Thursday, December 30, 2010

Marchand - Advertising the American Dream

Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

In the 1920s and 30s the advertising industry in America boomed. Marchand studies advertisements from the period (and the men who created them) in an attempt to understand what they can (and can't) tell us about American society as a whole. The title indicates two key parts to Marchand's argument. First, he credits advertising as playing a key role in shaping American consumer values that would resonate with the middle class after World War II. Second, he argues advertising men (and they were mostly affluent white men) saw themselves as serving society by advancing the benefits of modernity.

Key Terms
Modernity - Essentially, "progress;" advertisers saw themselves as "town criers" for new technology, styles, and ways of life. (1) Marchand also notes the heavy influence of modern art on advertising design.
Uplift - Recognizing that the masses of consumers to which they were advertising occupied a lower status on the socio-cultural-intellectual scale than they, some members of the advertising elite saw their role as affecting improvement among the American masses on these terms. Skilled advertisers could find a way to communicate with the ignorant masses and offer them products and services that might improve their life and, in the long run, improve their minds.
Social Tableau - a category of advertisements that depict several persons and their relationship to each other, thus offering a glimpse of the perceived social structure.

Studying Advertising to Understand Society as a Whole
The careful yet nonetheless evocative ways Marchand used advertising as sources was interesting for my own desire to use film and television as sources. The social tableau chapter was one example.

He also identified several "great parables" used as a formula for many advertisements. Marchand argues these parables "reinforced (and even encouraged conversions to) a modern, secular 'logic of living'..." (207). They "subtly redefin[ed] the terms of [the American dream]" as "the older values of discipline, character-building, self-restraint, and production-oriented achievement were subordinated to the newer values of pleasure, external appearance, and achievement through consumption." (234) Thus, advertising played an important role not only reflecting but inspiring the shift in American values of the 20th century. In the final chapter, Marchand goes on to show how by the end of the period advertising methods were firmly engaged in offering therapeutic solutions to the dilemmas of modern life.

Marchand also identifies several common cliches in advertising, such as "the office window" portraying the male CEO surveying his domain and "the family circle" demonstrating the relationship between father, mother, and children. He suggests such cliches can be useful in understanding values of the age.

He also explore depression era developments in advertising, revealing shifting tactics. Advertisers strove to emphasize the equalizing power of consumerism, as well as the dangers of ill-advised purchasing decisions.

The Morgan Memorial "Deja Vu - You've Seen this Before"
Cohen-Consumer's Republic - This is something of a prequel to Cohen with a more specific focus. Advertisers in the 20s and 30s were laying the groundwork and fighting for the shift to a "Consumer's Republic" of purchaser consumers who saw their buying power as a way to self-improvement rather than community- or national- improvement. According to Marchand, advertisers painted a picture of consumption as the secret to individual and family happiness relative to individuals and families around them, rather than consumption as a way to improve the wealth of the nation as a whole.

Well-written, clear and interesting. Marchand was also able to include numerous black-and-white and color examples throughout the pages that really drive his point home. His chapters are nicely organized and accessible. His methods are clear and his argument is well-made.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Boddy - Fifties Television

Boddy, William. Fifties Television: The Industry and Its Critics. Illinois studies in communications. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

Boddy's stated aim "is to suggest that the development of American television, and specifically the era of network hegemony which stretched from the mid 1950s to the mid 1970s, was not "natural" or inevitable, but indeed the result of specific economic and political forces and structures with complex determinants." (8) In thematic chapters, arranged in a rough chronology, Boddy explains these factors. He claims to be one of the first to bring together more specialized research into 50s television with broader social science perspective. However, his discussion is mostly focused on the effects of networks, studios, advertisers, the government and the FCC on the transition out of the "Golden Age", and the critical response to this transition. Other than critics and passing mention of ratings as they were being understood by networks and advertisers, he leaves out audience reception. The actual programs are mentioned only in passing. (see Critique) To his credit, Boddy takes a neutral - even contrarian - position to the standard narrative that television got worse in this period (typified by the work of Erik Barnouw).

Key Points

Chapter 2 - Early hopes for television were that the medium would not be "corrupted" by advertising as radio had been.
Chapter 3 - NBC, owned by RCA, tried to block attempts at opening up the UHF bandwidth as its produced televisions were exclusively VHF. CBS, the second largest early network, wanted the UHF bandwidth opened to allow for more stations.
The Freeze - between Sept 1948 and April 1952 the FCC suspended license approvals (50-51). This was the result of an earlier ruling to narrow station separations, which resulted in disastrous station interference and a flood of license applications. At the same time, the number of stations on the air exploded (50 to 108), as did the number of television sets (1,200,000 to 15,000,000). The result was a firming up of network control over the industry. NBC and CBS benefited hugely, while ABC and DuMont were (respectively) almost critically and critically effected.
Chapter 4-6: The Early 1950s - To the approval of critics, networks avoided Hollywood-produced content intent on reaping the rewards themselves of produced shows. Live television tended to be single-sponsor. Programs were created in New York in the dramatic theater style rather than the "lower" Hollywood style.)
Chapter 7-10: Eventually, networks (led by ABC which charged back from behind) found it cost-effective to buy Hollywood studio-produced content. Live broadcasts, which were praised by critics as the epitomy of the artistic possibilities of the medium, faded away. Multiple sponsors moved in, and the prestige of writing for television declined, ex. Rod Serling. Meanwhile, the FCC did its best to break up Network control of too many stations and too much of program creation, further incentivizing the network search for programs created by Hollywood studios.
Chapters 11-14: 1958-60 - The Quiz show scandal, followed by Newton Minnow's "Vast Wasteland" speech led to a public relations crisis for the networks. Boddy argues the Minnow speech had less of an effect than the Quiz show scandal. Advertisers blamed networks, networks blamed advertisers. Network presidents changed the way they talked about their programs, turning towards an argument that "mass audience indicates serving the mass public interest." Critics screamed, but at the same time the newspaper TV column disappeared accross the country, as critics had less serious drama to comment about and were left mainly criticizing the medium as a whole over and over.

This book has to be read along with Castleman and Podzrazik's "Watching Television" to get a sense of what the networks were actually putting on, because Boddy barely does that. He merely describes the type of show on TV rather than the actual show. Without examples, the prose is terribly dry. It was a fast read, quickly digestible, but largely because it is written plainly with little attempts at argument and insight. Perhaps Boddy takes his claim at being a neutral observer of the decade too seriously. This is yet another book about television that I feel could be written much better.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jackson - Crabgrass Frontier

Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Covering a period from the market revolution of the early 19th century to present day (1985), Jackson attempts to explain the unique degree of suburbanization in the U.S. relative to other industrialized nations. Going beyond the obvious explanation of transportation (because not every global industrialized city underwent suburbanization to the degree seen in the U.S.), Jackson argues there are two conditions and two causes of "American residential deconcentration." (summed on 287-)
The Conditions
1. "The Suburban Ideal" - Encouraged by real estate speculators, transportation visionaries and suburban land planners, Americans early on idealized a detached house as a worthy goal for people entering the middle class. Jackson highlights specific individuals who marketed the suburban dream as early as before the Civil War. However, his explanation for why Americans in particular had such a strong desire for suburban living that such businessmen were able to profit from is lacking. But to be fair, that explanation is perhaps as complex as (and related to) the question of American exceptionalism.
2. "Population growth" - America's vast land and abundant resources, plus the high rate of immigration created rapid population growth, leading to overcrowded cities. Indeed, Progressive reformers looked favorably on suburban growth as a remedy to overcrowding problems.
The Causes
1. "Racial Prejudice" - White middle class desire to leave America's uniquely diverse cities was in no small part motivated by racial attitudes and fears. Moreover, while suburbs originally strongly identified with the city they surrounded, suburbs have come to reject that connection in part because of the racial divide.
2. "Cheap housing" - In the period under question, America was the wealthiest country with the most available land. Government programs, most importantly the Federal Housing Administration (created in the New Deal and in charge of the housing aspect of the GI Bill), arranged affordable mortgages. The balloon frame house, more trusted in America and more possible because of vast lumber, was key. Inexpensive transport is another aspect. The Levitt family led the way in producing cheap detached houses, while government housing (blocked by suburban authorities) was located almost exclusively in the city. Even the tax code benefits home owners over renters.

Great Quote
"No agency of the United States government has had a more pervasive and powerful impact on the American people over the past half-century than the Federal Housing Administration." p.203

Though my page-per-minute late was below average, I think the brevity of this entry emphasizes how easy this book was to understand. This is one of my favorite books on the comp odyssey so far. I love the bite-sized chapters. I love the broad chronological scope. I love Jackson's presentation of a wealth of quantitative data in easily digestible prose. I love the discussions about why cities came to look the way they do. Most of all, I love the subject matter and the persuasive conclusions. It's the kind of book that will rattle around in my brain for a long time. The only strike against it: he mentions Buffalo, Rochester, and Albany but not Syracuse!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Watson - Defining Visions

Watson, Mary Ann. Defining Visions: Television and the American Experience in the 20th Century. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2008.

