Minnesota expert who can provide insight is:

Edward Schiappa, professor, Department of Communication Studies, College of Liberal Arts

Schiappa, whose father was an FBI agent, says when one has a complex phenomenon like Hoover, it is possible for it to have many meanings to different people. “We call this a ‘condensation symbol’ because some ‘thing’ can condense multiple meanings,” Schiappa says.

Hoover was such an important and visible figure for so many decades that one can put together dramatically different narratives and descriptions of the man, Schiappa says. “For some, he evokes recollections of a crime-fighting hero who professionalized the FBI. For some, he is remembered as the man who authorized COINTELPRO (covert and sometimes illegal activities by the FBI mostly in the 1960s), and for others he is remembered for possibly being a closeted gay man. When you live as large a life as Hoover did, people have selective perceptions and memories that reflect as much about us as they do about Hoover.”

Schiappa wrote a commentary about his father and Hoover for the Washington Post in 2009, “A Third Man: A Letter to J. Edgar Hoover Creates a Complicated Case”:

Schiappa is the department chair and teaches graduate courses on contemporary rhetorical theory, critical communication studies, rhetorical criticism and popular culture criticism.

To interview Schiappa, contact Jeff Falk at (612) 626-1720 or

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today's breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit Views expressed by experts do not represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

Tags: College of Liberal Arts

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