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American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century: Kammen, Michael American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century: Kammen, Michael American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century: Kammen, Michael

American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century

Kammen, Michael

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ISBN 10: 0679427406 / ISBN 13: 9780679427407
Published by Knopf, U.S.A., 1999
Condition: Fine Hardcover
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Highly collectible STATED First Edition, first printing. Fine/ Fine in protective mylar cover. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 002279

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Bibliographic Details

Title: American Culture, American Tastes: Social ...

Publisher: Knopf, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition

About this title


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 As a result of this diminution of cultural authority, he says, definitive pronouncements have been replaced by divergent points of view, and there is, as well, a tendency to blur fact and fiction, reality and illusion.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.


Intellectuals are often accused of viewing mass entertainment with contempt, fear, or condescension. The rise of cultural-studies programs in prestigious universities, however, reveals that this perception couldn't be further from the truth. In American Culture, American Tastes, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Michael G. Kammen explores the origins and implications of this new way that academics and critics celebrate, rather than condemn, popular tastes.

In principle, Kammen supports recent scholarly forays into the effects of mass production and consumerism on Americans' leisure time. He is concerned, however, that the audience's relationship to contemporary media is greatly underappreciated. In attempting to distinguish "popular" from "mass" culture, Kammen argues that with films, music, radio, and popular fiction, certain "highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow" levels emerged, targeting specific social classes or communities. These levels were quite permeable, however, and certain works, such as Shakespeare's plays and Charlie Chaplin's slapstick comedies, allowed audiences to transcend rigid categories of taste. In the television era, Kammen believes, leisure has become more passive and homogenized, however, and the era of democratic consumption that many modern intellectuals champion may be near an end.

To combat this trend, Kammen, like Russell Jacoby, longs to resurrect "public intellectuals," such as H.L. Mencken and Dwight Macdonald, who pointedly combined a learned appreciation of popular culture with a genuine concern for preserving the vivacity of public life. In a field dominated by Marxists and feminists, this call for liberal cultural "authority" will raise some hackles in academe, but praise among general audiences. --John M. Anderson

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