Since its emergence after World War II, television has had a powerful role in shaping Americans' perceptions and understandings about their nation and the world. Watson explores fictional programming and news coverage in a broad overview of American programming from the Golden Age to 9/11. The chapters are arranged thematically, with each theme taken chronologically in an attempt to reveal larger trends.


Chapter 1 - Television's invention and replacement of radio. Radio shows transition to television.

Chapter 2 - RACE: 1950s and 1960s, problematic portrayals of minorities. 1970s and 80s begins to change. But 1990s, portrayals become increasingly fragmented, as audiences themselves split and watched different programming.

Significant programs: Amos & Andy, Beulah, Nat King Cole Show, I Spy, The Cosby Show, WB & UPN, 1990s all-black v. all-white sitcoms

Chapter 3 - GENDER & FAMILY: 1950s into 1960s portrayed women as a homemaker supporting working husband and raising children. 1970s, Mary Tyler Moore Show breaks mold with single working woman, early 1990s conservative critics accuse TV of undermining family values

Father Knows Best, The Honeymooners, Leave it to Beaver, Donna Reed Show, Dick Van Dyke Show (beginning to undermine), Maude, Mary Tyler Moore Show, Family Ties, Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Murphy Brown, Simpsons

Chapter 4 - VIOLENCE: 1950s violence was a last resort for a hero who generally tried to wound or disarm rather than kill. 1959 Untouchables was a key turning point with weekly scenes of death committed by villains and heroes. From there, violence has increased as has violent behavior by youth. The author sees a direct correlation. From time to time, under government or public pressure, television has attempted to address the problem - ratings system, V-chip. Another significant change was many programs began to show the gruesome effects of violence as a way of emphasizing their negative effect on society. 1977 Zamora case: 15-year-old boy murders 82-year-old woman during burglary, defense argues television influenced him.

professional wrestling, The Untouchables, MTV, A-Team, Homicide, The Sopranos

Chapter 5 - SEX: 1960 as a turning point year. Dick Van Dick Show, Petries still in separate beds but Moore's character wears capris rather than typical dresses and more chemistry between the couple than ever before. Sexual innuendo increases into 70s. Actual sex increases into 90s. Watson is particularly concerned with the portrayals of rape and harassment. 1979 General Hospital episode where Luke rapes Laura, but the two go on to fall in love. Condoms are rarely used on TV, STDs rarely discussed. Teen sex increasingly portrayed. Depictions of homosexuals as predators common into 70s, but more normalized even by the time Ellen came out.

Elvis on Ed Sullivan, Dick Van Dyke Show, Charlies Angels, Three's Company, Soap (Crystal's flamboyent gay character), Cheers, Married...with Children, Beverly Hills 90210, Clarence Thomas Hearings, Clinton scandal, Seinfeld, Friends

Chapter 6 - WORKPLACE: Beginning in 1950s professional organizations (such as the AMA) offered to partner with producers to ensure a realistic (read: positive) portrayal of their profession. Lower class workers largely disappeared between Honeymooners and All in the Family. Disappointments of 1970s US led to portrayals of lower class workers who, despite having more brains then their superiors, couldn't move up the ladder.

Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Laverne and Shirley, West Wing, CSI

Chapter 7 - ADVERTISING: Concerns with advertising to children. Product placement. Restrictions on advertisement for unhealthy products. Cigarettes, alcohol, fast food.

Chapter 8 - PERSONALITIES: Displaying famous people and their lives. Alcohol as an effective mean of coping with stress, and drunkenness as fun and without consequence. Death of 13-year-old Carol Lightner in 1980 by hit-and-run drunk driver leads mother, Candy Lightner to start MADD. Begins to change presentation of drinking on television. Towards end of 1990s, alcohol on TV begins to loosen. Fashion: Farah's hair. Increasing use of vulgar language on TV (you suck, bitch, etc).

Person to Person, This is your Life, Dean Martin Show, Party of Five, Drew Carey Show, Michael Jackson's crotch grab on Black or White premiere, Madonna

Chapter 9 - NATIONAL CHARACTER: The steady decline since Bishop Sheen. Quiz show scandals disillusion viewers. Shows like Queen for a Day gave false hope to impoverished viewers. Grey Panthers critique portrayals of elderly on TV, with some success in 80s (Murder, she Wrote, Matlock, Golden Girls). Portrayal of people with disabilities. Jerry Lewis's telethon increasingly critiqued for portraying disabled as helpless victims. Watson claims sports are more violent and suffer from bad sportsmanship and role models. Seinfeld typifies the decline.

Chapter 10 - DEMOCRACY: Christmas in Korea (Murrow), See It Now: Murrow takes on McCarthyism and wins, MLK's use of television for Civil Rights. Pete Seeger appears on Smothers Brothers and sings antiwar folk song. Cronkite questions Vietnam. Nixon loses debate in 60 but succeeds in managing his appearances in 68. Televised coverage of Watergate hearings. SNL takes down Gerald Ford. Reagan masters the medium, impressing after his assassination in 81. Hostage crisis. Challenger explosion, like JFK assassination, leads Americans to gather around the TV. Military controls footage of Persian Gulf War. OJ Simpson chase and trial. Chandra Levy case looks foolish as TV news goes 3 months before 9/11 without mentioning Al Qaeda once.

Epilogue - Election of 2000 and 9/11. Election coverage was chaotic. 9/11 coverage excellent for first day, but exploitative after as channels refined footage.

As an overview of countless hours of programming over 50 years, this is useful. But in terms of analysis, Watson offers little that is surprising or significant. She seems to think that, other than occasional moments of temporary reform, television programming has been on a downhill decline. Norman Lear's programs in the 1970s are given short shrift. The quality revolution slides by unnoticed and uncommented on. It could be argued that her simplistic criticism of the art of television is in sync with the way average viewers perceive the programming. However, it is easy to counter-argue that what viewers think they perceive from television does not match how it actually informs them. Unfortunately, Watson offers no discussion of these theoretical problems. She merely claims at the outset that television is "a cultural and historical force" (11) that "confers status on ideas, quite apart from their legitimacy or accuracy." (8) I think she is right, but I think such claims deserve more delicate treatment. The last paragraph of chapter 8 is typical:

"Beginning in the post-World War II era, the broad reach of television was socializing the national personality in sundry ways. Over the decades it brought harmless trends that enlivened daily lives and interactions. But by the end of the 20th century, it was also defining as acceptable lewd and selfish behaviors that diminish and weaken communities."

This book could be useful as a text for an undergraduate survey course on the history of television. For my own purposes, it was somewhat lacking.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Freud - Civilization and Its Discontents

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton, 1962.

Freud attempts to apply his psychoanalytic theories to civilization. What are the psychological motivations behind the organization and direction of human civilization? Freud defines civilization as "the whole sum of the achievements and the regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors and which serve two purposes - namely to protect men against nature and to adjust their mutual relations." (36)

Answers and Arguments
Civilization has grown up around the tension between the human desire for happiness and the human tendency for aggression and destruction. Religion, which Freud touches on often, is a cultural construct and self-deception that provides a promise of happiness in the afterlife via a deity if a person represses their aggressive behavior. Love (Eros) is also a key factor, as it represents the greatest form of happiness (sometimes but not necessarily sexual). "Love your neighbor as yourself," is a phrase Freud sees as co-opted but probably not created by religion. He muses that the phrase is meaningless on examination, as loving one's neighbor arbitrarily would undermine the meaning of love, affecting relationships with closer friends more deserving of love and diminishing the happiness one receives from love. Again, the phrase remains upheld as one of the greatest values in human civilization only because it encourages resistance among humans to their aggressive tendencies. The conscience (super ego) "arises through the suppression of an agressive impules, subsequently reinforced by fresh suppressions of the same kind." (77) Thus the conscience is also a force leading towards civilization.

As the individual experiences an inner struggle between self-preservation and the demands of the libido, neuroses emerge. Freud wonders but does not conclude whether civilization may suffer from a sort of mass neurosis, since it has evolved out of a struggle (desire for life and desire to destroy).

Other Thoughts
I had never really thought of the Oedipal complex as something that Freud actually thought once happened in human history (though here he only discusses it is possible that it happened). But Freud actually suggests, somewhat in passing, that ancient man (or an ancestor of man) may have well killed his father regularly. So, Freud's theories about the Oedipal complex have an evolutionary and instinctive origin. Realizing this helped me to understand how indebted Freud is to Darwin. I had never thought about where Freud claimed all of these elements of the human subconscious came from, but I now understand that he supposes they emerged through the evolution of the species.

The Morgan Memorial "Deja Vu - You've Seen this Before"
Lears - No Place of Grace Freud briefly mentions neurasthenia in the first chapter, a psychological anxiety about the changes of modern society that Lears's antimodernists struggled with. Freud's use of the term suggested to me the relation between his own work and the wider struggles with modernity going on within the world he was working.

