Mass Culture at Mid-Century
"A terrific overview of how we should study mass culture and why."—Susan J. Douglas, author of Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media
"Providing a fascinating read of mid-twentieth-century cultural productions as diverse as minstrel shows and nylon stockings, Smulyan makes visible the ways in which race, class, gender, nationhood, and consumption both emerge in and are developed through popular culture."—Jennifer Scanlon, Technology and Culture
"A very useful contribution to the study of social change at mid-century."—Michael Kammen, Journal of Social History
"An extended, comprehensive, and documented argument that American popular culture provided more than just escapism. . . . An impressive work of seminal and meticulous scholarship."—Midwest Book Review
In Popular Ideologies, Susan Smulyan demonstrates that popular culture represented more than just escape during the twentieth century's formative period. Far from providing an ideology-free zone, popular products and entertainments served (and continue to serve) as an arena where producers attempt to impose notions of race, class, gender, and nationhood, and consumers react to such impositions.
From popular minstrel skits performed by middle-class families, to women rioting to experience the technological wonder of nylons, to Hollywood-starved post-World War II Japanese film fans eager to see American screen stars, to dissatisfied advertising men who wrote best-selling novels, people used mid-century popular culture to reinforce their status while claiming their place in a newly commodified and increasingly mass-produced world of leisure activities. Smulyan also tracks the ways popular culture, over time, became less and less open to audience input and more an expression of powerful institutions. Today, despite the lack of audience control over the mass media, contemporary college students use marginal forms like Japanese anime and campus cultural shows to make sense of their own lives—much as did mid-century amateur minstrels, stocking buyers, movie-goers, and the writers and readers of popular novels.
Through a wide and eclectic range of subjects, Popular Ideologies examines classic issues of modern cultural history, including the relationships between producers and consumers and how both groups use popular culture.
Susan Smulyan is Professor of American Civilization at Brown University and author of Selling Radio: The Commercialization of American Broadcasting, 1920-1934.