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Condensing the Cold War

Condensing the Cold War: Reader’s Digest and American Identity

Joanne P. Sharp
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Condensing the Cold War
    Book Description:

    By examining the changing ways in which Reader’s Digest has explained America and its relation to the world, Sharp exposes the links that the magazine has forged between the individual reader and the destiny of the United States, particularly as this relates to the Soviet Union, the Cold War enemy whose character the Digest is often credited with helping to create. Not about the Soviet Union per se, or about the historical details of any other threat to the United States, this is a book about America and the changing roles that this central voice of American mass culture envisioned for the country and its citizens. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5293-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)

    Reader’s Digestmight offer the single most important voice in the creation of popular geopolitics in America in the twentieth century. The magazine offers a unique insight into the workings of American political culture. Since 1922 it has been reflecting upon the state of world affairs for its readership and explaining both America’s and the reader’s role and responsibility in the unfolding of these events. TheDigest’s geographical imagination links the individual reader to the destiny of the United States, and to the operations of foreign powers, most significantly of course those of the Soviet Union, the Cold War enemy...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Consumption, Discipline, and Democracy: The “New Magazines” and Reader’s Digest
    (pp. 1-23)

    Reader’s Digestwas first published in 1922 at the end of a period of social, cultural, and economic change in the United States that heralded the rise of consumerism now regarded as central to U.S. culture. This chapter will placeReader’s Digestin the context of this trend in American culture by describing the changes occurring in American media at the turn of the century. It is also necessary to examine the cultural shifts through which the new magazines emerged, affecting the relationship between journalist and reader, influencing even the reading process itself.¹ This has implications for the way the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Reading the Digest Writing the World
    (pp. 24-54)

    Recent critical work in political geography, international relations, and political science has underscored the importance of taking seriously the ways in which we write and speak about the world and its workings. Such work acknowledges the fact that writing and describing are inherently creative processes. Language is metaphorical and, as a result, description is achieved by deferral to other concepts. Language is not then transparent or innocent, but is part of the process of world-making, since the choice of referents—the ideas and narratives that are quoted in order to make sense of a situation—will affect the meaning of...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Ambivalent Geography: Writing World Orders, 1922 to 1945
    (pp. 55-82)

    Reader’s Digestwas first published during a period in which the world order was in flux, especially as viewed from an American point of view. The United States had emerged from isolationism to enter World War I, and at the close of the second decade of the century, it was beginning to look like the inheritor of Britain’s hegemonic role. Adding to this sense of global change was the impact of the Russian Revolution.With suggestions that revolution might spread across Europe, American commentators were unsure what the new Soviet state might offer. This anxiety was piqued by insecurity over the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Beginnings of Cold War
    (pp. 83-106)

    If the interwar period could be seen as one in whichReader’s Digestcreated an ambivalent political geography, then the period that followed the end of World War II would be characterized by a single-minded obsession with the threat that communism posed to the “free world.” In this chapter I explore the ways in which theDigestreconstructed the Soviet Union, and communism more generally, as the single alter ego of America, and attempt to explain how this representational shift to an extreme image of the Soviets as Other and evil could be made reasonable and acceptable to the magazine’s...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Jeopardy of Détente
    (pp. 107-121)

    Both the number and the tone of articles on the Soviet Union and communism changed around 1964. The Sino-Soviet split following Soviet-American arms talks meant thatReader’s Digestno longer saw America facing an overwhelming communist force. When Richard Nixon became president in 1969, theDigestwas further reassured that American interests were being well served. Thus, there was a decline in the number of articles on Soviet and communist topics in comparison with the 1950s (see figure 6). New—although, as I will show, not unrelated—evils were found in the anti–Vietnam War movement, urban violence, and civil...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The “Second Cold War”
    (pp. 122-136)

    The “Second Cold War” refers to the years from 1979 to 1985, a period characterized by rejection of the politics of détente and a return to the political praxis and perceptions of the very first period of the Cold War in American political culture. The rise of the Second Cold War was linked both to perceptions of the relative decline of U.S. hegemony by some groups in the West and to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The election of Ronald Reagan, whose foreign policy was informed by the (geo)politics of the Committee of the Present Danger, reinforced the air of...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Denying Imperial Decline at the End of the Cold War
    (pp. 137-162)

    It has now become something of a cliché that with the end of the Cold War and the loss of its alter ego, hegemonic American culture entered a period of crisis that has raised profound questions about both national identity and national purpose.¹ The Cold War, rather than presenting a threat to American self-identity, was constitutive of it. For the right-wing hegemony, to quote one of its doyens, the end of the standoff represented the “end of history”:² the dynamic dialectic between America and the Soviet Union was lost as capitalism was seen to have triumphed. Most significant was the...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 163-173)

    Sadly for the social theorist, few occasions illustrate the direct influence of the media on their audience’s perceptions and actions as dramatically as Orson Welles’s infamous radio broadcast ofWar of the Worldsin 1938. Now the number of media feeding Americans information has multiplied many times over. Audiences have perhaps become too sophisticated, too knowing about the media and their effects and imagined worlds, ever again to be taken in so completely by media creation. Despite the incredible effects and realism of contemporary audio and visual media, audiences know that they are being entertained; they are aware of the...

  13. Appendix: Reader’s Digest Readers: Demographic Profile, 1991
    (pp. 174-175)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 176-202)
  15. Index
    (pp. 203-207)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 208-208)