For as much as I've read other people who use Freud or other people who write about Freud, I really haven't read that much of Freud himself. I was a little intimidated opening the book, but I found his writing pretty accessible. Partly, I think I'm smarter than I give myself credit for. Partly, I know more about Freud than I think. And partly, his writing just wasn't quite as dense as I expected.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

McRobbie - Postmodernism and Popular Culture

McRobbie, Angela. Postmodernism and Popular Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Happy Thanksgiving! I just finished my grading, which gives me... 1 week after break without grading to continue comp reading. Ugh. The grind continues...


In this collection of essays, McRobbie argues for a feminist postmodernism. "...a feminist postmodernism forces us to confront questions which otherwise remain unasked...we also find our academic practice and our politics undergoing some degree of transformation and change." (p.2) She goes on to say (on page 9) that the essays focus on "some aspect of social change." McRobbie uses feminist postmodernism to explore "how social relations are conducted" in popular culture. Thus, popular culture studies symbolize and reveal the experience of change.

Part I - "Postmodernity and Cultural Studies" [4 historiographic essays]
It seems to me, and perhaps this is an indication of how my brain works and how I learn, that collections of essays like this one are often organized backwards. I would prefer to start with examples of what the author is doing (as McRobbie offers in the last section) and then finish with an overview of the field, thus placing the author's work amongst the work of others. Of course, the historiography always comes first in a dissertation, and in a book proposal; the habit must emerge from those understandible practices.

Anyway, these four essays blur together in my memory. They discussa range of authors that are somewhat familiar, and who I have read only a tiny portion of. I'll list most of them below, for future reference, as well as to highlight names McRobbie is particularly interested in-

1 - "Postmodernism and Popular Culture": Jean Baudrillard, Umberto Eco, Dick Hebdige, Andreas Huyssen, Frederic Jameson, Susan Sontag, Gore Vidal

Originally written in 1986, McRobbie defends postmodernism. (p.23) "The reason why postmodernism appeals to a wider number of young people [and intellectuals] that they themselves are experiencing the enforced fragmentation of impermanent work and low career opportunities. Far from being overwhelmed by media saturation, there is evidence to suggest that these social groups and minorities are putting it to work for them. This alone should prompt the respect and the attention of an older generation which seems at present too eager to embrace a sense of political hopelessness."

2 - "New Times in Cultural Studies": Jameson, Stuart Hall, Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, Hebdige, Sontag, Zizek, Frank Mort, Andre Gorz, David Harvey

Originally written in 1991, McRobbie explains the term "New Times," a term coined in Britain, and connoting the social and political upheavals of the 1980s.

3 - "Post-Marxism and Cultural Studies": Homi Bhaba, John Fiske, Stuart Hall, David Harvey, Jameson, Ernesto Laclau, bell hooks

This 1992 essay discusses the state of Marxism, connecting it to postmodernist cultural studies. McRobbie admits the state of Marxism's usefulness remains unclear, but she is far from dismissive of it.

4 - "Feminism, Postmodernism and the 'Real Me'": Bhaba, Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, Stuart Hall, David Harvey, Jameson, Laclau, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

"The passage of feminism into the 1990s should not be seen... as a process of political dismemberment, leaving behind a sadly dispersed band of individuals... Nor should it be understood, after postmodernism, as a politics of difference based simply on pluralism, on everyone going their own way. In short the strength of feminism lies in its ability to create discourse, to dispute, to negotiate the boundaries and the barriers, and also to take issue with the various feminisms which have sprung into being."

Part II - Key Figures in Cultural Theory
Essays on the work of Susan Sontag and Walter Benjamin, and an interview with Gayatari Chakravorty Spivak.

Part III -Youth, Media, Postmodernity [McRobbie's own work]
McRobbie delves deep into various aspects of youth culture, using sociology, cultural analysis, and her own journalistic observations. These essays were all written in the early 1990s.

8 - "Second-Hand Dresses and the Role of the Ragmarket": A discussion of the emergence of "retro-style" dress. McRobbie does a particularly good job of analyzing not only the clothes of youth, but the place where those clothes are displayed and purchased. Her conclusions are somewhat incomplete. She notes that the frequent criticism that retro-style dress is a characteristic of rich kids, and thus demonstrates their disconnect from the poor they claim to be trying to connect with, is no longer accurate- students are often poor and the working-class itself is no longer predominantly employed in (and dressed for) the factory. The pastiche style of dress reflects a common theme of postmodernism that McRobbie observes elsewhere, but she hesitates to explain its precise significance. She also notes that the designer is playing less of a role in fashion trends then commonly assumed.

9 - "Shut up and Dance: Youth Culture and Changing Modes of Femininity": This essay is typical of McRobbie's "Feminist Postmodernism" project. She offers numerous examples of "how fluid gender practices and meaning structures are." (157) The replacement of Jackie with Just Seventeen as the most popular magazine for girls from 12 to 16 is a positive move from a magazine that emphasizes a more traditional perception of the female as an object and victim of romance to a more autonomous being with a wider (at least relatively) range of identities. She brackets the essay with a personal anecdote about her parental worries about her daughter attending raves, noting that the underlying importance of the rave for youth culture is its separation from adult supervision, thus allowing the freedom for experimentation (drugs, sexuality) as the youth seeks his/her own identity.

10- "Different, Youthful, Subjectivities: Towards a Cultural Sociology of Youth": This essay reviews work on youth in both sociology and cultural studies in an attempt to bring them closer together. Her conclusion explains, (194) "...the emphasis in this chapter has been to encourage cultural studies away from an exclusive concern with texts and meanings, this is not to say that such an approach has no value and meanings, this is not to say that such an approach has no value whatsoever. Here I have been arguing for a return, not to the real world, as it is sometimes seen, but rather to the terrain of how young people live and how they experience the changed world around them."

11- "The Moral Panic in the Age of the Postmodern Mass Media": "Moral Panics" are moments of extraordinary public anxiety toward a particular incident of violence that are acted out in the news media. The term was analyzed in depth by Stan Cohen in his 1980 book Folk Devils and Moral Panics. McRobbie includes an examination of how a moral panic works through mass media.

McRobbie is an excellent writer, and a creative researcher making this book a difficult yet enjoyable read. Occasionally, she is too Britain-centric for an American reader, but most of the time this is not a problem. Part I is somewhat dated, but individual essays from parts II and III could be useful for a graduate seminar.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Comstock and Scharrer - Television

Comstock, George A., and Erica Scharrer. Television: What's on, Who's Watching, and What It Means. San Diego: Academic Press, 1999.

This is a synthesis of television laboratory-type studies and quantitative research. The authors reviewed a vast array of data and analyzed its meaning for the medium of television.

Key Arguments (by chapter)
Chapter 1 - There were three eras of American television. 1.) The early years - late 1940s-1950s. 2.) Equilibrium - 1960s-70s, 3 networks spread over rising number of stations 3.) Transition - 1980s to present (1999), rise of cable and number of stations in general

Chapter 2 - Focuses on commercials, studies about their form, public opinion of, and effectiveness. Nothing too surprising here.

Chapter 3 - How people watch. Again, nothing I haven't heard.

Chapter 4 - News is controlled by gatekeepers, and shaped by journalists who strive for objectivity. However, it is also designed to be viewer-friendly and to attract viewers. The numbers of viewers who watch some form of TV news is surprisingly high, even among younger viewers, but their retention is surprisingly low.

Chapter 5 - Television has become increasingly important in politics since the 1952 election, with the Nixon-Kennedy and then Carter-Ford debates as key moments. The authors focus on Presidential elections in this chapter. They conclude that debates receive a high amount of attention but have little effect on the election results.

Chapter 6 - How does television news shape public thought and action? Observations include: "relevance to the consumer and magnitude of the occurrence" are the two key factors in determining whether a viewer will take action because of some threat or other news story. As newspaper reading declines, television is becoming more influential in setting the civic attention.

Chapter 7 - Does television have an adverse effect on scholastic performance? (262) "Viewing not only interferes with and displaces scholastic endeavors but also shapes the motives and directs the preferences of the young toward the trivial and the banal."

Chapter 8 - Does television lead to antisocial behavior? (310) The Surgeon General "was correct in arguing that television violence increases aggressiveness." It also influences illegal and harmful behavior, social functioning of the young.

The Morgan Memorial "Deja Vu - You've Seen this Before"
Putnam's thesis, that civic participation has declined in inverse proportion to television's rise, is noted, expanded upon, and somewhat complicated. The authors conclude that the news media serves interested voters positively, and could find no inverse relationship between TV news or newspaper reading and political participation.

There is a wealth of useful information synthesized in this book. Unfortunately, little to no effort was put toward the prose. Some sections read like this, "X and Y studied this problem, with these results. A and B studied this problem in a slightly different way, with these results. We, the authors, support the results of A and B for these reasons." Clearly, a vast amount of work was done in compiling this work. But this book could have benefited from a year's worth of editing, moving the studies into footnotes and actually writing an interesting argument based on the data. I hope I never fall into the trap of writing a book like this.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hunter - Culture Wars

Hunter, James Davison. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York: BasicBooks, 1991.

