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Americans have a long history of public arguments about taste, the uses of leisure, and what is culturally appropriate in a democracy that has a strong work ethic. Michael Kammen surveys these debates as well as our changing taste preferences, especially in the past century, and the shifting perceptions that have accompanied them.Professor Kammen shows how the post-traditional popular culture that flourished after the 1880s became full-blown mass culture after World War II, in an era of unprecedented affluence and travel. He charts the influence of advertising and opinion polling; the development of standardized products, shopping centers, and mass-marketing; the separation of youth and adult culture; the gradual repudiation of the genteel tradition; and the commercialization of organized entertainment. He stresses the significance of television in the shaping of mass culture, and of consumerism in its reconfiguration over the past two decades.Focusing on our own time, Kammen discusses the use of the fluid nature of cultural taste to enlarge audiences and increase revenues, and reveals how the public role of intellectuals and cultural critics has declined as the power of corporate sponsors and promoters has risen. As a result of this diminution of cultural authority, he says, definitive pronouncements have been replaced by divergent points of view, and there is, as well, a tendency to blur fact and fiction, reality and illusion.An important commentary on the often conflicting ways Americans have understood, defined, and talked about their changing culture in the twentieth century.
With the same exacting scholarship, brilliant cultural analysis, and stylish prose that won him a Pulitzer Prize for A Machine That Would Go of Itself, Kammen examines the paradox of American tradition. How, he asks, did the" land of the future" acquire a past? And how has our collective memory of that past been distorted--and, at times, manufactured?
From the beginning, what has given our culture its distinctive texture, pattern, and thrust, according to Michael Kammen, is the dynamic interaction of the imported and the indigenous. He shows how, during the years of colonization, some ideas and institutions were transferred virtually intact from Britain, while, simultaneously, others were being transformed in the New World. As he unravels the tangled origins of our culture, he makes us see that unresolved contradictions in the American experience have created our national style. Puritanical and hedonistic, idealistic and materialistic, peace-loving and war-mongering: these opposing strands go back to the genesis of our history.
During the twenty years before the American Revolution, thirty-seven men acted as paid agent or lobbyists for the American colonies in England. The most famous among them were Benjamin Franklin, who represented four different colonies and served for seventeen years as agenet for Pennsylvania, and Edmund Burke, who accepted the position to further his own career. Yet the other thirty-five were also a colorful and heterogenous group. This detailed study, by a Pulitzer-prize-winning historian, of their activities and of the gradual breakdown of communications between the colonies and the mother country, until the link between the two become only "a rope of sand," is, in the words of the Richmond News Leader, "a new and invigorating approach to the American fight for independence."
Pulitzer Prize winner Kammen explains why art matters in this study of the nature, diversity and persistence of major disputes generated by art and artists since the 1830s. In reviewing the controversies over art in US history, he discusses the kind of art appropriate for a democratic society, how a distinctively American art can be achieved, and the reasons for the politicalization of art since the late 1960s. Kammen also considers the quest for provocative shows in some galleries and museums and the commercialization stemming from dependence on corporate sponsorship at others. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc. , Portland, OR (booknews. com)
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