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An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America

by Gary Cross

The unqualified victory of consumerism in America was not a foregone conclusion. The United States has traditionally been the home of the most aggressive and often thoughtful criticism of consumption, including Puritanism, Prohibition, the simplicity movement, the '60s hippies, and the consumer rights movement. But at the dawn of the twenty-first century, not only has American consumerism triumphed, there isn't even an "ism" left to challenge it. An All-Consuming Century is a rich history of how market goods came to dominate American life over that remarkable hundred years between 1900 and 2000 and why for the first time in history there are no practical limits to consumerism. By 1930 a distinct consumer society had emerged in the United States in which the taste, speed, control, and comfort of goods offered new meanings of freedom, thus laying the groundwork for a full-scale ideology of consumer's democracy after World War II. From the introduction of Henry Ford's Model T ("so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one") and the innovations in selling that arrived with the department store (window displays, self service, the installment plan) to the development of new arenas for spending (amusement parks, penny arcades, baseball parks, and dance halls), Americans embraced the new culture of commercialism -- with reservations. However, Gary Cross shows that even the Depression, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the inflation of the 1970s made Americans more materialistic, opening new channels of desire and offering opportunities for more innovative and aggressive marketing. The conservative upsurge of the 1980s and '90s indulged in its own brand of self-aggrandizement by promoting unrestricted markets. The consumerism of today, thriving and largely unchecked, no longer brings families and communities together; instead, it increasingly divides and isolates Americans. Consumer culture has provided affluent societies with peaceful alternatives to tribalism and class war, Cross writes, and it has fueled extraordinary economic growth. The challenge for the future is to find ways to revive the still valid portion of the culture of constraint and control the overpowering success of the all-consuming twentieth century.

Consumed Nostalgia

by Gary Cross

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. For many of us, modern memory is shaped less by a longing for the social customs and practices of the past, or family heirlooms handed down over generations, and more by childhood encounters with ephemeral commercial goods and media moments. This phenomenon has given rise to communities of nostalgia built around narrow age groups whose members remain loyal to the toys, television, and music of their youth and return to the theme parks and pasttimes of their upbringing, hoping to reclaim that feeling of childhood wonder or teenage freedom. While the romantic recollection of objects and experiences is not new, consumed nostalgia took definite shape in the 1970s, spurred by an increase in the turnover of consumer goods, the commercialization of childhood, and the skillful marketing of nostalgia. Gary Cross immerses readers in this fascinating and often delightful history, and talks to collectors, car afficionados, and others to unpack the cultural dynamics that turn pop tunes into oldies and childhood toys into valuable commodities. He compares the limited appeal of heritage sites such as Colonial Williamsburg to the perpetually attractive power of a Disney theme park and reveals how consumed nostalgia sometimes interferes with our ability to cope with change. Today nostalgia can be owned, collected, and easily accessed, making it less elusive than in the past, but its commercialization has turned meaning into a commodity, accentuating escape, distorting memory, and complicating some of the positive goals of recollection. By unmasking the fascinating, idiosyncratic character of modern nostalgia, Cross helps us remember the rituals of recall that extend beyond bought things and experiences.

Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity

by Gary Cross

Adam Sandler movies, HBO's Entourage, and such magazines as Maxim and FHM all trade in and appeal to one character - the modern boy-man. Addicted to video games, comic books, extreme sports, and dressing down, the boy-man would rather devote an afternoon to Grand Theft Auto than plan his next career move. He would rather prolong the hedonistic pleasures of youth than embrace the self-sacrificing demands of adulthood. When did maturity become the ultimate taboo? Men have gone from idolizing Cary Grant to aping Hugh Grant, shunning marriage and responsibility well into their twenties and thirties. Gary Cross, renowned cultural historian, identifies the boy-man and his habits, examining the attitudes and practices of three generations to make sense of this gradual but profound shift in American masculinity. Cross matches the rise of the American boy-man to trends in twentieth-century advertising, popular culture, and consumerism, and he locates the roots of our present crisis in the vague call for a new model of leadership that, ultimately, failed to offer a better concept of maturity. Cross does not blame the young or glorify the past. He finds that men of the "Greatest Generation" might have embraced their role as providers but were confused by the contradictions and expectations of modern fatherhood. Their uncertainty gave birth to the Beats and men who indulged in childhood hobbies and boyish sports. Rather than fashion a new manhood, baby-boomers held onto their youth and, when that was gone, embraced Viagra. Without mature role models to emulate or rebel against, Generation X turned to cynicism and sensual intensity, and the media fed on this longing, transforming a life stage into a highly desirable lifestyle. Arguing that contemporary American culture undermines both conservative ideals of male maturity and the liberal values of community and responsibility, Cross concludes with a proposal for a modern marriage of personal desire and ethical adulthood.

Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination

by Anne Allison Gary Cross

From sushi and karaoke to martial arts and technoware, the currency of made-in-Japan cultural goods has skyrocketed in the global marketplace during the past decade. The globalization of Japanese "cool" is led by youth products: video games, manga (comic books), anime (animation), and cute characters that have fostered kid crazes from Hong Kong to Canada. Examining the crossover traffic between Japan and the United States, Millennial Monsters explores the global popularity of Japanese youth goods today while it questions the make-up of the fantasies and the capitalistic conditions of the play involved. Arguing that part of the appeal of such dream worlds is the polymorphous perversity with which they scramble identity and character, the author traces the postindustrial milieux from which such fantasies have arisen in postwar Japan and been popularly received in the United States.

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