I've hit a busy stretch with job search reading and grading, but I managed to grind out Culture Wars, so let's get right to it...

Scope & Argument (and connection to Election Night 2010)
Published about a year before Clinton's election and three years before the 1994 Republican Revolution, Hunter describes the cultural tension between conservative Orthodox religious groups (Protestant, Catholic, & Jewish) and Progressivists in America from the late-1970s. On its shallowest level, this is a book about the key political issues contested by the two sides. Going deeper, it is about the core Religious beliefs held by both sides that make it nearly impossible for both sides to engage in a constructive debate. (Using a broad definition, Hunter argues that even the moral framework under which the most secular Progressives act constitutes a Religious belief. p.119)

Hunter levels some criticism at the media, which boils dialogue down to short soundbites and thus adds to the polarity of cultural and political discourse. But most of all, the problems lies with the methods and language of both sides. Admittedly, it is difficult to foster a polite discourse between two sides with such drastically different core values. Nevertheless, Hunter shows how both sides seek to discredit the opposition rather than understand, de-legitimize rather than engage, and describe with hyperbole rather than fairness.

Indeed, it is ironic that I am writing this on the night of the 2010 election, one of the most bitter in recent memory. It feels to most observers that America has never been so divided. The campaigns seemed to emphasize this division, with ever-increasing negativity typifying races across the country. Furthermore in light of the economic woes, there is a strong anti-incumbent mood. The Tea Party seems to have taken advantage of the setting, channeling voter anger towards their anti-government, libertarian message. Conspicuously absent from the main Tea Party (and indeed, Republican) professed ideals is a strong emphasis on Orthodox religion. Their influence, even on the right, seems to have faded somewhat, perhaps after the failure of Bush II. Perhaps 1994 was their pinnacle, a point that supports Hunter's argument in 1991 that, contrary to what some observers believed and in light of the decline of the Moral Majority and televangelist scandals, the Orthodox right had not run out of steam.

Hunter correctly describes the important coalition between neo-conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and the Orthodox (socio-cultural conservatives) that led to Ronald Reagan. I wonder if perhaps this coalition has re-aligned slightly, taking more of a libertarian stance in 2010. We shall see how the Tea Party candidates mesh with the Republican party once tonight's turnover is in place.

Key term
secular humanism - The Orthodox "dirty-word" for the Progressivist agenda which the Orthodox say is anti-religious belief and anti- moral absolutes. The Progressivists respond by saying they are merely upholding American ideals of nonsectarianism and individual autonomy and responsibility. (202-3, 206)

Hunter spends parts I-III describing the historical roots of the conflict, drawing the fault lines, explaining their respective moral visions, and comparing the discourse of the two sides. Part IV describes, in turn, five "fields of conflict" - family, education, media and arts, law, and electoral politics.

This is a splendidly written book, accessible to a wide audience. The introduction sets Hunter's balanced tone brilliantly, with a series of "dispatches" from the culture front, each revealing the background and beliefs of key actors on both sides of key conflicts. Thus, Hunter humanizes both sides, giving the reader a chance to develop sympathy and understanding towards the characters. The balanced tone continues throughout, as Hunter delves into both sides of controversies with fairness and understanding. The book is itself, thus, a model of a better discourse.

Most of my friends, from the more Orthodox who tend toward conservatism to the more Progressive, could learn from this book. I wonder what each side's reaction would be? My gut tells me an Orthodox reader would have a more difficult time with the scholarly tone, detached as it is from the Orthodox conception of a moral authority.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ellis - Visible Fictions

Ellis, John. Visible Fictions: Cinema, Television, Video. New York: Routledge, 1992.

An extensive comparison between cinema and TV (despite the title, the VCR is barely mentioned), Ellis perceives fundamental differences between the two media based on their respective images and sounds, their narrative styles, their spectators, and their stars. Part I and Part II deal with cinema and television respectively in each of the above categories. Part II compares the institutions of cinema and TV.

Originally written in the early 80s, Ellis spent the next decade working as a television producer. His 1992 "Postface" (ch. 17) nevertheless is not moved in his conclusions by the changes in the television industry.

Note also: Ellis is predominantly writing from a British perspective, and the vast majority of his examples are British.

The Nitty Gritty of the Comparison
Scheduling: it's hard to catch a TV program "tomorrow." Schedule is geared toward assumed daily routine of families.

Setting: public versus domestic.

"Flow" (a la Raymond Williams): Television is continuous. Films are shown separately. [Ellis agrees with the concept of flow to a point, but notes that the stream of items on TV are read by viewers as separate items much more than Williams seems to suggest.]

Segments: Much smaller in TV... about 5 minutes long generally. Editing is much tighter

Sound: much more important for TV to draw viewers' attention.

Images: TV is much smaller, lower definition

Assumed Audience: TV assumes a nuclear family, heterosexual, 2-child, etc.

Format: Single view film v. series and serial format of television

Viewer: Voyeuristic gaze (film) v. distracted glance. Assumption of semi privacy in the public setting of a darkened theatre v. the direct address of TV.

Stars: Film stars are distant and somewhat incomplete in their construction in the media, with the film being a chance to see their image completed in fiction. Television stars are familiar, repeating their situations in fiction or directly addressing the audience in news programs.

Industry: Film emerged out of the studio system. It is still dominated globally by Hollywood because of the initial advantage the U.S. had after WWI, and a natural market size that dwarfed individual national markets in Europe. Major studios fill the American market with a calculated number of films, making it difficult for foreign films to break in. Television production is divided between the networks and independent studios under a complex management structure that emphasizes the replaceability of all the individuals involved in the production - directors may change but their style will not be differentiable in television.

Key terms
photo effect - the paradoxical nature of an photographic (and video) image in which the figures portrayed are present in their image but not actually existing there at that moment. Ellis notes that the photo effect is not as fixed in television, which often maintains a sense of live and instantaneous.

The density of this book makes it feel almost like an abridged version of Ellis's career of theory, though in fact he is merely applying his career of thinking about film criticism to television. It says quite a bit for its size, even if it doesn't feel like it's breaking new ground theory-wise. I think Ellis is too stubborn in his "Postface" in not acknowledging the significant changes in the television medium in 1992 - for example, he dismisses the suggestion that Twin Peaks is groundbreaking. Of course, it is easy in 2010 to perceive how much television series have become more cinematic since the early 80s. In some ways, then, this book is something of a prequel to BT's Television's Second Golden Age.

Despite - or perhaps because of - the fact it is dated, this book provides an excellent overview of the crucial differences between film and television. Thus, it would be perfect for any graduate student entering the field or interested undergraduate. In fact, I could see myself assigning the first two sections to an undergraduate media history class, though the third section is probably the most fatally dated.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Abel - The Red Rooster Scare

Abel, Richard. The Red Rooster Scare: Making Cinema American, 1900-1910. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1999.

Abel traces the rise and decline of Pathé Films, a French company notable for its red rooster brand. He argues that after 1907 Pathé began to lose it's strong market share in America as theater owners were persuaded by the calls of progressive reformers (as well as American film makers) that the best films in terms of moral quality were those that promoted American ideals. It is no coincidence that Pathé's decline occurred after 1907 when immigration hit a peak of almost one million. Critics believed European-made films would have an adverse effect on the process of assimilation for new Americans. While Pathé attempted to respond to these pressures through marketing efforts and by adding to the emerging "American" genre of westerns, it nonetheless relinquished its market share in America and soon turned its attention to maintaining its supremacy in Europe.

Things that Made Pathé Such a Successful Brand in the First Place
  • Color: Pathé films were widely considered the best in terms of colorization (40-47). Pathé developed a stencil technique (similar to Méliès) "by which 'colorists' (all women) could apply up to three different colors within a single film frame, with greater precision and uniformity." (p.43)
  • Branding: The red rooster logo (itself notable for its red color) helped Pathé counter an early problem it had as it entered the American market: its films were being ripped off and shown under competing brands. Pathé was eventually able to develop a few ways to protect its films, and in the process elevated its brand as a signal of quality to theatre owners and viewers.
  • Viewer comprehension: Because the films were made by the French for viewers in America who didn't speak French, Pathé films tended to have storylines that were comprehensible through the visual action as opposed to through added text. This was critical in making the films appeal to new immigrants... a fact that would be used against Pathé by critics concerned over its relative failure to serve as an Americanizing agent.
  • Overall quality: With less reliance on added text, the acting had to be better. Plus, Pathé just made good films. Furthermore, at the turn of the century France was considered a leading nation in terms of technology, on par with, if not ahead of the United States.
Other Points
Who went to the cinema
- Women and children, who Progressive reformers were particularly preoccupied with.
- New immigrants
What was the cinema like - Blend of vaudeville with films gradually becoming the feature presentation. This was the peak of nickelodeons, which allowed a long stretch of various entertainment for five cents. The cinema was a place of congregation, where people would meet and chat and pass their free time.

