The Triumph of Meanness: America's War Against Its Better Self

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9780395822968: The Triumph of Meanness: America's War Against Its Better Self

The Triumph of Meanness is a penetrating examination of the souring of American attitudes in the 1990s, covering everything from negative advertising and church burnings to the latest macabre, sadistic forms of entertainment. Nicolaus Mills presents a compelling argument that a culture of meanness is sweeping across America. This mean-spiritedness is not confined to the arena of politics, where mudslinging and assaults on the poor and vulnerable are commonplace. Meanness penetrates every aspect of our everyday lives, from relations between men and women to the programs we watch on TV. Witness the huge popularity of serial-killer trading cards, the spectacles of public humiliation on TV talk shows, the guiltless aplomb with which CEOs announce the downsizing of thousands of loyal employees, the bumper stickers that ask, "Where is Lee Harvey Oswald when his country needs him?" We have crossed a line, Mills maintains, that "not long ago seemed to mark the outer bounds of decency." Mills a

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From Kirkus Reviews:

By introducing left-wing backlash into the right-wing's culture wars, Mills further sharpens this acrimonious debate. Mills (American Studies/Sarah Lawrence Coll.; ed., Legacy of Dissent, 1994) begins with the premise that enemies can serve a function in politics. When the end of the Cold War left America enemyless, some people turned inward to identify new pariahs. Despite the implausibility of the notion that the weakest or most marginal elements of American society--e.g., welfare recipients and the poor, recent immigrants, homosexuals--pose a vital threat to the country, these and other groups have been targeted in vitriolic attacks spearheading a turn toward mean-spiritedness. It's as if the stakes, emotions, and rhetoric of the Cold War, characterized by a threat to national survival and easily couched in terms of good versus evil, have been imported directly into domestic politics. In this context, conservatives do not just find liberals confused, they are a fundamental threat to civilization that must be extirpated from society, if not humanity. Paranoia and prejudice are not new phenomena in American politics, of course. But Mills argues that the current incarnation is more virulent and widespread, and completely unapologetic. In surveying the business world, race and gender relations, immigration policy, the press, and politics as characterized by the Republican Contract with America of 1996, he finds that the kings and queens of mean proudly embrace the characterizations of their critics; they revel in their nastiness. The most interesting thing about this book by a leftist (Mills is a coeditor of Dissent), however, is the odd way it parallels its right-wing targets. Both sides overgeneralize from observations that do deserve serious consideration, and rather than complaining about popular culture from the right and nostalgically embracing an idealized version of the 1950s, Mills complains about popular culture from the left and nostalgically embraces an idealized version of the 1960s. A provocative counterattack. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Booklist:

With all the complaining about incivility these days, Mills' roundup of rudeness is certainly timely. Not meant to be prescriptive, it merely lays out the cases of such repulsive phenomena as immigrant bashing; resurgent racism, both white against black and black against Jew; corporate downsizing and CEO greed; brutal new entertainments like ultimate fighting and gangsta rap; antifeminism and shock feminism (e.g., lionizing Lorena Bobbitt); and cynical, "gotcha" political reporting. But Mills fails to enter some other, huge arenas of bad will--such as those in which the debates over abortion, gay rights, and racy TV programs rage--and he does not explain how certain things he cites exemplify meanness. The Republicans' 1994 Contract with America, for example, is a particular bete noire of his, but he doesn't analyze or even quote any of its 10 proposals. Apparently the meanness Mills limns so fluently, if partially, has triumphed indeed. Even he is mean spirited toward proposals that don't conform to his notions of compassion and goodwill. Ray Olson

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