9780810115859

Better Living: Advertising, Media, and the New Vocabulary of Business Leadership, 1935-1955 (Media Topographies)

William L. Bird, Jr.

ISBN 10: 0810115859 / 0-8101-1585-9
ISBN 13: 9780810115859
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hardcover
Editorial Reviews for this title:
Synopsis:
A history of how big business learned to be both entertaining and persuasive when talking to the public. The book follows the dissemination of politically competitive claims in industry; and looks at the ways in which politically active corporations and their leaders learned how to speak.

Review:
There's no business like big business--which, in order to be big, often operates more like show business. This is the thesis of William L. Bird in Better Living, a survey of corporate America's use of advertising and the media between the years 1935 and 1955. The topic is fascinating, though the writing tends towards the academic at times, such as in this passage describing a National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)-sponsored program:
Despite the troubling transparency of American Family Robinson, the NAM's willingness to dramatize their deepest fears and concerns suggested an out. In the process of building a dramatic program for the manufacturers, the specialist could play a mediating role, negotiating a formula, and, conversely, the formula itself could play a mediating role, sustaining a "multiplicity of meanings other than a monolithic dominant point of view."
Nevertheless, Bird builds an interesting case history; American Family Robinson, for example, was a radio soap opera in which the Robinson family expressed the pro-business, anti-New Deal sentiments of its sponsor. As corporate attitudes evolved from the early days of radio through the use of film and the advent of television, more and more entertainment became a definite strategy in getting business's message across.

Living Better is geared more toward an academic readership instead of a general one. Familiarity with New Deal policies and politics is useful when tackling this book--so is a magnifying glass for anyone over the age of 30, since the print is small, and the margins narrow. Still, after reading about big business's insidious advances into the national psyche via nightly entertainment in the early years of radio and television, one might think twice about what one's viewing now.

Review

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