This case study fits early film history neatly into the history of the Progressive Era. It feels more like a long essay than a book. The final chapter on the rise of the western genre as an American genre is somewhat disjointed from the Pathé story. Intriguingly, Abel presents his work in the style of a vaudeville variety show; each short chapter ends with 1-3 short primary source documents as well as an "Entra Acte" (written by Abel) which goes into more detail on a tangential topic. I was concerned the documents would be a distraction but I was pleasantly surprised at the end result. Much like a variety show, the presentation worked to keep my interest from one item to the next. It's an interesting way to write history.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cohen - A Consumers' Republic

Cohen, Lizabeth. A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. New York: Knopf, 2003.

Argument/Key Terms
Consumer's Republic - During the two decades of post-WWII prosperity, Cohen perceives the broadly-held belief that America's mass consumption would lead not only to widespread prosperity but also help achieve social and political ambitions for a more equal, free, and democratic nation. (13) There was an underlying assumption that the government would support the consumers in the marketplace, even more than they supported the producers. This lasted until Nixon, Ford, and Carter began to pursue supply-side policy even before Reagan.

Cohen is essentially writing a traditional history book that supports the criticism raised in intellectual history/cultural critics of the Lasch variety. Writing in the 70s at the tail end of the Consumer's Republic, these critics were musing about how individualism went to far. Cohen traces its slide.

She is also preoccupied with the ramifications of the Consumer's Republic on Blacks and Women. Blacks notably exercised their position as citizen consumer, through boycotts and sit-ins, to negotiate and improve their position in society. The rise of segmented marketing coincided with the rise of Black Nationalism, strengthening Black identity. However, segregated neighborhoods and (thus) schools remain as evidence of the suburbanization that left the poor- mostly black - population behind. The ideal of equality within the Consumer's Republic thus failed largely to benefit black citizens.

Cohen analyzes advertising strategies to show how after WWII women lost the gains they had made during the war, both as laborers and as consumer citizens. Ads emphasized the father as the primary consumer of the house, and thus advertised accordingly, the ads themselves (as well as ad-driven TV shows like Father Knows Best) emphasizing women's proper role as submissive wife. Women eventually gained social status at the end of this period, and organized as consumer citizens - boycotting and protesting for key consumer issues.

Other Big Concepts
citizen consumer - The Roosevelt administration thought of consumers as a self-conscious body of Americans on par with labor and business, and courted their political support. For the first time on a broad level, Americans began to consider how their purchasing actions could shape society. Also, they became concerned with fairness in the marketplace.
purchaser consumer - The idea that consumers held the key to economic recovery. Strongly influenced by Keynes.
First-wave consumer's movement
- Progressive Era
Second-wave consumer's movement - 1930s and 40s, Notably, consumers were given a voice and official position in New Deal agencies, most importantly in the NRA.
Third-wave consumer's movement - 1960-78. (p.360) Typified by Ralph Nader. Pursued greater protection of the consumer in the marketplace (Cohen calls this level 1) and the reinvigoration of Government regulation in consumer interest (level 2). Despite a long struggle, consumer interest groups failed to place a consumer advocate in a permanent government position.
Consumerization of the Republic - Cohen's term for what followed the Consumer's Republic, typified by a desire not for a marketplace that could be molded, both by consumer action and government policy, to shape a stronger society but rather for a marketplace that favored individual interests. This was brought about in no small part by the rise of segmented marketing strategy.

Chapter Ideas
Ch. 1 "Depression: Rise of the Citizen Consumer" - Second Wave consumer's movement and the New Deal
Ch. 2 "War: Citizen Consumers Do Battle on the Home Front" - Consumers supported price fixing measures, and received them. Meanwhile, Blacks had to fight harder for price protection just as they had to go so far as to threaten protests to be an equal part of the wartime labor force.
Ch. 3 "Reconversion: The Emergence of the Consumers' Republic" - Out of post-war recession, the G.I. Bill helped returning soldiers and their families reach higher standards of livings. However, Cohen shows that Blacks and uneducated G.I.'s were left behind by the bill's benefits.
Ch. 4 "Rebellion: Forcing Open the Doors of Public Accommodations" - Civil Rights Movement gained access to public accommodation...
Ch. 5 "Residence: Inequality in Mass Suburbia" - ...just in time for prosperity, including public accommodation, to depart the cities for white suburbia.
Ch.6 "Commerce: Reconfiguring Community Marketplaces" - The rise of shopping centers moved shopping from the public space of the city to the private space of the mall. Cohen discusses court cases fighting to make the mall a public place for political action: initially these cases had success, such as the 1968 Logan Valley Plaza decision to allow union members to picket the plaza, which was the equivalent of a sidewalk. After that, the malls gradually gained back rights, as the Court granted the states the right to decide whether their own constitutions protected access.
Ch.7 "Culture: Segmenting the Mass"- Segmented advertising
Ch.8 "Politics: Purchasers Politicized"- Third-wave consumer's movement

The Morgan Memorial "Deja Vu - You've Seen this Before"
Christopher Lasch et al -In the final pages, Cohen mentions Lasch and Michael Sandel as critics who have argued liberal faith in a growing economy to solve America's problems failed to consider traditional criticism of individualism. Cohen is more realistic in her criticism, admitting it is difficult to overturn a century of transformation that has turned voters from civic-minded to consumption-minded.

Cohen breaks new ground with her concept of a Consumer's Republic. I just wish she had done so with a shorter book that relied a bit less on endless statistical examples. She warns in her prologue that she is going to use northern New Jersey, where she grew up, as a frequent case study and I thought it worked well as the changes in that area seemed representative for national trends.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Slater - The Pursuit of Loneliness

Slater, Philip Elliot. The Pursuit of Loneliness; American Culture at the Breaking Point. Revised Edition. Boston: Beacon Press, 1976.

Writing at about the same moment of American 70s malaise as Lasch (Culture of Narcissism) and Bell (The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism), Slater also begins with the assumption that America is in decline. He argues that three positive societal needs - community, engagement, and dependency - have been marginalized by American individualism. (p.33) Chapter two, "Kill Anything That Moves," expresses Slater's horror at the technological developments seen in the recent Vietnam war that allowed the American military to kill indiscriminately from the air with napalm and cluster bombs.

In chapter three, Slater briefly uses The Graduate along with a dash of Freud to critique familial relationships. He argues The Graduate shows how parents see their children in a "vimpiresque way. They feed on the child's accomplishments..." (p.66) Homebound mothers look to sons to provide the satisfaction and achievement they themselves cannot achieve and they cannot get from the absent working husband. Slater also critiques the concept of romantic love as another symptom of individual - a selfish belief that there is one match in the world that a person is meant to be with that leads the individual to close himself out to broader social relationships.

Chapter 5, "Divided We Sit," addresses countercultural movements that arose in the sixties. Slater approves of some of their ideas which encourage community and attack traditional romantic love notions. But he senses an undercurrent of individualism that encourages people to "do your own thing" without concern for the needs of the group. (p.128)

Proposed Solutions - Chapter 6 & 7
Slater proposes some radical (somewhat half-baked) ideas to address these problems. One goal he has is to remove the incentive to achieve wealth. To do this, Slater suggests a 100% tax on income beyond $100,000. He is also disgusted with inherited wealth, and similarly proposes strict limits on money that can be passed down to generations; he suggests estates be pooled and distributed fairly to all members of the following generation, perhaps in an education fund.

Use of Evidence
This is clearly written for a popular audience, and the footnotes are few and far between. Slater offers his own intellectual musings rather than rely on a body of research or connect with any other works.

Slater makes his claims without a strong base of evidence, so it is difficult to take him seriously. It feels like he is just throwing ideas up in the air. Still, he fits right into the Bell/Lasch category in underlying tone, if not in academic rigor. I'm not quite sure how useful a read this was, but it certainly was a change of pace from the academicky stuff I have been grinding through.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bell - The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

Bell, Daniel. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New York: Basic Books, 1976.

The post-industrial society is suffering from a crisis of hedonism (unlike Lasch, Bell does not use Freud/narcissism). The shift of employment to the service industry, and other post-WW II socio-economic trends have led Americans (though at times Bell talks about all post-industrial societies) into a sense of entitlement of a certain level of quality of life. Although he doesn't say it, Bell is sensing the end/failure of the New Deal state.

Most interesting, at least for me, is the evidence of hedonism Bell uses from culture. Abstract-expressionism and pop art, theatrical productions that break the separation between audience and performers, modern musical trends, pop music, and modern poetry are all signs of shifting sensibilities that Bell doesn't like. In deliberately undermining the critic's ability to differentiate between good and bad art, these developments have made it harder to have an intelligent conversation about art at all.

