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Time Passages

Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture

George Lipsitz
Copyright Date: 1990
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Time Passages
    Book Description:

    Probes postwar America’s complicated relationship between historical memory and commercial culture—popular television, music, and film.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9330-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xviii)
  4. Culture and History

    • 1 Popular Culture: This Ain’t No Sideshow
      (pp. 3-20)

      The late jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk used to preface his performances with an unusual word of advice for the audience. A burly black man who often wore a stovepipe hat with a feather in it, and who frequently carried two saxophones (which he sometimes played simultaneously), Kirk would peer out at the crowd through dark sunglasses and growl, “This ain’t no sideshow.” Invariably people would laugh at the incongruity of this consummately theatrical individual denying his theatricality. Yet once Kirk began to play, discerning listeners grasped his point.

      There was a show going on when Roland Kirk played music,...

    • 2 Precious and Communicable: History in an Age of Popular Culture
      (pp. 21-36)

      At the end of her wonderful novelMy Antonia,Willa Gather speaks about “the precious and incommunicable past.”¹ Her formulation identifies historical work as necessary and indispensable, but always incomplete. We need to understand the past in order to make informed moral choices about the present, to connect our personal histories to a larger collective history. But that larger history can never be fully comprehended; the complexities and pluralities of the past always resist definitive evaluation and summary. Reconstructing the infinitely complex experiences of the past through the paltry bits of evidence about it available to historians inevitably renders some...

  5. Popular Television

    • 3 The Meaning of Memory: Family, Class, and Ethnicity in Early Network Television
      (pp. 39-76)

      In 1949, one of the first episodes of the nationally televised CBS network comedyThe Goldbergsfeatured a rent strike by disgruntled tenants against a landlord who refused to make repairs. The premise of a rent strike grew logically from the show’s setting. Molly and Jake Goldberg, their children Rosalie and Sammy, and Molly’s Uncle David all lived together in a crowded Bronx apartment building filled with working-class Jews like themselves. During every episode, neighbors and relatives passed through the Goldberg apartment. They carried on conversations by shouting through windows and yelling into dumbwaiter shafts. The Goldbergs met their friends...

    • 4 Why Remember Mama? The Changing Face of a Woman’s Narrative
      (pp. 77-96)

      Almost every Friday night between 1949 and 1956, millions of Americans watched Rosemary Rice turn the pages of an old photograph album. With music from Edvard Grieg’s “Holverg Suite” playing in the background, and with pictures of turn-of-the-century San Francisco displayed on the album pages, Rice assumed the identity of her television character, Katrin Hansen, on the CBS network programMama.She told the audience about her memories of her girlhood, her family’s house on Steiner Street, and her experiences there with her big brother Nels, her little sister Dagmar, her Papa, and her Mama—“most of all,” she said,...

  6. Popular Music

    • 5 Against the Wind: Dialogic Aspects of Rock and Roll
      (pp. 99-132)

      Literary critic Bakhtin’s observation has special significance for popular music.¹ As much as any other art form, popular music depends upon the recovery and re-accentuation of previous works. Bakhtin developed his concept of “dialogic” criticism to explain how popular carnival traditions influenced the content of writings by Rabelais, Pushkin, and Dostoevsky; his theories have been most often applied to the written word. Dana Polan and Horace Newcomb have applied dialogic criticism to cinema and television, respectively, but music critics have been strangely unresponsive to the implications of Bakhtin’s work for their own discipline. Popular music is nothing if not dialogic,...

    • 6 Cruising Around the Historical Bloc: Postmodernism and Popular Music in East Lost Angeles
      (pp. 133-160)

      During his first visit to Los Angeles, Octavio Paz searched in vain for visible evidence of Mexican influence on that city’s life and culture. The great Mexican writer found streets with Spanish names and subdivisions filled with Spanish Revival architecture, but to his surprise and dismay he perceived only a superficial Hispanic gloss on an essentially Anglo-American metropolis. Mexican culture seemed to have evaporated into little more than local color, even in a city that had belonged to Spain and Mexico long before it became part of the United States, a city where one-third of the population traced its lineage...

  7. Popular Film

    • 7 No Way Out: Dialogue and Negotiation in Reel America
      (pp. 163-178)

      Commercial motion pictures generally do not claim to present historical truth. Even when films are set in the past, artists and audiences understand that the function of the movies is to entertain. Few would consider subjecting movies to the kinds of tests about evidence and logic that we routinely apply to printed historical narratives. Yet Hollywood pictures need to engage the attention and the emotion of individuals who live within historical time and who construct their identities, at least in part, in dialogue with the past. If film-makers have our permission to tell fanciful lies, we nonetheless insist that they...

    • 8 The New York Intellectuals: Samuel Fuller and Edgar Ulmer
      (pp. 179-208)

      In his trenchant analysis of the gangster film, Robert Warshow noted that “a dark city of the imagination” pervades the crime genre. In his view, the city menaced the American imagination because it represented a psychic landscape on which desires for upward mobility turned into cut-throat competition, a place where rugged individualism expressed itself through brutalization and humiliation of others. By contrast, traditions of American pastoralism represented the frontier and the farm as places of freedom, opportunity, and mutuality.

      Anyone familiar with American history might object that the frontier and the plantation have been sites of extraordinary brutality and sadism,...

  8. Popular Narrative

    • 9 History, Myth, and Counter-Memory: Narrative and Desire in Popular Novels
      (pp. 211-232)

      In the opening paragraph ofTheir Eyes Were Watching God,the novelist Zora Neale Hurston draws a distinction between men and women. According to Hurston, men watch the far horizon where ships at a distance carry their wishes on board. Some men, whose ships come in with the tide, see their dreams realized. Others, whose ships stay out at sea, find their dreams “mocked to death by Time.” But women’s lives, in Hurston’s view, proceed by another process. “Now, women,” she writes, “forget all those things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The...

    • 10 Mardi Gras Indians: Carnival and Counter-Narrative in Black New Orleans
      (pp. 233-254)

      More than fifty years ago, alarmed by the rise of commercial culture and the attendant eclipse of literature and folklore, the great cultural critic Walter Benjamin envisioned a world without stories. Benjamin complained that in such a world, “It is as if something that seemed inalienable to us, the securest of our possessions, were taken from us; the ability to exchange experiences.” Certainly, subsequent events have more than justified Benjamin’s pessimism.² Social and economic changes have undermined the ascribed roles and inherited customs historically responsible for most story-telling traditions. A commodified mass-culture industry covers the globe, replacing traditional narratives with...

  9. History and the Future

    • 11 Buscando America (Looking for America): Collective Memory in an Age of Amnesia
      (pp. 257-272)

      In his elegantly craftedAll That Is Solid Melts into Air,Marshall Berman identifies Goethe’sFaustas a narrative emblematic of modernity. Suffocated by the parochialisms and prejudices of his little village, Faust arms himself with instrumental knowledge and becomes a builder. But a builder of the new is also a destroyer of the old, and when the adult Faust returns to the village of his youth, he finds an exquisite beauty in the world he has labored so hard to destroy. For Berman, the dilemma facing Faust confronts us all. In a world devoted to progress and change, the...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 273-292)
  11. Index
    (pp. 293-306)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-307)