The second part of the book moves away from culture almost entirely to discuss government's role in modern capitalism and, more broadly, the perceived role of the state. The government is expected to help provide what the people believe they are entitled to, but the recent failures have left Americans disillusioned with their state. Ultimately, (ch.6) Bell argues (p.281-2) America needs "the reaffirmation of our past [meaning traditional and/or religious values]...recognition of the limits of resources and the priority of needs, individual and social, over unlimited appetite and wants; and agreement upon a conception of equity which gives all persons a sense of fairness and inclusion in the society and which promotes a situation where, within the relevant spheres, people become more equal so that they can be treated equally. [Bell is opposed to affirmative action quotas, arguing they are as arbitrary as the racism they seek to amend.]

Great Quote
p. 142 "Traditionally, violence has been repugnant to the intellectual as a confession of failure. In discourse, individuals resorted to force only when they had lost the power of persuasion by means of reason. So, too, in art the resort to force - in the sense of a literal reenactment of violence on the canvas, on the stage, or on the written page - signified that the artist, lacking the artistic power to suggest the emotion, was reduced to invoking the shock of it directly. But in the 1960s violence was justified not only as therapy but as a necessary accompaniment to social change."

The best critique of this period's [1960s] radical (and, indeed, popular) art I have ever read. I'm not totally convinced violence is all there is to it, but Bell makes a great point.

The Morgan Memorial "Deja Vu - You've Seen this Before"
Lasch - The Culture of Narcissism: These books are quite similar in their high intellectual style and substance, their ambivalence towards the New Left, and their critique of narcissism/hedonism. They are both, in some ways, dated; Bell, in particular, goes so far as to spend most of chapter 5 imagining the direction of America in the next 25 years (intriguing yet largely useless to read 35 years after it was written). The tone of both reflects the moment in time in which they were written - post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, during the 70s economic struggles. In a way, this is a cautionary tale for me, as I attempt to write recent history.

Putnam - Bowling Alone: Bell would be disappointed with the trends Putnam sees since Bell wrote this book, but Bell believes strong leadership is the key to American success whereas Putnam calls for a more grassroots solution.

Bell calls his chapters essays, which is apt because the book jumps around from culture to politics to economics. It is difficult, until the final pages, to cull a clear argument, although this is no small part due to the depth of intellectual thought the reader must wade through - not my strong point. As much as I liked his chapters on culture (particularly ch. 2), I prefer Lasch's similar book. Chapter 5 could've been skimmed, as it dealt mostly with musings about America's future.

For Follow-up Reading...
Bensman, Joseph, and Arthur J. Vidich. 2000. "The Cultural Contradictions of Daniel Bell". International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society. 12, no. 3: 503-514.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gerstle - American Crucible

Gerstle, Gary. American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Argument & Key Terms
(p.4-5) Gerstle argues America pursued both civic and racial nationalism throughout the 20th century. Civic nationalism (from Michael Ignatieff and others) is the idealized perception of America as an ethnic and cultural melting pot which, resting on the values of equality and liberty inscribed in the founding documents, could accept waves of new immigrants and deal with a variety of ethnicities while still growing stronger and stronger as a nation of people.

Racial nationalism was a contradictory, conflicting ideal that emphasized America as the pinnacle of global civilization as the home of the greatest race in the world, the Anglo-Saxon. "Lesser" peoples, Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, and (before the 1930s) southern and eastern Europeans could never fully assimilate and thus never truly be members. They had to be prevented from entering, and expelled, segregated or subordinated.

Theodore Roosevelt looms as the catalyst for the book's trends. Gerstle is constantly noting what Roosevelt would have thought about a certain development. Roosevelt as President and as leader of the Progressive Party attempted to balance civic and racial nationalism. He believed firmly in the supremacy of the white Anglo-Saxon race, but also valued civic ideals and believed America could absorb new immigrants provided they assimilate through rugged individualism. His alliance with Progressives grew out of his recognition of the terrible poverty new immigrants faced. He borrowed Herbert Croly's idea of "New Nationalism," which said that the poverty created by industrialization had to be addressed by a strong state that could provide regulation and relief without turning to socialism. (p.67)

Trends, by Chapter
Ch. 3 Hardening the Boundaries of the Nation, 1917-1929: Immigration restriction intensifies along with racial nationalism. RN ASCENDENT

Ch. 4 The Rooseveltian Nation Ascendent, 1930-1940: FDR, who admired his older cousin greatly, finally got the chance to put TR's visions into place. Without bending to civil rights issues, FDR implemented a massive federal program of regulation, relief, and reform. TR would have particularly loved the uniformed, masculine CCC. RN STEADY WITH HOPE OF DECLINE

Ch. 5 Good War, Race War, 1941-1945: WWII, with the army still segregated, was fought most brutally in the Pacific amidst inherent racism against the Japanese. While blacks began to vocalize the inherent contradiction of fighting for a country in which they were deemed second class citizens, other previously lesser groups gained prestige: Jews, Catholics, southerners, etc. RN STEADY FOR BLACKS, DECLINE FOR OTHERS

Ch. 6, The Cold War, Anticommunism, and a Nation in Flux, 1946-1960: McCarthyism, unlike the first Red Scare, was directed not at new immigrants but at the liberal elite. Meanwhile, America began to face the contradiction of Jim Crow as it claimed the moral upperhand in the Cold War. RN DECLINE

Ch. 7 Civil Rights, White Resistance, and Black Nationalism, 1960-1968: MLK et al appealed to civic nationalism, but black nationalism emerged as a replacement for the civic nationalist ideal, which was called a lie. CN DECLINE

Ch. 8 Vietnam, Cultural Revolt and the Collapse of the Rooseveltian Nation, 1968-1975: Amidst the cultural upheaval and LBJ's calamity in Vietnam, the Rooseveltian Nation imagined by TR and built by FDR collapsed. CN DECLINE, FIRST PANGS OF MULTICULTURALISM

Epilogue Beyond the Rooseveltian Nation, 1975-2000: Gerstle argues Reagan returned to racial nationalism, but in a subtle, acceptable (in terms of political correctness) way. White and black communities remained separate in the 80s, and income gaps increased. Multiculturalism was offered as an alternative to Reagan's model. "Hard" multiculturalists argue that America's civic values cannot be salvaged. Some hard multiculturalists argue minority cultures poses the civic values mainstream America needs. Others dispute the idea that any particular culture has the necessary values. They celebrate cultural hybridity. (350-351) "Soft" multiculturalists believe in a blend between old American ideas and new diverse ideals from America's many cultures.

Use of Culture
The films of Frank Capra emphasize the Anglo-Saxon average American as its hero. (ch. 4)
Francis Ford Coppola, on the other hand, emphasized the Italian Family unit as being corrupted by capitalist America, rather than the other way around.

The Morgan Memorial "Deja Vu - You've Seen this Before"
Benedict Anderson - Imagined Communities: Gerstle is heavily influenced by Anderson's concept of nationalism as an imagined sense of belonging to a created community. The broad trends Gerstle discuss thus affect the self-identity held by all Americans throughout the century.

This synthesis also uses Denning's Cultural Front to describe the 30s.

This book has similar strengths and weaknesses to any synthesis. Gerstle paints in broadstrokes. He also writes in an easy-to-read style that would be accessible for an advanced undergraduate. His ideas are not earth shattering, but as a synthesis of the contradictions between racism and civic values in 20th century America, this book is outstanding. The emphasis on Theodore Roosevelt feels a little forced at times, and fresh at other times.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Levine - Highbrow/Lowbrow

Levine, Lawrence W. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Levine demonstrates the emergence of a schism in American culture towards the end of the 19th century as conductors, directors, curators, and critics began to elevate certain art. They did this by suppressing audience "participation" in performances (teaching theater audiences to quietly, politely watch a performance) and by selectively separating certain art (through both presentation and description) into a hierarchy. The result of this was to create an upper level of art that became less accessible to the majority of Americans.

Prior to these developments soon-to-be-"highbrow" art including Shakespeare, opera, and fine art in museums had been presented as part of a hodge podge of culture. Shakespeare performances were mixed with shorter musical numbers, farcical pieces, etc. Museums were less sharply organized, and might alternate between a show of ancient artifacts one week and a spectacle of twin dwarves the next. The audience at live performances was democratic; all classes were represented and the audience participated as they would at a sporting event, hissing or cheering, stomping their feet or clapping their hands depending on their mood. Indeed, Shakespeare came to be seen in the early 1800s as a quintessentially American cultural product; most Americans were familiar enough with his work for their to be an endless variety of parodies. At the same time, it was expected that his plays be delivered in a way that minimized the aristocratic and English values inherent in some of the stories. Otherwise, the crowd could turn ugly.

Levine sees these trends mirroring the social stratification of American society at the end of the 19th century. He also argues that they peaked in the early 20th century, and finds evidence of people such as Harvard President Charles W. Eliot saying in 1903 that the "cultivated man" should not be exclusive. One of the main projects of modern art, as Levine notes, was to undermine cultural hierarchy. Warhol took this to an extreme. Other 20th century artists and critics have attempted to do the same, as Levine discusses in the Epilogue.

Key Concepts
The sacralization of culture - (ch. 2) The trend in the nineteenth century of certain kinds of culture becoming revered. These changes were caused by symphony conductors, museum directors, theater directors, and critics calling for greater reverence of art by the audience. For example, it became much less acceptable to alter the art from the original writer or composer's text.

Key Figures
Theodore Thomas - Conductor/director of the New York Philharmonic and, eventually, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Early in his career (beginning in 1864), in his summer concerts with the NY Phil, Thomas attempted to introduce what he felt were the greatest symphonic pieces to the masses by mixing them with more popularly appealing music (and, indeed, performance gimicks, such as planting flutes in the trees). This was similar to the way Shakespeare had been blended with "lighter" fare throughout the century. By the time he moved to Chicago at the end of his career, he had grown disillusioned with this approach. Like other symphony directors, he began to insist on only playing only the best music. This meant that his orchestras relied on sponsorship from societies elites, rather than mass ticket sales.

John Philip Sousa - A massive figure in late 19th century music who achieved broad popularity and was somewhat criticized for his brand of music, but nonetheless carried the "sacralization" torch, even becoming increasingly apologetic for his broadly appealing style.

Matthew Arnold - p.223 An English writer who wrote Culture and Anarchy in 1867-68 and later visited the U.S. in the 1880s. He defined culture as, "the best that has been thought and known in the world...the study and pursuit of perfection." According to Levine, "Arnold was perhaps the single most significant disseminator of such attitudes [of high culture] and had an enormous influence on the United States."

The Morgan Memorial "Deja Vu - You've Seen this Before"
Lears - No Place of Grace: Like Lears, Levine sees the turn of the century as a time of splintering social order in the U.S. Levine discusses Henry Adams (a huge figure for Lears), and Adams's nostalgia for old (read: "high") culture. While Lears sees Adams' nostalgia as a typical anti-modernist stance, Levine fits this into the trend of cultural stratification. More similar to Lears, Levine in turn describes this cultural stratification as related (and this is vaguely described) to the larger trends of societal stratification in the period.

McGerr - A Fierce Discontent: McGerr's thesis is that the Progressive Movement was a movement of middle class control - an attempt to shape the lower classes in their image. Levine sees the sacralization of culture as an expression by the upper class/education of their superiority over the lower classes, particularly immigrants.

Christopher Lasch - The Culture of Narcissism: p.211 "Christopher Lasch has argued that the new professions, which another historian has called the 'consensus of the competent,' came into being 'by reducing the layman to incompetence.' A similar development occurred in the realm of high culture, which paralleled the formation of the professions in the late nineteenth century and which, like the new professions, was involved in a quest for cultural authority."

Really nicely written. Easy and enjoyable to read, although at merely three long chapters its a bit...chunky. (Chapter 1, dealing entirely with Shakespeare as a case study, was adapted from a paper, and sort of feels like it.) Levine's ideas are convincing. However, he mainly deals with "highbrow" art, referring to "lowbrow" art only as a foil for his examples. As noted above, he observes a peak of "sacralization" around the turn of the century, and notes countless attempts to question cultural hierarchy. What this book fails to explain (in fairness, because it is not its project, though the title and even intro suggest it is) is why hierarchies continue to frame American culture, despite the trends of the 20th century.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Putnam - Bowling Alone

Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Related Simpsons Quote
"I haven't felt this energized since my!" - Mr. Burns in the Pin Pals episode

Section II: Trends in Civic Engagement and Social Capital
Since the 70s, American participation in politics, civics, religion, community, and other social activities has decreased drastically, to the detriment of the society. Americans trust their neighbors less than they used to, engage beyond the nuclear family less than they used to, and give their time to society less than they used to.

Section III: Why?
The key factors are
pressures of time and money - only 10%, because while two-career families certainly was an important development in the period, in fact heavy time demands do not correlate to limited engagement in society - ie unemployed participate LESS than employed
suburbanization, commuting and sprawl - 10%, because disengagement is still seen in areas untouched by sprawl
electronic entertainment particularly television - 25%, because television sucks time and keeps people indoors
generational change - 50% (with overlap with TV). The generation that was born before the Depression were and continue to be more engaged.

Surveys, group membership data, and other relevant quantitative data. The evidence is presented in countless charts and graphs that perfectly illustrate Putnam's argument.

Key Terms
Social Capital - (p. 19) the value society gets from connections among individuals
specific reciprocity - (20) "I'll do this if you do that for me (in short term)"
generalized reciprocity - (21) "I'll do this without expecting anything specific back from you, in the confident expectation that someone else will do something for me down the road." (Golden Rule)
bridging social capital - (22) inclusive. outward looking and encompass diverse social groups. ie Civil Rights movement, ecumenical religious orgs
bonding social capital - (22) exclusive. inward looking, reinforce exclusive identities and homogeniety. ie church based reading groups, restricted country clubs.
Long Civic Generation - (chapter 14) - the generation born before the Depression. More likely to have served in military. Lived through the depression.

This is sociology at its best. Putnam takes a commonly held perception or sense - that America is less-community oriented and less active in the community than it had been - and applies a thorough quantitative analysis to it. He offers explanations, but only as his "best guess," giving each a percentage of how much he thinks they are a factor. This is a tremendously useful book for historians and thoroughly convincing. Plus, he's a good writer.

The latter chapters are interesting, but less useful to historians, as Putnam offers thoughts on how to improve civic engagement, and argues that civic engagement has come in waves throughout American history. (The Progressive Era ended a long period of disengagement throughout the Gilded Age).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Denning - The Cultural Front

Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. The Haymarket series. London: Verso, 1996.

Argument/Key terms
The period from the Sacco-Venzetti execution (1927) and the Crash of 1929 to the Cold War blacklisting and McCarthyism is best described as the Age of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) because for the first time the left had a significant effect on American culture and society as a whole. The Cultural Front describes Denning's argument: that intellectuals, artists, and lower class workers were united - or at least connected - in a conscious efforts to shape society through mass culture. This period thus saw a "laboring" of American culture, as not only did culture begin to reflect lower class interests, but the lower classes themselves became active participants in the creation, performance, and consumption of culture. (xvi-xvii)

Historiographic Importance
Denning refutes the common-held belief that the Popular Front was made up of the Communist Party at its core with other sympathetic participants on the periphery ("fellow travelers"). Instead, he argues party membership was much more fluid and the specific ideologies of the Popular Front were much more varied than the core-periphery model might suggest. He thus proposes that the Popular Front be viewed as a historical bloc, with a base in industrial unions.

Taking issue with the New York school's claim that the Popular Front was an utter failure because of its central Communism, he also attempts to demonstrate both the contribution to American culture made during the period and the lasting influence of these works after 1948 (eventually inspiring the New Left of the 60s).

Key Examples

Ch. 4 Dos Passos's USA - Didn't have the lasting influence of contemporary works of fiction because it was so rooted in the time. Triology tells of the decline of the Lincoln Republic. Unites history, fiction, and memoir through four types of writing - Newsreels (unauthored accounts of historical events), Camera Eyes (autobiographical accounts of Dos Passos own experiences), biographical portraits (of real figures, and fictional narratives about 12 disconnected characters.

Ch. 6 Ghetto Pastorals - Importance of ghetto as setting for immigrant lower class tales.

Ch.7 Grapes of Wrath - Most successful of numerous migrant worker texts. Elevated the Okie migration despite the existence of other examples of migrant workers at that moment, primarily because Okies were white. Denning discusses other less well-known migrant worker stories about non-whites (Mexicans, Chinese, blacks)

Ch. 8 Popular Front Musical Theater - Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock is an allegory of the middle class eforts to usurp the power of labor unions. Harold Rome's Pins and Needles was a musical revue which had a success that has confounded Broadway historians. Most write it off as appealing through its political consciousness, but Denning argues that the songs about working-class romance are what made it successful. The cast was made up of New York laborers - amateur performers (until the show became increasingly popular). Anti-fascist sketches.

Ch. 9 Caberet Blues - Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington (discussed in Ch. 8) were thought in retrospect to not be particularly politically conscious (and often claimed as such after 1948), but Denning shows they are underestimated.

Ch. 10 Orson Welles - Denning argues Anti-Fascism was the core ideology of Welles' work from Julius Caesar to War of the Worlds to Citizen Kane.

Ch. 11 The Disney strike of 1941 - breaking Disney's paternalism

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this book. On one hand, the case studies are interesting, in-depth, and often engrossing. The overall conclusions seem, historiographically, significant. However, great portions of the book were a real slog. Denning often repeats himself. I had a strong sense that the text could have been at least 100 pages smaller to the same effect. He often quoted secondary sources that agreed with his points. He also freqently uses long lists of names. Whole paragraphs are dedicated to listing examples. Those kinds of things, it seems to me, could either be edited out or stuck in a footnote. (This uses endnotes.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lears - No Place of Grace

Lears, T. J. Jackson. No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920. New York: Pantheon Books, 1981.

Methodology and Scope
As the title suggests, Lears discusses Antimodernism set against the modernizing events around the turn of the 20th century. He uses a lot of Freud to get at the psychology of the people he discusses, probing the anxieties that drove them to antimodernism. He also uses Gramsci to elevate the importance of his topic; "The shift from a Protestant to a therapeutic world view, which antimodern sentiments reinforced, marked a key transformation in the cultural hegemony of the dominant classes in America." (xv) Freud is mentioned often, Gramsci less so, while Weber is almost never mentioned but serves an equal importance conceptually for Lears. His "concept of the rationalization of Western culture - the drive for efficient control of outer and inner life" (xv) explains the system the antimodernists resisted and hoped to escape from.

Historiographical Aims (xvi-xvii)
1. Dispute the common argument that antimodernism was merely the final gasps of old-stock Northeastern elites, trying to hold back the tide of the new industrial society. On the contrary, this group maintained its wealth and prestige. The people discussed by the book were the children of NE elites. Their struggle, in fact, helped maintain and renew bourgeois values and ease the transition for old school peeps. Almost all of Lears' examples end with a demonstration of how the antimodernism of a certain individual was not destroyed but ultimately subsumed into the dominant cultural hegemony.
2. Lears argues that the therapeutic orientation (away from Christian protestantism) was not merely an affect of post-WWI disillusionment but rather had its roots in the antimodernists reaching back into the 1800s.

Antimodernism sprang from a psychic crisis in the period. The emerging bureaucratic systems of big business as well as the changing nature of labor and success led to a crisis of self for many individuals, feeling an existential "weightlessness" (a term often used by Lears) about their lives. The main figures Lears discusses were prominent enough to have a small yet significant effect on culture in their reactions to their own psychic crisis.

neurasthenia - A vague, all-encompassing diagnosis of the era steming from the anxieties related to societal changes. (47)
weightlessness - According to Nietzsche, the "weightless" period occurred as secularization leads to the loss of distinctive moral boundries, weakening emotional ties, and the undercutting of formerly certain principles and conduct. Humanity felt "weightless" because it lost its perception of the supernatural framework of meaning. (41)

Key antimodernist groups
Chapter 2 - Artisans, including Gustav Stickley, argued for an "arts and crafts" ideology, that the best way to make a living was a craft lifestyle. This was hypocritical because craft business owners participated in the modern capitalist economy to survive. It was impossible for craftsman to compete with factory-made goods. Such ideologues argued for the societal and aesthetic value of paying a higher price for a craft-made good, but to no avail. Lears notes the religious undertones, suggesting Arts and Crafts movement as a way to spiritual salvation.

Chapter 3 - Antimodernism also has an important connection to the martial ideal, typified by Teddy Roosevelt. The ultimate example of this can be found in Nazi Germany, and indeed, the American martial ideal also contained a strong racial strain. For examples, Lears offers NOT stories of men wandering off to fight in foreign wars, but rather cultural examples of literature that celebrated the martial ideal. Arthurian legends and medieval tales became popular.

Chapter 4 - Medievalism took things farther for antimodernists. They began to celebrate the childishness of the Medieval human. Japan was, until its own agressive modernization, seen as a "childlike" place where Medieval values remained.

Chapter 5 - Similarly, Catholic architecture was elevated as beautiful by many antimodernists. Also, a turn towards Anglo-Catholocism represented a similar search for and clinging to values perceived as old.

Key Antimodernists (Chapter 6 and 7)
William Sturgis Bigelow (1850-1926) - Son of a successful surgeon (brusque father) who felt the burden f parental and familial accomplishments. Eventually embraced Buddhism, but still maintained a restless spirit, wandering in Europe and Japan.
Van Wyck Brooks - Son of a failed speculator, semi-invalid, who worked as a clerk on Wall Street. Mother took him on tours of Europe. Yearned to be a successful writer, but couldn't put it all together. Early on sought aestheticism and withdrawal. Later attacked antimodernism out of a search for a stable adult life.
Henry Adams - Affected by successful family, death of his wife. Dove into his History and novels. Writing simultaneous expressed doubt in Christianity and attacked secularism.

Lears is a really good writer, and an insightful historian. Like Rebirth of a Nation, I found this one to be a slog. I think the way he organizes his paragraphs does not lend itself to quick reading. Still, it was worth the effort.

Must-read for Jason, and probably Adam. Lots of masculinity issues, tied to Freud. Not exactly religious history, but there is a lot of religion in this book.

Final Thought
Lears: Henry Adams and T.S. Eliot were both antimodern modernists - "resolving to search for faith even while accepting the knowledge which erodes it, resigning himself to the insoluble contradictions in his own psyche. This attitude, in its aversion to static systems, is a thoroughly "modern" one. But in a more profound sense, it is as old as the Biblical cry: "Lord I believe; help thou my unbelief." p.312 (End of the book)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Susman - Culture as History

Susman, Warren. Culture As History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984

Note: I decided only parts III and IV of this book of essays were applicable to my comp studies. Since it is a book of essays, I'll discuss them individually...

Ch. 7 - Culture and Civilization: The 1920s
Civilization is a keyword for Susman, particularly in this chapter. Culture in the 20s was an attempt by America to react and "repair" civilization following WWII. Technology and communications made Americans aware of standing in a new era. [Me: who doesn't think they're in a "new era?"] Self-knowledge increased self-awareness. Essentially, the chapter is a laundry list of examples.

p107-111 - mini essay argues "new world of new knowledge heighten the very contradictions the new knowledge itself was uncovering." (107) Ex. 1. Specialization of new knowledge made it difficult to share (107). 2. Culture contradicted itself: Chaplin's The Kid opposed to J.B. Watson's ideas on how to raise a child. Chaplin has a warm and fuzzy relationship with the kid. Wartson says "Never hug and kiss them." Traditional & common sense versus new scientific(108). 3. In era of increased communications, there was an often noted lack of things worth communicating about - sports, jazz, bedtime stories. (109) 4. Interest in gap between language and reality (110-111).

Ch. 8 - Culture Heroes: Ford, Barton, Ruth
Three key heroes of the 20s and 30s, barely tied together...

Bruce Barton - famous, supposedly "self-made," advertising baron who penned The Man Nobody Knows. Masculinity and business tied to Christ.

Henry Ford - Fordism

Babe Ruth - Out of poverty, messy off-field issuels, alcohol, sex, still loved even before he cleaned up his act.

Ch. 9 - The Culture of the Thirties
Begins with execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927 - crushing the exuberance of their supporters, symbol of anti-immigration in 20s. 30s sense of collective "American" culture. Civilization increasingly the enemy. (156-7). Sports and games as escape but Susman tries to explain the kind of escape... rules are important. (162) Rise of the "how to" book, particularly to get rich...tended to essential argue conformity, such as Carnegie's How to Win Friends... (165). Argument: decade remembered as filled with committment to "ideologies" but in fact little evidence that such committment existed among most Americans. Instead, replaced by "innocence."

Ch. 10 - Culture and Committment
I - 185 - " this period (depression and WWII) the people under study are trying to make their own world comprehensible by their self-conscious awareness of the importance of the idea of culture and the idea of commitment, their self-conscious search for a cultrue that will enable them to deal with the world of experience, and a commitment to forms, patters, symbols that will make their life meaningful"
II - In culture of crisis, sensed need of commitment. (191)
III - Still a largely middle-class culture during this time, despite tendency to focus on new poor. Felt fears, shame.
IV - Political historians think of it as age of FDR, cultural historians see it as age of Mickey Mouse. Disney turned dreams and nightmares into pallatable cartoons - Fantasia, Night on Bald Mountain
V - Heroes, symbol, myths rituals: Jungian Age - search for these things.
VI - Age of shame and fear passes away with construction of the Pentagon - into Age of Anxiety

Ch. 11 - World's Fair of 1939-40.

Ch. 12 - The City in American Culture
City as simultaneously a place of promise and potential as well as place of evil and sin.

Ch. 13 - Culture and Communications
Argues for "ecological model" of analyzing mass communications - relationship between the media and the environment within which it was created. Analysis of Capra's It Happened One Night - movie displays virtually every form of communication/transportation of the time. It was about journalism.

Ch. 14 - "Personality" and the Making of 20th Century Culture
Development in this period of a consciousness of self leads to interest in developing ones own personality. From this, celebrity culture - developing a personality as a product.

Overall Critique
Susman's arguments rarely blow the mind. The chapters are extremely useful as overviews of their topics, but rarely hold together towards a coherent main point. The concepts he builds around are fairly obvious. Also, they may be forced. For instance, in proving the 20s had an interest in the concept of civilization, he merely lists examples of works that mention "civilization.

Recommend for...
An undergraduate class. Different essays work well as overviews of culture in different decades.